Holi Mubarak!

Instagram Post 3/21/2019

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The Equal Opportunity Celebrant strikes again, eating my way through Holi today, the Hindu festival of spring and colors celebrated predominantly in India and Nepal. Prowling around the Indian neighborhood in Jackson Heights yesterday in search of traditional Holi treats, I enjoyed watching children choosing packets of powder in every color of the rainbow to sparge at anything in their path, thus producing a glorious festive mess. The holiday recounts the heartwarming legend of Krishna coloring his face for Radha, his love, and heralds the arrival of spring.

[1] Jalebi are one of the most widely available Indian mithai (sweets); they’re made from chickpea or wheat flour batter, usually orange but occasionally yellow (no difference in flavor, just a color preference) which is drizzled into hot oil in coil shapes. The resulting deep fried confections look like pretzels; they’re crispy when they come out of the oil, then they’re soaked in super sweet syrup so you get the best of both worlds. For Holi, however, jalebi get the royal treatment; this one is about 7 inches in diameter and generously adorned with edible silver foil, sliced almonds and pistachios. Because this sticky jumbo jalebi (jalumbi? jalembo?) is larger and thicker than the standard issue version, it provides more crunch and holds more syrup in each bite so it’s even more over the top, if such a thing is possible.

[2] This is gujiya (you might see gujia), a classic Holi sweet, half-moon shaped and similar to a deep-fried samosa. Crunchy outside and soft within, it’s filled with sweetened khoa (milk solids), ground nuts, grated coconut, whole fruits and nuts (raisins and cashews in this one), cumin seeds, and a bit of suji (semolina) for texture.

These Holi day treats came from Maharaja Sweets, 73-10 37th Ave, Jackson Heights, Queens.

Holi Mubarak! Have a blessed Holi!
 
 

Vatan – Part 2

Instagram Post 2/28/2019

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If for some reason it were necessary for me to go vegetarian, I could handle it thanks to the cuisine of India: so many types of preparations infused with so many herbs and spices in so many combinations create what feels like a boundless array of choices. It’s a cuisine that can be both subtle (the distinction between types of dal for instance) and overwhelmingly intense in the same bite. You can partake of this palate pleasing panoply at Vatan, the exceptional all-you-can-eat vegetarian Indian restaurant at 409 3rd Ave in Manhattan. My friend and fellow Instagrammer @gustasian invited me to join her for dinner in the transcendental dining room (see yesterday’s post) where your server delivers courses from a set menu; you can request additional helpings of any item that was appealing.

The entrée thali (see second photo for labels):
• Toor Dal – boiled lentils cooked with Indian spices
• Kheer – rice pudding with dried fruits
• Chole – chickpeas cooked with garam masala, an Indian spice blend
• Ful-Gobi – cauliflower and green peas sautéed in a savory sauce
• Bhaji – sautéed spinach and corn
• Batakanu Sak – potatoes cooked in a mild red gravy
• Papadam – thin lentil wafers
• Puri – puffed whole wheat bread
• Roti – whole wheat flatbread

[3] The entrée complements:
• Khadi – soup with yogurt and besan (chickpea flour) with aromatic spices
• Khichdi – lentils with rice and assorted vegetables
• Pulao – rice with (undercover) peas

[4] We also ordered Rotla, a Gujarati specialty: flatbread served with classic embellishments of ghee, garlic chutney, and jaggery (palm sugar) and yes, they did work together. Dessert was Indian ice cream, gulab jamun (fried dough in sweet syrup), and masala chai.

Vatan is a delicious unique experience both for the food and the atmosphere; I highly recommend it, especially à deux.
 
 

Vatan – Part 1

Instagram Post 2/27/2019

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Vatan is as much about the experience as it is about the food – and the food is excellent. Vatan (वतन) is the Hindi word for motherland and the decor, presided over by Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of wisdom, good luck, and the remover of obstacles, is calculated to transport you to a Gujarati thatch-roofed hut where you relax and enjoy all the delicious vegetarian food you can eat served by a helpful, friendly guide. If you’d like more of something, simply ask and it will appear on your table. I was invited to dine there by my friend and fellow Instagrammer, the amazin’ @gustasian, whose presence made the event all the more memorable. 🙏

In this post we’ll examine the appetizers, varied and delectable (see second photo for labels):
• Sev Puri – crispy shells filled with potatoes, green gram (mung) beans, yogurt and chutney
• Ragda Patis – potato cutlet in white bean sauce
• Samosa – savory pastries filled with spicy potatoes and onion
• Muthia – steamed flour with spinach
• Chana Masala – garbanzo beans with onions and coriander
• Khaman – puffed cream of wheat flour cakes similar to dhokla
• Mirchi Bhajia – fried hot peppers with garam masala
• Batata Vada – fried potato balls in chickpea flour batter

Third photo: the accompanying chutneys (clockwise from 10:00)
• Carrot Sambharo (mustardy!)
• Fried Garlic
• Mango Chutney
• Tamarind Date Chutney
• Cilantro Chutney

And that’s just the dazzling first course! Stay tuned for more from Vatan, 409 3rd Ave in Manhattan.
 
 

Chat & Juice Express

Instagram Post 2/26/2019

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“Live Pani Puri!” proclaimed the signs along Jersey City’s Newark Avenue. A common Indian street food, pani puri consists of a crispy spherical shell filled with potatoes or chickpeas, doused with chutney (usually tamarind) and chat masala (a spice blend) and sprinkled with sev (crunchy chickpea noodles); its yogurt-laden counterpart is dahi puri. Each purveyor’s recipe is unique, and therein lies the fun of taste-testing a series of them. Pop one into your mouth whole, no biting please. But “live”? Perhaps in a nod to authentic street vendors back home, Jersey City’s method of production is replicated at a station within the confines of a restaurant where your pani puri, sweet or spicy, is produced à la minute.

[1] Around the corner at 2978 JFK Blvd, Narendra Patel and his wife Hetel own Chat & Juice Express, a small shop dedicated to Gujarati street snacks. (BTW, you might see the word spelled chaat elsewhere.) Here’s their version of dahi puri adorned with jewel-like pomegranate seeds.

[2] This is Dabeli, a peanutty Gujarati specialty that features mashed potatoes and Narendra’s own special masala blend. Definitely worth a stop along a pani puri crawl!
 
 

Sitafal Basundi

Instagram Post 2/25/2019

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Exploring ethnic neighborhoods with likeminded foodnerd friends is pretty much my favorite pastime. On a delightful crawl through Jersey City, NJ, we stopped along the way at Rajbhog Sweets, 812 Newark Ave. We were all familiar with their outpost in Jackson Heights, Queens, but this venue appeared to offer a slightly different selection of mithai, chaats, and snacks so I was intrigued.

Peering into one of the freezer cases, I spotted a plastic container unceremoniously hand labeled “Sitafal Basundi” (second photo). Sitafal is the Hindi word for custard apple, a luscious tropical fruit that’s available in season at ethnic markets and sidewalk fruit stands if you know where to go (hint 😉). Basundi is a rich, creamy dessert, particularly popular in western India, that can be served warm or chilled. Made from long cooked cream, whole milk or sweetened condensed milk plus nuts, fruits and spices like cardamom and saffron, one could think of it as kulfi semifreddo. Being a fan of Indian sweets of every fashion, I’m rather partial to it and this version was delicious.

So many more wonderful places along that strip, I need to return soon. Who’s coming with me?
 
 

Chutney’s – Part 4

Instagram Post 1/3/2019

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Feeling the urge to go back to Jersey City for Indian food at Chutney’s, 827 Newark Avenue where everything was wonderful. If you’re a vegetarian (and some of my best friends are 😉) and you like Indian food, you need to go here; no menu scrutiny required – everything is vegetarian and absolutely delicious.

Mount Road Parotta with Salna – listed as a Chef’s Special (and it was special indeed), it’s a multilayered flatbread with a long-cooked tomato curry. I’m told this is a street food in India; if that’s the case, I want to live on that street.

Curd Rice – Curd refers to unsweetened yogurt. So simple: rice that has been steamed beyond the pale with yogurt, mustard seeds and cilantro. Comfort food for sure.

Onion Chili Uthappam – aka uttapham, it only looks like pizza. The batter is similar to that of a dosa, but these are thick as a pancake with (in this case) onion and chili cooked right in the batter.

Punugulu – crispy outside, puffy and pillowy inside, these deep fried treats are made from rice batter and served with chutneys and sambar on the side.
 
 

Eggmania

Instagram Post 12/17/2018

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This is one of those serendipitous experiences where the outcome far outstripped my expectations. EggMania, 14 Liberty Ave in Jersey City, was launched by five friends who were homesick and hungry for the egg dishes of their native India. Its sparse interior and casual fast-food atmosphere belie the unique lusciousness that emerges from the kitchen.

This order of Lachko, described as shredded green bell pepper cooked with cheese and runny eggs, served with a side of white toast (yes, really) and chopped fresh onion, will win no beauty contest, but certainly won a place in my heart for sheer deliciousness. I’ve already marked up the menu with selections I need to try upon my return.
 
 

Chutney’s – Part 3 (Dosa)

Instagram Post 12/13/2018

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More from Chutney’s, an exclusively vegetarian Indian restaurant at 827 Newark Avenue, Jersey City where everything we ordered was tiptop. As one would expect, the menu listed over two dozen types of dosa; here are two.

Dosa almost never quite fits on its serving tray, and indeed, that’s part of its charm. Paper thin and crêpe-like in appearance but generally crisper, dosa is made from a fermented batter of rice and lentil flours, griddled, and typically filled with a dollop of vegetables or cheese, in this case with potato masala, a popular choice.

End on observation seems like something out of NASA’s Image of the Day: here’s looking at aloo, kid.

Plain (i.e., not spiced) Rava Dosa, by way of contrast. Lacy and even more fragile, made with semolina and other flours (and more to my liking), this thin batter is not fermented. Sambar, a spicy thin soup for dipping, on the side.

Chutney’s chutneys, clockwise from left: coconut, tomato, and peanut.

More to come from Chutney’s….
 
 

Adda – The Lunch Menu

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But folks sometimes ask for more extensive reviews and photos, so in response, here’s a comprehensive report on one of my favorites.


The Bengali/Hindi word “adda” refers to a place where people hang out and engage in stimulating conversation, often for hours and often over tasty food. It has a special meaning for me since I learned it decades ago from a dear departed Bangladeshi friend who taught me its meaning first hand, so I hoped the restaurant Adda would rekindle the warmth of that experience. From speaking to the restaurateur, I was pleased that we were on the same wavelength. The interior is casual and the food was excellent, the spice levels appropriate for each distinctly seasoned dish.

Here are a few of the extraordinary items I tried. (Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Chicken Biryani

I seldom order this: the rice and chicken are often dried out from sitting around too long, a hazard of a popular dish usually cooked in abundance in advance. Not here. It’s prepared as a dum, a technique where dough is sealed around the ingredients that permits them to retain their moisture and steam to delectable perfection. Served with raita on the side, even the dough was delicious. See second photo for the reveal.

Chicken Kati Roll

One of India’s many street food snacks, these paratha wraps were more flavorful and painstakingly seasoned than many I’ve had.

Kale Pakoda

There are folks for whom the mere mention of kale causes their nose to crinkle; I suggest ordering this dish as a remedy to that reaction. Kale Pakoda (you may know it as pakora) is made from kale drenched in a batter of ground chickpeas, deep fried and drenched with chutneys and an impeccable masala spice blend; it’s delicious enough to make the most diehard kalephobe request a second order.

Keema Pao

Keema refers to ground meat, in this case lamb, perfectly sauced and pao to the bready bun served alongside. Scoop up the former with the latter; enjoy; repeat.
 
 
Two more from the lunch menu at Adda that feature their amazing paneer, the fresh cheese commonly found at Indian restaurants everywhere. But what you find everywhere is not what you’ll find at Adda. They make their own paneer, of course, but unlike the squeaky, rubbery stuff you may have experienced elsewhere (no matter how good it tasted), this paneer is the real deal. It’s gentle on the tongue and redolent of the heady aroma of fresh dairy that cuts through the accompanying sauces, and might just turn you into a paneer snob.

Chili Paneer Tikka

Chili Paneer Tikka in a light ginger-garlic sauce that supports but doesn’t overwhelm the delicate flavor of the paneer. Simple and delicious.

Seasonal Saag Paneer

Not the glop you might be accustomed too. You often see what could easily be creamed spinach with a few afterthoughts of paneer tossed in as if to validate the name. Here the paneer and greens are in balance, playing off each other in a perfectly seasoned sauce.

Achari Chicken Tikka

When I see the word achari, I think pickled, which this delicious chicken was definitely not. We confirmed that what they served us matched the name on the menu and later, with a bit of research, I found recipes that could well have described the dish with its spicy tomato onion yogurt sauce. Despite my preconceived notion, this one was super.

Dahi Batata Puri

Pani puri are amazing. A common Indian street food, these snacks consist of a crispy shell filled, in this case, with a tender mixture of potatoes (batata), yogurt (dahi) and chutney, and sprinkled with sev (crunchy chickpea noodles). Pop one into your mouth whole, no biting please.

Masala Fried Chicken

No explanation needed: spicy fried chicken and potato wedges.

Stay tuned for the dinner menu!
 
 
Adda is located at 31-31 Thomson Ave, Long Island City, Queens.
 
 

Happy Diwali!

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Dear Friends,

I can no longer keep this to myself. I am an addict, hooked on mithai. What’s that? You don’t know about mithai? Mithai are Indian sweets and since Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is upon us, I can think of no better time than now to tell you my tale. So gather round your diyas and check out my post “Indian Sweets 101: Meeting Mithai” right here on ethnojunkie.com!