Until I sat down with Gary Mulchandani, at Kailash Parbat NY, to discuss filming this episode of Lost Vegetarian Presents I had never heard of Sindhi culture or Sindhi cuisine. Over the past few years the regional specifics of Chinese cuisine have been becoming more popular around NYC, but Indian cuisine hasn’t had the same thing happen. I vaguely knew there was a difference between northern and southern Indian cuisine, but the truth is I couldn’t tell you exactly what that difference was. There are thousands of cultures in India, all with their own identities. So it was a pleasure to learn about one of them, the Sindhi culture.
And yet as I watched Gary cook (he’s not one of the cooks at the restaurant, but part of his training to manage Kailash Parbat in NYC involved him learning how to make everything) it was something simple and familiar that made me take notice. The Sindhi curry starts with a specific technique in which gram (chickpea) flour is smoked slowly in oil. It was a technique that would be recognizable to anyone who has ever made a French roux; though I’m guessing the Sindhi version pre-dates the roux by a few thousand years.
Obviously a couple of conversations doesn’t make me an expert, and everyone’s family has a different recipe for Sindhi curry. I feel privileged to have gotten a glimpse into a culture I didn’t know anything about, and to be the recipient of Gary’s generosity.
Camera – Donny Tsang (http://www.donnytsang.com/)
Camera – Matt Yule (https://www.youtube.com/user/YuleBrothers)
Music – Bayard Russell (https://bayardrussell.wordpress.com/)
Kailash Parbat NY — 99 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016
This month marks my 10th year here in NYC. I haven’t really celebrated, but I did decide I wanted to eat somewhere I’ve always wanted to eat (but never managed to get there). I set my sights on the so-called “dosa man” at Washington Square Park. The dosa man, whose real name is Thiru Kumar, sets up a street cart serving dosas; dosas are large pancakes usually made with fermented rice and/or lentil flour, and often wrapped around a tasty filling. I’d heard nothing but good things about the dosa man, and I’d passed by the cart dozens of times in the past 10 years. On a recent weekday I set out at lucnh time to eat at the cart.
Only he wasn’t there.
Click to continue…
Think about a restaurant that can be described by the following: it services people from all different backgrounds, including cab drivers. It’s cheap enough that pretty much anyone can afford it. It’s completely free of any pretentions and food trends. And the food is delicious. Doesn’t all of that sound great? The other day while eating lunch at Punjabi Deli I had an epiphany — the tiny little vegetarian Indian “restaurant” is my favorite eating experience in NYC.
If you’ve never heard of it, Punjabi Deli is a small grocery store on Houston that serves great Indian food. You can eat in, standing hunched over the narrow counter, shoulder-to-shoulder with a random collection of New Yorkers. Sure, they use a microwave to heat up the food, but when you taste it you won’t mind. In the bowl in the foreground is a samosa — in this case, cut open and topped with yogurt, chickpeas, raw onions, and a variety of chutneys and sauces. It’s one of my very favorite things in the city — a mix of hot and cold, salty and sweet, crunchy and smooth.
As a food blogger I get asked a lot about my favorite restaurants in the city, and for some reason Punjabi Deli never occurs to me. That changed, as of that lunch a few weeks ago. It’s the new place I want to take out-of town guests to. Plus, il laboratorio del gelato is right across the street so you can get a little dessert to cool your mouth down from the spices.
Punjabi Deli — 114 E 1st St #3, Manhattan
I’d been craving Indian food for a while, so when my friend Jess asked if I wanted to meet for lunch on Memorial Day I suggested Indian food. To find a place I consulted my other friend Jess (and her husband Garrett) in the form of their blog, and picked Masalawala, which specializes in upscale versions of Indian street food. One of my favorite items that I only discovered in the last few years is chaat, a refreshing salad that usually has an intriguing blend of temperatures, flavors, and textures. The papri chaat was pleasing on all fronts; a mix of potatoes, chickpeas, yogurt, crispy “wafers”, yogurt, and chutney, I couldn’t stop eating it. I wasn’t as taken with my entree, sabzi milan, which promised “seasonal vegetables” in North Indian spices but delivered a mediocre experience. Best stick with their versions of street food, I think.
Masalawala — 179 Essex Street, NYC
Since I live and work in Brooklyn, I don’t find myself in Manhattan all that often. Recently I went visit my friend who works at Marvel Comics, and since I got there super early (as I usually do) I decided to scope out the area. To my surprise there were several food trucks lined up on W 50th St — I had heard so much about the NYPD moving food trucks out of Midtown that I didn’t expect to see so many in one place. Since Midtown Lunch is usually Donny’s beat I didn’t know which to choose, until I saw the Desi Truck. Being a vegetarian and a fan of Indian food, I ordered the $8 Desi Veggie lunch special. It came with a kati roll filled with spicy potatoes, a salad on top of rice, chickpeas, and lentils, and a bottle of water. The roll was pretty good — warm and filling, full of spices. Better still was the veggie plate, despite the wan pieces of lettuce. The brown rice was a surprisingly flavorful base for all of the savory veggies. $8 seemed a little steep at first, but it was a really filling and delicious meal.
My mom recently gave me a jar of ghee, an ingredient I’d heard of but never used before. Traditionally used in Indian cooking, ghee is a clarified butter. That means the milk solids have been removed from the butter, leaving only the pure fat behind. This is a good thing, because the solids are what cause butter to smoke burn at a relatively low temperatures. The ghee actually solidifies easily, especially as I’m keeping mine in the refrigerator now that it’s open, but it melts almost immediately when exposed to heat. Because of the high smoke point I used ghee to make popcorn, something I wouldn’t do with regular butter. The ghee also came in useful when it came time to heat up some parathas I picked up from Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights. It’s turning out to be more versatile than I expected.
It was a bitter, cold winter night when I first visited Tabla, but as soon as I entered I felt I had found refuge. The walls flashed bronze and gold; the host invited me to warm my hands at the heater by the door; the fragrant aromas of Indian spices filled the air. Sitting at the bar, waiting for my friends, I was asked if anyone was taking care of me. This is what Danny Meyer and Floyd Cardoz intended the restaurant to be, I think, but the realization was bitter-sweet. My first visit would also be my last; Tabla is scheduled to close on December 31st, 2010.
Click to continue…