09/16/13 9:53am

Desify: A Famous Indian Snack Pops Up in Queens

Bakarwadi from Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale in Pune, India. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

Mumbai’s famous beach snack, bhel puri, is easy to track down in Indian chaat shops in New York City. But other snacks from Maharashtra—the state on India’s western coast that is home to the megacity—are much harder to find on this side of the world (though not impossible).

Maharashtrian food is amazingly flavorful—drawing on staple ingredients that impart bold flavors: peppery curry leaf, ginger, cilantro, tangy tamarind, jaggery (unrefined cane sugar), fragrant coriander seeds, savory cumin, and coconut. I love this cuisine and wish it were more prevalent in restaurants.

So imagine my joy at finding a classic snack from Pune (Maharashtra’s second-largest city) at Patel Bros., an Indian grocery store in Jackson Heights, Queens. Amid the bags of mass-produced salty snacks, were several vacuum-sealed boxes of bakarwadi imported from Maharashtra’s famous Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale. This beloved seller of sweets and snacks has been going strong since 1950, and bakarwadi is reportedly its top seller.

Bakarwadi from Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale in Pune, India. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

This bite-size Maharashtrian snack resembles a crispy, deep-fried version of rugelach. The outer shell, made with chickpea flour dough, is rolled up around a flavor-bomb filling that manages to be sweet, savory, and spicy all at once. (It’s a blend of tamarind paste, coconut, ground cumin, ground coriander seeds and leaves, sesame seeds, and chilies.)

Bakarwadi are equally great with a hot cup of chai or a chilled beer (and perhaps even a dram of whiskey, I would wager). At first bite, the savory cumin and sweet coconut dominate—but then the chilies creep in, leaving your tongue buzzing with heat. That complex blend of distinct, yet complementary, flavors is a feature of Maharashtrian cuisine that I find totally irresistible.

Bakarwadi from Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale in Pune, India. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

The box of Chitale bakarwadi I found in Queens had been packed and sealed in India back in June. So these bakarwadi are far less crunchy and flavorful than the freshly made versions I tried a few summers ago when I visited Pune. But beggars can’t be choosers. Since I’m not heading to Pune anytime soon, I’ll happily savor this rare taste of Maharashtra in New York City.

Check out Anne Noyes Saini’s ongoing food + audio projects on SoundCloud.

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