09/30/13 10:14am

Desify: The Jersey City Mall Food Court Edition

Medu vada from Thali, Newport Centre Mall, Jersey City. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

Not a doughnut: Fluffy, light medu vada from Thali.

Taste of India and Thali are located smack in the middle of the food court in Jersey City’s Newport Centre Mall. But they’re worlds apart from the usual greased-up, Americanized mall food joints. (After all, Jersey City has a huge South Asian community, so the folks frequenting this food court know the good stuff from the rest.)

Bhel puri at Taste of India, Newport Centre Mall, Jersey City. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

A chaat a day keeps the doctor away: Taste of India’s exceptionally light bhel puri.

Skip the steam table filled with the usual bright-hued, oil-slicked sub-continental fare and order a la carte. Taste of India’s bhel puri combines diced tomato, onion, boiled potato, and cilantro tossed with peanuts, puffed rice, crunchy fried bits, salty-fiery spices, and a tangy-spicy-sweet duo of chutneys. The ultra-flavorful chutneys are the secret here. If you’ve never tried mint chutney that actually tastes like mint, you’re in for a real treat.

For a more substantial snack, try the dahi puri—a North Indian spin on pani puri that replaces spicy water with tangy yogurt and that same zesty blend of chutneys and spices. It’s easily the best version of this chaat (that I’ve found) in New York.

Missi roti at Taste of India, Newport Centre Mall, Jersey City. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

It’s all (fenu)Greek to me: Taste of India’s missi roti is loaded with sweet, nutty fenugreek leaves.

We also picked up an order of missi roti, a hefty North Indian flatbread studded with pungent fenugreek leaves, licorice-like fennel seeds, and hunks of hot green chilies. After coming out of the tandoori oven, ours was lightly brushed with garlic butter. Carbs this good need no accompaniment.

Next door at Thali, which specializes in South Indian fare, we shifted gears and ordered a few traditional breakfast dishes: medu vada (a savory “doughnut” made with ground lentils and spices) and idli (a steamed cake made with fermented/ground rice and lentils). They came with very good coconut chutney and decent sambar, a spicy-tangy lentil soup loaded with vegetables.

Medu vada (left) and idli (right) at Thali, Newport Centre Mall, Jersey City. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

A complete South Indian breakfast: medu vada and idli.

The idli (above right) was exceptionally light, moist, and tangy—better than many dense, desiccated versions I’ve eaten in India and easily the best of its kind (that I’ve encountered) in New York. The vada (above left) was similarly impressive: well-seasoned, fluffy (as is evident in the top photo), and virtually grease-free.

In rural Middle America, where I grew up, mall food courts are a legitimate source of hard-to-find “ethnic” foods. Here in New York City, that’s rarely the case—until now. Pull up a plastic tray and savor some totally legit South Asian snacks.

Taste of India, Food Court at Newport Centre Mall, 30 West Mall Dr., Jersey City, 201-656-5000
10am – 9:30pm (M-Sat)/11am-6pm (Sun)
PATH to Newport/Hoboken Light Rail to Newport

Thali, Food Court at Newport Centre Mall, 30 West Mall Dr., Jersey City, 201-656-1300
10am – 9:30pm (M-Sat)/11am-6pm (Sun)
PATH to Newport/Hoboken Light Rail to Newport

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

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