Eating at Real Usha Sweets and Snacks is out of the question. There are no tables in this tiny Indian snacks and sweets shop in Floral Park. There’s barely enough room for more than a few people to squeeze in around the ordering counter.
But there are many good reasons to brave the cozy, rustic conditions at Real Usha (not to be confused with the larger, sleeker Usha Foods down the street)—chief among them: khaman dhokla ($3.50/pound). A beloved Gujarati snack, these savory “cakes” are made with ground and fermented chana daal (i.e., lentils made from de-skinned black chickpeas). After a day-long fermentation, the ground lentils are seasoned lightly with salt, sugar, lemon juice, and a pinch of turmeric; then steamed.
Real Usha’s dhokla is wonderfully fluffy and soft—the sign of ultrafreshness. (New batches of dhokla are made every day, to keep up with demand.) The savory lentil base imparts rich flavor, and Real Usha’s piquant add-ons—spicy green chilies, fresh cilantro, and lightly fried black mustard seeds—kick in extra zip. (Insider tip: Skip the watery mint chutney that comes on the side and make your own; my family recipe is fast and easy.)
Freshness is also the key to good South Asian sweets, and when Real Usha’s mithai are fresh they’re among the best in the city. They’re all made in the enormous back kitchen (which is as spacious as the ordering area is cramped). I’m a fan of the pistachio-based dilruba, whose name (“ravisher of the heart” in English) promises far more than a quick sugar fix.
On the weekends Real Usha’s catering business swings into action, and the shop sells take-away containers of cooked Gujarati and Punjabi vegetable dishes ($4/each; Saturdays and Sundays only).
The catering menu, a vegetarian paradise, reveals the Gujarati-Mumbai roots of Real Usha’s owners. Several effort-intensive Gujarati specialties—patra (colocasia leaves wrapped around spicy paste, cinnamon swirl bread-style) and surti undhiyu (root vegetables, fresh green lentils, and fenugreek fritters stewed together in piquant spices)—are featured. A few hard-to-find Gujarati comfort foods—vaal (i.e., hyacinth beans), tindora (i.e., ivy gourd), and panch kathol (a lentil stew incorporating five types of dried beans)—are also available.
With any luck, some of those dishes from the catering menu occasionally show up in Real Usha’s weekend take-away boxes. It’s certainly worth a return trip to find out.
Real Usha Sweets & Snacks, 259-15 Hillside Ave., Floral Park, 718-343-7500, www.realusha.com/
Q43 from Sutphin Blvd. Station (E/J/Z)
Q43 from Jamaica-179th St. Station (F)
LIRR to Floral Park Station (+ 20-minute walk)
Check out Anne Noyes Saini’s ongoing food + audio projects on SoundCloud.