When she is not editing economics books, Anne Noyes Saini covers food culture and immigration in New York City. She has contributed to The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Narratively, WNYC-FM, WBUR-FM, and City Limits magazine.
Welcome to the fourth installment of C+M’s ongoing series of audio guides on how to order authentically spicy food in ethnic restaurants. As a service to C+M readers I’m compiling a series of audio guides demonstrating phrases in several relevant languages, which can be used to navigate ordering situations fraught with tricky cultural and language barriers.
If (like me) you’ve ever tried to order a spicy dish in a restaurant and been refused (or served a clearly less spicy version), this series of audio features is for you. We’ve already covered Korean, Indonesian, and Hindi / Urdu; this week’s lesson: Thai. (more…)
One man’s Thanksgiving leftovers are another woman’s Indian snacks in the making. Here’s how you can resurrect your Thanksgiving leftovers with some “East meets West” mash-up action. It’s easier than you may think to turn leftover mashed potato into spicy aloo tikki and pie crust trimmings into baked matti.
Matti, crisp rounds of fried dough seasoned with mild spices, are a favorite winter snack in North India. At Thanksgiving, we save the trimmings from our pie crust and use them to make a baked version of matti (shown at top). The butter-rich pie crust is fatty enough to give them a nice flakiness and rich flavor without deep frying. (more…)
Front: hot green peppers (called mirch in Hindi and Urdu). Back: ground red pepper.
Welcome to the third installment of C+M’s ongoing series of audio guides on how to order authentically spicy food in ethnic restaurants.
As a service to C+M readers I’m compiling a series of audio guides demonstrating phrases in several relevant languages, which can be used to navigate ordering situations fraught with tricky cultural and language barriers.
If (like me) you’ve ever tried to order a spicy dish in a restaurant and been refused (or served a clearly less spicy version), this series of audio features is for you. (more…)
A small army of mithai awaits hungry Diwali revelers at Maharajah Sweets.
If you have never experienced the pre-Diwali rush in New York’s South Asian sweets shops, you have two more days to partake of mountains of sugary, nutty, dairy-rich mithai (sweets, in Hindi).
In North India, Diwali (aka, the Hindu “festival of lights”) is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil in the Ramayan, a famous Hindu epic. Families gather to share special meals, clay lamps (diyas in Hindi) and firecrackers are ablaze everywhere, and countless boxes of sweets are exchanged. (more…)
I first learned to cook during the year I studied in England. University students there typically fend for themselves in dorm kitchens, rather than relying on meal plans.
With little free time and even less money, most of us took to dumping readymade soups or canned beans over toast or pasta. If we were feeling fancy (or starved for protein), we crowned these starchy, carby meals with a fried egg.
That experience left me with an abiding kernel of culinary wisdom: Any light dish can be transformed into a stomach-filling meal simply by adding pasta.
Enter my Punjabi mother-in-law, who re-educated me in the kitchen and taught me Indian home cooking. Thanks to her, I can whip up a full meal from my usual pantry staples (i.e., lentils, rice, spices, garlic, and ginger) and a few stray vegetables (e.g., onion, tomato, potato, carrot). If only she’d been there, in England, to save me from British student food (and my own culinary incompetence). (more…)
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 Foodsdown 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. (more…)
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.)
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 purithat 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. (more…)
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. (more…)
Like many cuisines nurtured in mountainous places, Georgian food is notably meat-intensive. So I wasn’t surprised when the counterman at Brick Oven Bread, a Georgian bakery, laughed at my request for meatless khinkali.
Georgia’s famous boiled dumplings, which bear an uncanny resemblance to Shanghai xiao long bao (aka, soup dumplings) or Himalayan momo, are almost always filled with ground beef, pork, or lamb—especially in New York City, where affordable meat is easily procured. (In Georgia, khinkali filled with mushroom, potato, and cheese are not uncommon.)
But then the woman behind the counter spoke up: “I make them stuffed with cheese for myself. Would like to try some?” (more…)
Gaajar burfi, a carrot-based Indian sweet from Maharaja Sweets in Jackson Heights.
Sweets made with milk, nuts, lentils, and spices are an important part of religious festivals in India. Later this week, Hindus will observe Raksha Bandhan–or Rakhi, for short–a Hindu festival celebrating relationships between brothers and sisters.
The sweets (mittai, in Hindi) eaten at Rakhi represent the sweetness of the bond between siblings. On the morning of Rakhi (Aug. 21) a sister ties a decorative red thread on her brother’s wrist, signifying her hope for his well-being. In return, a brother gives his sister gifts of sweets and money, signifying his promise to always protect and care for her.
Laddoo, jalebi, gulab jamun, and rasgulla are especially popular, but I prefer less common Indian sweets like milk cake, gaajar burfi (made with carrot), and anjeer burfi (made with fig). You can find all of these at Maharajah Sweets on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens—my go-to source for Indian sweets in New York City. (more…)