Articles by

Anne Noyes Saini

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.

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01/13/14 10:00am

Pavakkai Chips from Grand Sweets and Snacks, Chennai, India. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

From Chennai with Love: Pavakkai (bitter gourd) chips dusted with hing and pepper

At home, I keep Indian salty snacks at the ready when sipping a refreshing brew. But when I go out, I’m stuck with the usual over-salted nuts and bland, fried bar snacks. Even Indians—who enjoy their salty snacks with milky, sugary chai—seem unaware of this potentially brilliant pairing.

Would it be weird to smuggle in some chana jor garam the next time I head out for a pint? Not if everyone’s doing it. Beer-swilling spice lovers, unite…and let the Indian bar food smuggling begin! (more…)

12/09/13 10:00am

Empanosas, fresh from the oven. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

Frankenfood mash-ups are everywhere these days (ahem, Cronut-mania and gonzo ramen burger lines). So Desify is jumping on the bandwagon and offering up yet another improbable, over-engineered edible creation.

Introducing: the empanosa, an Argentine-style, baked empanada made with Indian roti dough and stuffed with Indian leftovers (like a samosa, get it?).

Indian lentil and vegetable dishes lend themselves to mashing, so it’s easy to get them neatly tucked into packets of dough. Making the wrappers with Indian roti dough is a healthier option than typical empanada wrappers, which are usually very rich (hello, butter or shortening). (more…)

12/03/13 10:15am
Zabb Elee's crabtastic Lao papaya salad.

Zabb Elee’s crabtastic Lao papaya salad.

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.
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11/26/13 10:00am

Baked pie crust matti. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

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…)

11/19/13 10:28am

North Indian "mirch" (hot green chilies) front and center,  with laal mirch (ground red chilies) in the background. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.
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…)

11/01/13 3:10pm

Diwali sweets at Maharajah Sweets in Jackson Heights, Queens. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

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…)

10/14/13 2:00pm

Punjabi chana daal over Italian cavatappi pasta. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

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…)

10/07/13 10:03am

Khaman dhokla from Real Usha Sweets and Snacks. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

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. (more…)

09/30/13 10:14am

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. (more…)

09/16/13 9:53am

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. (more…)