…don’t order Gujarati food. I got the Gujarati Thali at Tiffinwallah. However, I would recommend ordering something else: Tiffinwallah’s menu has plenty of options, and there is no need to order the Gujarati dish, even if the word “undhiyo” makes you salivate and lose your senses.
This was the Gujarati Thali I shared with my friend. On the plate, clockwise from the rice, are: ras malai (an Indian dessert of soft cheese in creamy milk), date chutney, undhiyo (they spell it undhiyu), daal, kadi (a yogurt-based soup which in this picture is mostly covered by the poori), poori, kachori, and finally, batata vada (also covered by the gigantic poori).
Undhiyo is a Gujarati dish made with “winter” vegetables: papaadi (a green bean that is flatter and less sweet than a french bean), sweet potato, baby eggplants, bananas (with skin), and muthiya, or fried vegetarian kababs made out of chickpea and whole wheat flour, yogurt, oil, and fenugreek. With lots of garlic, ginger, coriander, coconut, and mustard, this is one of the most tasty Indian shaaks (mixed vegetable dish), ever. The combination of these “warm” spices is supposed to taste especially wonderful in the cold winters of India (40 degrees F).
Unfortunately, at Tiffinwallah, the undhiyo had absolutely no flavor. No taste. No muthiyas. I kept eating it because I was waiting for something- anything- to taste. Undhiyo has a unique texture: the papadi should be slightly rough and bumpy; the banana should remain intact, with easily piercable skin and hot but not mushy insides, and the sweet potato should break down easily. But this undhiyo was uniformly shiny and slippery.
But, I don’t blame Tiffinwallah. They specialize in South Indian cooking, and any sensible person would have stuck with the dosa and sambar South Indian staples. I just got excited when I saw that undhiyo was a part of the Gujarati thali, because it is a dish I rarely have, but one which is always excellent each time I eat it (at home, in India).
Also, most of the other food at Tiffinwallah was not bad. The dosa and sambar I tried were both very good- and hot- which is my problem with Saravanaas, across the street (supremely delicious South Indian restaurant but I’ve been served cold food twice now). The ras malai, batata vada, kachori and daal (all on the thali) were quite yummy. I don’t like kadi so I can’t judge it. Also, the samosa chaat we had for an appetizer was also decent, and my friend really liked the bhel (pictured above). Neither of us cared for the bhajjias because they were bright orange and tasteless (pictured behind the bhel). I think Tiffinwallah is a decent restaurant- but I think they have an understandably difficult time making the undhiyo because it is a difficult dish to make well. [Traditionally, undhiyo is cooked in a clay pot over coals and the pot is turned upside down to let the vegetables mix with the spices and cook thoroughly- hence the name, undhiyo, which means “upside down” in Gujarati.]
I guess if I am serious about eating good undhiyo in New York, I could always try Vatan, also in the same area. Vatan is a very popular Gujarati restaurant with a fixed price, rotating menu and a long reservation list. I hear it’s very good, but something about making reservations to eat Gujarati food is irritating to me. I’d rather just go home, since a bus ride to Boston is $15 and the fixed price menu at Vatan is $23.
Gujarati Thali: $14; Bhel: $3; Samosa Chaat: $4; Paper Dosa: $6; Side of Sambar: $2.
Tiffinwallah is at 28th and Lexington Avenue. Tel: 212-685-7301