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Sangam is the no-longer-recently-opened-and-therefore-not-really-hot-news biryani joint in Greenwich Village. Of course I meant to write about it months ago….

The samosa is average, oily, but the vegetable biryani, flecked with long green beans, carrots, and cubes of potato, tastes surprisingly light although it is wholesome, flavorful food. The plump grains of rice are robustly spiced and topped with browned, tempting slivers of fried onion; a cooling yogurt raita is a refreshing condiment.

Sangam’s biryani is nothing like the decadent biryanis I sampled in Bombay last month, stuffed with nuts, mushrooms and cream, but I think it works well here in New York. The eatery provides a fairly light, tasty meal that is an addition to the cheap-eats scene but an alternative to the falafel, dumpling, and noodle joints everywhere in the city. One could eat a Sangam biryani and be happily full but still escape the hard-hitting waves of somnolence guaranteed to come after a few bites of richer biryanis…or falafels.

Sangam’s co-owner, Aslam Parviz, introduced me to Rafat Ansari, the wife of his partner Ishrat Ansari, and the cook responsible for the home-ground spice mixture (masala) that so fragrantly seasons Sangam’s biryani. Rafat’s masala, says Aslam, is what distinguishes Sangam’s biryani from that which you find at other restaurants; most places use a prepackaged biryani mix called Shaan, which he says, wrinkling his nose, “I can smell from a mile away.”

Despite the restaurant’s bare-bones setting (just a few tables and chairs, really) Rafat and Aslam’s faith in their home-ground masala and their belief in food prepared with care sets Sangam apart from the other cheap-eats ethnic places in the city. After the biryani, I tried Sangam’s version of the trendy Kati Roll and loved what an unfashionably straightforward package it was: flaky, freshly grilled paratha wrapped around a tomato-potato-carrot based vegetable dish accented with tiny black mustard seeds. This was not a glitzy roll, decked out in extra oil or garlic or hot green peppers and chaat masala like Roomali’s delicious wraps. Nor was it a party roll to satiate late-night revelry-induced hunger. It’s a seedha-saadha, freshly prepared Indian wrap, tasty and satisfying, sensible and wholesome, in the way that home-cooked food tends to be. I loved it.

I read somewhere that Sangam’s prices have increased since I took a photograph of this menu. I think the vegetable biryani, which was $6, is now $7.50?

Sangam is on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal at 190 Bleecker Street. (212) 228-4648. They deliver, oh and their website provides the menu along with the new prices.

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Lately, all I’ve wanted to eat is South Indian food…and fruits, and daal. What’s happening to me?

I’ve mentioned Saravanaas a bunch on this blog. I first ate there with my parents a little over a year ago when I moved to the city, and then I took a friend there for his birthday because I liked it so much. After that I went back a few times but grew disillusioned after a series of cold dosas and started visiting other South Indian restaurants in the area. Then Sandhya told me that I should give Saravanaas another try, but she recommended I go before the lunchtime rush to ensure hot dosas. So last week I went for brunch on Saturday and then this Friday I went again for an early dinner, both off-peak times. Lo and Behold, my food was piping hot.

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On Friday we started with these steaming idli, round, pillow-like patties of rice and lentil batter. Excellent. We marveled at their perfect softness that never dissolved into mush upon impact with saliva. These were served with a bowl of hearty sambar and three chutneys- a wet, garlicky tomato and onion chutney, a thicker, milder coconut chutney, and the grassy coconut-coriander chutney. Alongside the sambar was a small dollop of a fiery paste with a gritty texture. Called groundut paste, it tasted of sesame and the tiniest smear of it was enough to add a hot bite to the sambar soaked iddlys.

Next we ordered these suckers, the potato bonda. Despite a deceiving appearance, their skin was not as crispy as we had hoped, and the filling, though tasty, was the same turmeric-tinged potato masala that we would eat later in our dosas. Overall, they were a little boring.

These two scoops of rava kichidi tasted like the upma my mother often makes at home. While she uses ground cream of wheat instead of the longer grains, her method of preperation- roasting the grains and then sauteeing them with mustard, onions, green chiles, peas, and sometimes carrots- is the same as Sarvanaas’s. My mother’s upma and Sarvanaas’s rava kichidi are creamy, savory porridges with roasted, comforting flavors.

Mmmmm. My Mysore Masala Dosa with Onion. I ordered the same dosa for breakfast and dinner because I liked it so much. The cooks at Saravanaas spread a thin layer of the potato masala and and hot mysore spices all around the interior of the dosa as well as spooning a large portion of the potatoes in the middle of the dosa, so that each bite is coated. The raw red onions scattered over the masala are sharp and delicious.

We ordered beer as an afterthought, while waiting for our entrees, and then struggled to finish them, especially because our entrees arrived at the same time as the alcohol. I ordered the Kingfisher for old time’s sake- I celebrated my 21st birthday at the Pizza Hut in Jaipur with my study abroad friends and Kingfishers- but after tasting the two beers side by side, I definitely liked the Taj better.

So, I think I could eat South Indian food everyday while this phase lasts, but I need to find someone who has as high an appetite for the food as I do. I find it so much more palatable than Punjabi food, but a friend disagrees, saying that South Indian food contains too much dry heat for him. I prefer that crispy heat, folded over some potatoes and dunked into sambars bobbing with vegetables and smeared with messy, thick chutneys. Saravanaas for breakfast, anyone?

Idli: $3.95; Potato bonda: $3.95; rava kichidi: $4.95; Mysore masala dosa: $8.95; beer: $8!
Saravaanas is at the corner of 26th and Lexington. (212) 679-0204.

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We had plans, great plans for Saturday night. We were going to dinner (some place fancy) in the east village and then stop by a friend’s party and maybe go out after that, too. Three engagements in one evening is quite unusual for my hermit-self. But as the minutes drew closer to seven, I started to falter and the evening, previously full of alluring social prospects, suddenly seemed daunting. I didn’t feel like teetering downtown in the ridiculous heeled boots I bought in a moment of rain-soaked weakness when my flat shoes were sopping wet. I was tired. I wanted to nourish my soul with South Indian food, specifically a masala dosa, and then go home to my bed with its five pillows and a book. Bye-bye party and the chance to “meet nice people,” as my mother would say.

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So we stood on the corner of 24th and 3rd, debating what to do for ten minutes. Good thing I have the most patient friends in the world because I’m well aware that I’m ridiculous. We ended up at the party and of course it was fun, especially because I got to try Humboldt Fog with its pretty, ashy streak running through the rich, crumbly layers of goat cheese. And then, finally, it was time for that dosa. We almost ran back up the blocks.

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I’ve been wanting to visit Pongal since last year, when S. told me that she loved it. The rectangular restaurant was packed save for one table adjacent to the door, which is where we promptly sat. While I did spot scatterings of South Asians throughout the room, the crowd was more diverse than the one that generally frequents Saravanaas‘s Sunday brunch. I had abated some hunger from nibbling on cheese, so we decided to share the Iddly and Vada Combo and the Mysore Rava Masala Dosa.

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The iddly and vada were standard, good but not exceptional. I felt that the sambar was a little thin, lacking ferocity, but the red tomato chutney served alongside was irresistibly tart and gritty with mustard seeds. Spicy masala powder was smeared on the polka-dotted, angular layers of the Mysore Rava Masala dosa; between the layers was a pile of yellow potatoes wild with onion, cilantro and slices of hot peppers. Again, this was modest fare, nothing fancy, but I tore into it and it satisfied my Saturday night soul food craving. And then I crawled into bed, with my five pillows and a book.

Iddly & Vada combo: $4.45; Mysore Rava Masala Dosa: $9.45

Pongal is at 110 Lexington Avenue (near 28th street), New York, NY. (212) 696-9458.

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On Robert Sietsema’s recommendation, T. and I made the trip to Jersey City for a meal at Udupi Shri Krishna Palace. While waiting for Gabe, who was overjoyed we were visiting his neighborhood, we walked the glittery length of Newark Avenue, ducking into shops to watch small crowds of customers order sev puri and samosas. I promised myself that if I saw anyone frying up a fresh batch of golden jalebis, I would buy some and spoil my dinner. Sadly, no such luck- I guess Jersey City is not the equivalent of Edison.

Udupi Shri Krishna Palace is a tiny, boxy space, more a take out stop than a restaurant, with florescent lights glaring down on the uncomfortable clutter of benches, tables, and the dusty water cooler in the corner. We sat underneath a protruding heater, our grimy corner illuminated by the lights, and served ourselves water using the plastic cups stacked on the cooler.

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We ordered ragda pattis, fried potatoes cutlets doused in chutney, chickpeas, and in this instance, spoonfuls of crunchy sev instead of onions. The chutneys were spicy and sweet and soaked through the savory pattis for bites that were properly sensational, bites of India in Jersey City.

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Chennai Garden

For my Sunday lunch, I want full-bodied flavors that won’t make me feel like a lazy pudding. After all, Sunday is the last day of glorious freedom before the week begins and although Punjabi food or cheesy fries from Shake Shack sound appealing, I don’t want to be so weighed down by lunch that I sleep the day away. Sunday = possibility, and I must make the most of it.

This is why South Indian cuisine makes the perfect Sunday lunch. Often consisting of soft, steaming white iddlys and dosas filled with sunny, superbly-spiced potatoes, onions, and chiles, it’s a well-balanced meal- carbs in the potatoes and iddlys, protein in the dosa and sambar, deliciousness in every bite- that’s incredibly tasty. (Another South Indian favorite of mine is upma, cream of wheat prepared with ghee, mustard seeds, cashews, chiles, chopped vegetables and bay leaves.)

At home, my mom will make upma or sometimes we’ll walk over to my kaki’s and fold pieces of crispy dosa over potatoes. In Bombay, my masi makes excellent South Indian food at her home, but we’ll drive to Cafe Madras in Matunga for their filter coffee; we can eat at home, but it’s a real treat to sip on strong milky coffee.

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In New York, I can find most of the foods I love from India. At Chennai Garden in Murray Hill, we started with the excellent bonda, two crispy fried balls of twice-cooked potato. I was initially quite excited for the Kangipuram iddly, golden rice cakes embedded with cashew and green chili, but I found that their texture was disappointingly mushy, and the green chilies lacked fire.

Our food and drinks arrived very quickly. The sweet lassi was too sweet, but the salty lassi was refreshing and frothy with cilantro, cumin, and salt.

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The Mysore Masala Dosa was hot (a real change from Saravanas, where I inevitably get cold food) and enclosed were fantastically spiced potatoes and a sprinkling of red chilli. The hearty sambar and fresh coconut chutney helped elevate this dosa to superb. The dosa and the bonda were my favorite items.

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Our Onion and Hot Pepper Utthappam, a savory pancake made from a batter of daal and rice, was OK, but not particularly flavorful or memorable. The Lemon Rice was also pretty mediocre- I didn’t taste any popped mustard seeds or other complexities, but it did come with a deliciously fiery, nutty red aachar. Next time, however, I’m ordering the yogurt rice.

After writing this ode to South Indian Sundays, I’m going to eat eggs at Alias. Let’s see how they sit with my Sunday Stomach.

Bonda: $3.95; K. Iddly: $4.95; Mysore Masala Dosa: $7.95; Onion and Hot Pepper Utthappam: $7.45; Lemon Rice: $6.95

Chennai Garden is on 129 East 27th street, near Lexington Ave. (212) 689-1999

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Kinara
473 5th Avenue (and 12th street)
[park slope]
Brooklyn, NY
(718) 499-3777

Today’s subject- good Indian food in a restaurant- has me humming “At Last,” along with my iTunes. Quality Indian food in a restaurant is a rarity, which is unfortunate, because I’m always craving Indian food but loathe to order it because of the inevitable disappointing outcome. However, last week I found a restaurant- Kinara- that serves Indian food above and beyond the typical fare- and now I’m humming. I guess I’ve been looking for a while.

A few weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion at NYU called Found in Translation: An Exploration of How Asian Cuisines Become Part of the American Culinary Landscape. One of the panelists was Maya Kaimal, author of Curried Flavors and Savoring the Spice Coast of India, and founder of Maya Kaimal Fine Foods. The other two panelists were Amy Besa, owner of Cendrillon, a Filipino restaurant I ate purple foods at a while back, and Grace Young, author of The Breath of a Wok, who was hilariously disparaging when describing the state of Chinese food when it first came to America. She also said, “I always travel with a wok.” The panel was moderated by Kathy Gunst, of PRI’s Here and Now.

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I went to Indian Bread Co. last night for a second dinner. I was stuffed after my first dinner of dumplings but my appetite grew as I sat through this event. Then I remembered that Indian Bread Co. was in the area; I had recently reread the Nirali article on its owner, Nandini Mukherjee. Last night was my first time at this particular kati roll spot and to be honest, I really wasn’t expecting much. The hype over kati rolls seems to focus on Kati Roll, which I’m not a huge fan of anyway, because I think their rolls are unnecessarily oily.

I ordered a Paneer Tikka Masala roll and sat down to wait. Two of the other tables were occupied, but luckily the narrow shop wasn’t too busy. I asked for extra onions and green chilies on the side and when I picked up my roll, it came with a plate of amazingly stinky red onions (how I love love love red onions) and a cup of green, mint chutney. The chutney was obviously not the green chilies I had asked for, nor was it spicy, but it smelled like a minty forest and tasted great.

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I bit into the roll. I expected rubbery, dry paneer. But it was soft, almost creamy. It was fresh! And the masalaed, yogurt based marinade seeped its rich flavors into the small cubes of paneer. It was so unusual that I pulled out a piece, examined it, and passed it to my friend, who was eating an Achari Gosht Roll. He said, “Wow, I’ve never eaten such soft paneer before.” Well, I have! In Bombay, my masi makes paneer tikka at least twice while I’m there. Everytime, I blissfully stuff myself on marinated chunks of the freshest, milkiest paneer, tomatoes, capsicums, and onions (and then spend the subsequent hours with painful stomach aches but I don’t mind because it’s just so good). This paneer tikka reminded me of my masi’s. Other pros:

The paratha was not too dry nor too oily.
The chutney was evenly and liberally distributed throughout the roll.

A con:
The roll was tiny, about half the size of my usual Roomali rolls. The price is high for the size of these rolls but at least I know where to get my paneer fix now. Oh, and they also have stuffed parathas and “naaninis,” both of which don’t sound too appealing, but the “naanwich,” which I think is a pita-style sandwich made of naan and paneer instead of pita and falafel, sounds sort of intriguing.

And then we got chai, which was watery and totally blah. And it had cinnamon! I know Starbucks chai has cinnamon, but I’ve never been able to taste it our chai at home (which I know has no cinnamon) or other South Asian places in the city. For chai, I’d recommend going to Lahore Deli, on Crosby Street (so close to my job); their chai is fragrantly spicy and strongly comforting. Just the other morning, it was grey and drizzling, but the cup of chai I got from Lahore and sipped while walking to work reminded me why I like living in New York.

Indian Bread Company is at 194 Bleecker Street, between 6th Avenue and Macdougal, New York, NY. (212) 228-1909.
Paneer Tikka Masala Roll: $4.50
Chai: $1.50

Lahore Deli is at 132 Crosby Street, New York, NY. (212) 965-1777. Chai: $ 1.50

Related posts: Roomali is so much better than Kati Roll, 12 tastes of Bombay, Kati Roll, Brimful of Chat

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