Posted by: Jeffsayyes | February 26, 2010

South Indian Ambassador Wrap-Up – Joseph Aranha in Little India

From our South Asian ambassador, Joseph Aranha:

We will meet at 6 PM on the 13th at the corner of 74th and 37th Road and then move into a small Tibetan restaurant for a snack a brief introductory lecture and some tea – regular Indian spice tea or Tibetan butter tea. Then onto a lecture tour of the area and then finally to dinner. Please tell your group to be on time and late comers can call in and join us wherever we are. This is basically a study program but we will have fun.

We met at 6pm and not 3 minutes later, we were off. Joseph took us to Bombay Chat for butter Tea, but our group of 12 was too big and they were too crowded already as most Tibetan stops are lately. He shook it off and brought us to one of his favorite places to eat, Kebab King. This, he told us, was Pakistani style, evidenced by the number of meat offerings in the dishes. He said the owner was ruthless with his chefs, willing to fire on the spot for one missed dish. It was clear Joseph held Kebab King with the highest regard.

photo courtesy Stella Dacuma

We walked up 73rd street where he recognized the corner at 37th Ave as having all Bangladeshi businesses. I never realized they were all here, but apparently they are.

photo courtesy Stella Dacuma

He then brought us to Rajbhog Sweets, which he regarded as the king of sweets for the Indian people of America. It is a chain, with locations in Hicksville, Jersey City, Atlanta and North Carolina among about 5 others in the States. If you are going to someone’s house, to bring a box from Rajbhog is the utmost gift for the hosts. It shows you really went all out and spared no expense. There Joseph dispelled American notions of chai tea, telling us Chai just means Tea. Nothing more, nothing less. So chai tea literally means tea tea. What we had, and what many Americans refer to as Chai tea, was Masala Tea. Which translates to spice tea. This same misnomer can be described with many dishes like chicken masala, where masala doesn’t describe much other than it has some sort of spice in it. The same with curry. We apparently need finer descriptions on our menus.

photo courtesy Stella Dacuma

Joseph wanted to show us a dish with evidence of the 5 tastes (sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and astringent), so he ordered us all pani pori with the works. This was a fried, round crisp drenched with chick peas, yogurt sauce, sweet sauce and other ingredients.


After only a half an hour, it became apparent that Joseph has an incredible wealth of knowledge and seemed happy to lay it all on us.

We were then taken to one of his favorite South Indian restaurants, Dosa Palace, with some surprises on the way. Our expanded group of 15 took a table in the middle of the floor, which then started the frenzy of picture taking.

We were first given Papadum with 4 dipping sauces or chutneys, they were tomato, mango, tamarind and possibly a red pepper one. This thin, crisp, large chip was a bit salty and slightly nutty, working as a great vehicle for it’s side dishes and a sampling of the spices to come.

photo courtesy Judy Ruminates

As another appetizer, we had idli and vada with sambal and coconut chutney. The idli is a light, savory cake and the vada is a ring of fried dough.

photo courtesy Stella Dacuma

We were then presented with dosas, which would become an integral component of our evening. The richness of the potato filling was surprising. This, mixed with the crisp delicacy of the crust, and the zing of the dipping sauces proved satisfying.

What could be considered the focus or entree of the meal was the thali plate, which is essentially a sampler platter of 11 dishes to eat with rice and chapati. Favorites seemed to span each of the offerings, as it’s apparent nearly everyone can find something they appreciate in this circle of dishes.

photo courtesy Judy Ruminates

Joseph taught us to eat with our hands. holding our four fingers downward to scoop up the rice and toppings and push the grains inwards with our thumbs. Sanitary? Other than frequent hand-washing, we were told of the tradition of Indians to use their right hand for eating and the left hand for the backside. Also, in regards to sickness, it has something to do with karma – you’re going to get it anyways.
And if you didn’t do it, sheepishly preferring your fork, Joseph would yell “Come on, you coward!” Pretty funny.

Also on the table, family style, was tamarind rice, which was a specialty not on the menu.

photo courtesy Judy Ruminates

We had 2 types of dessert, which was carrot and almond halva. These were sweet dishes, scooped up similar to rice pudding.

Near the end of dinner, we toured the kitchen and were taught how their dosas were made. The lovely dosamaker would apply the batter to the grill, sprinkle some water on the batter, put some of the potato mix on the grill to heat up, flatten out the batter, scoop up the mix and apply it to the dosa, leave it til brown, then fold and plate. The process took about 4 minutes.










After dinner, we were taken to Apna Bazaar. I asked Joseph how this place compares to Patel Brothers and he said Patel is “snobby”. Too expensive, plus worse quality from complacency because of their superior location on 74th street and also a name everyone recognizes. Apna, he says, prides itself on having everything in South Asian cooking. Basically, if you can’t find it there, it doesn’t exist. Some of us loaded up on spices or sweets, while others took notes for future excursions. This is where Joseph shops.






Special Thank You to Joseph Aranha and the gracious hosts at Dosa Palace and Rajbhog Sweets. This was well beyond what I ever dreamed for the Ambassador Program and we were lucky to have such a skilled and enthusiastic leader. Joseph has in mind some more events in the future, so keep in touch for more adventure. Cheers.

Bombay Chaat
37-19A 37th Rd

Kabab King Diner
73-01 37th Rd
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
(718) 457-5857
www.kababking.com

Bangladeshi corner
73rd St & 37th Rd

Rajbhog Sweets
7227 37th Ave
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
(718) 458-8512

Dosa Place
3566 73rd St
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
(718) 397-1000

Apna Bazaar
7220 37th Ave
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
(718) 565-5960

More info on the Ambassador Program

Links:
Masala Chai wikipedia
Rajbhog Sweets
Papadum on wikipedia
Bombay Chat from City Lore
The 6 Tastes
Idli wikipedia
Great Chaat rundown in Jackson Heights


Responses

  1. Mad respect for the dahi puri! This is one night I am especially sad to have missed.

  2. [...] other things, I’ve realized the importance of the Ambassador Program, as our Indian ambassador, Joseph Aranha, has been instrumental in convincing the best south Asian restaurants in Jackson Heights and [...]


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