A Bollywood Belly of Bhaji, Bhurji, and Bhuna on Bleecker

Comics | March 4, 2016 | By

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Big ole disclaimer before we start: this post is not sponsored by Masala Times, nor did they ask me to review them. This is an independent ode to them stimulated by my desire to find, devour, and acknowledge the best Indian street/comfort food in a little borough by the name of Manhattan. 

As you can probably conclude from my posts earlier in the week, I have a bit of a preoccupation with Bollywood, a love-hate relationship if you will. I love the unapologetic approach to melodrama, bigger than life whimsy, and soulfulness of Bollywood movies. 

The hate comes with Bollywood’s unapologetic and all too often formulaic storylines which can perpetuate misogyny and sexism. (See Monday’s post).

Now, what I DON’T have a love-hate relationship with, and what can better be described as a love-love too much relationship with, is Indian street food. Like, I could eat tikkas, bhurji, bhaji, and rolls with a thanda Thums Up to wash it all down, all day, err day.

But alas, I’m able to fight the urge on most days. Or, some days.

Honestly, it’s a daily struggle. Some days you just got to give into your whims. And so give in I did. 

I kept coming by Masala Times in reviews, with some critic or foodie giving it a lotta love. I’ve also gotten rave reviews about it from friends who went there to feed post drinking cravings for bready-meaty-masala-y food (The restaurant is open until 5am on Fridays and Saturdays on the ever popppin’ and colorful Bleecker Street).

Whereas back in the day, the outter boroughs were the only real stomping grounds for authentic tasting Indian street foods, Manhattan came around with some solid joints over the years. So, there is no lack of pretty good Indian street food here. 

Still so, I was hungry for something…something more. I wanted to be wow’d. 

I was growing tired of my old haunts where the parathas and pavs were no longer made fresh but, are now outsourced to some frozen shit to meet demands. 

I wanted to taste the melodrama in my mouth of real, nuanced, made from scratch masala blends. 

I was also curious to see for myself if there was any real substance to a restaurant that was clearly playing off the now trendy kitsch of Bollywood. One only need to visit their website to get the gist of what I’m saying. 

So I went in, already chuckling when I was greeted with this upon entering. Clever. But the food?

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bahahahaha…very sketchy desi-ish, dontcha think?!

I had decided early on that I would take everything to go because I had one too many deadlines to work on. So, I figured I would take a whole buncha food to help fuel a long day/night of toiling. 

However, once there,  I thought it sacrilege to not have something garam garam on the spot, so I ordered and ate the keema pav

Swoon, guys, just straight up swoon.

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The first thing that hit me was the freshness of the breads. As mentioned already, I feel other spots really deem paratha, roti, and pav as afterthoughts/lifeless holding cells for whatever they were to be filled with. 

Not at Masala Times. 

I had to know if they were made on premise so I asked owner Hemant Phul who was there.

I told him it was some of the best desi bread I had ever tasted and yep, just as I hunched, it was all made on the premise. 

After I introduced myself and my obsession with street food, Hemant very thoughtfully helped guide me through the menu, telling me what the best sellers are (they’re the chicken achari, lamb bhuna roll, and paneer bhurji roll in case you’re wondering).

I told him that though I would consider his recommendations, I would probably order many, MANY items because, erhm, heiferdom. He said I had to order the tandoori chicken because it was most probably unlike any tandoori chicken I’ve had outside of Mumbai.

In my head I was thinking, really? Tandoori chicken

But the Bollywood twinkle in his eye swayed me so I thought, what the heck, I’ll take one to go as well. 

OK. The man was not kidding. It was one of the tastiest, succulent, tandoored birds I remembered having.  

This is how it looked, minus me laying in it (which is not an altogether inaccurate depiction of how I probably looked by the end of the night).

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Perhaps the most delicious dish I brought home and enjoyed though was the Tandoori Mushroom Roll.

This was a roll filled to the brim with shiitake mushrooms spiced and cooked to perfection. 

I would share an actual picture of it with you, but, well this:

MASALA TIMES3 OK, the mushrooms weren’t really heart-shaped but I loved that roll so damn much, that’s how I remember it!

Elated that I had found my new favorite go to spot for street food, I contacted Hemant, inspired by his food, and wanting to know if he’d share a recipe with me for my fellow sketchy desis.

While I had his attention I also asked him what the secret was to his tandoori chicken. Hemant told me that he used cornish hen and that it needed no magic; it just had to be cooked with care on a low flame. 

If you remember, I shared a cornish hen recipe with ya’ll on Wednesday. I thought my recipe was the hot shit…until I tasted what Hemant does with cornish hen.

I confessed to Hemant that his approach was hellva lot better than mine. Trying my luck, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing a recipe for cornish hen that he loves to cook as his version of soul food.

Hemant was nice enough to share his recipe for Lucknowi Chicken! You will not find this dish on his menu which makes it all the more precious in a way. 

So without further delay, *drumroll* (drumstick?) for Hemant’s recipe given to me in his own words and style!

(I have not tried this recipe yet so in the interim I took artistic licence to provide a rendering of sorts!)

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Ingredients

  • 2 (4 pound) Cornish hens, cut 8 pieces per hen, bone in
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons canola oil
  • 5 large red onions, diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 12 cloves
  • 12 green cardamon pods, crushed (husk and seeds)
  • 2 black cardamom pods, crushed ((husk and seeds)
  • 6 whole green chilies
  • 10 fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons dhania (coriander)powder
  • 1 tablespoon jeera (cumin) powder
  • 2 teaspoons red chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • salt to taste
  • 1 bunch coriander leaves, washed and chopped fine for garniture 

Directions

Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onions. Reduce the flame to low. 

Once onions are half way caramelized (about 20 minutes), add ginger, garlic, and salt. Mix and continue cooking on very low flame for 10 minutes. 

Next, add bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves,  green cardamom, and black cardamom. Stir and continue cooking until onions are completely caramelized, about 40 to 45 minutes. 

Add green chilies, mint leaves, dhania powder, jeera powder, red chili powder, turmeric powder, and salt to taste. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. 

Add chicken and 1 cup water. Continue cooking on low flame, until you see oil separate from the mixture, about 45 minutes. 

Garnish with coriander and serve hot!

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There you have it, Loves! I’ll be sure to post my recipe notes after I try this at home though realistically, it probably won’t happen this weekend. I’ll probably be too busy eating all my meals at Masala Times!

Get your fix, too, and tell me what you think.

Happy Friday, Sketchites!