Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Celebrating Indian Street Food at The MasalaWala

Delicious Indian kofta 
If you dream of following Anthony Bourdain or Gordon Ramsey on their culinary treks through the streets of India, The MasalaWala is your ticket.

Just a month old, this casual LES eatery is a labor of love of the Mazumdar family, who hand picked authentic recipes from their native Calcutta, as well as regional favorites. 

There's a tempting array of South Asian snacks to explore aside from the basic samosas and pakoras (fritters).  From Calcutta, long known for some of the best street snacks in the country, try a stuffed Mughlai paratha or kati roll, an Indian gourmet wrap. Punjabi fish amritsari is batter fried with lime and red onion, and dum aloo is a classic Kashmiri potato curry.

One of my all time favorites, pani puri (hollow crisp shells stuffed with seasoned potato, onion, chickpeas and tamarind water), is also on the menu, along with the nacho-like papri chat.

'Masala wala' literally means spice carrier. If you spot the coin logo on the wall, you may recognize the jovial Mazumdar patriarch Satyen, who runs the cozy cafe, with his son Roni. He'll gladly explain the menu to you, as he offers you a complimentary taste of salty mango lassi.

Forget any misconception that the food will be heavy and oily. Everything we tried was rich in flavor and aroma, but had no hint of greasiness. In fact, it's some of the healthiest tasting Indian food I've had. And the menu is full of vegetarian options.

Chicken kabob lunch special
Take the satisfying kofta, for instance. Chicken ($5) is blended with peanuts and spices and served with coriander and tamarind chutneys. The veggie version ($4.50) is like a V-8: carrots, beets, peas, and green mango are mixed with spicy seasonings.

A variety of kabobs, cooked in a tandoor oven brought over from India, are standouts. And the excellent value lunch special includes rice, salad and warm naan with your choice of kabob for $8-10. The curry box special also comes with the same generous sides for $8-12.

In a few weeks, the menu will introduce Indo-Chinese fusion dishes, wildly popular in India, but relatively unknown in New York. I happen to go nuts over it. Hello, Hakka chilli chicken.

Another enlightened touch is the biodegradable serving ware. The chic square plates are made of bamboo and the flatware is sturdy sugarcane. And if you pay by credit card, the iPad-served bill will email you a receipt. Very helpful for the cool late night crowd who want to keep it moving.

179 Essex St (near E Houston)
212 358 9300
Sun-Thurs 11am - 3am
Fri-Sat 11am - 5am 
delivery + catering available

The MasalaWala on Urbanspoon

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