The MasalaWala – New York City

September 29, 2013

in Food for Thought,International,National

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The Masawala

179 Essex St.
New York, NY 10002
212-358-9300
www.themasalawala.com

Reviewed & Photographed by: Hazel Sy

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Food and Service:

Beautiful Interior of The MasalaWala

We travel over 8,000 miles, and are just as likely to search out hole-in-the-wall stalls as we would Michelin-starred restaurants. Street food gives us a unique peek into the local culture and often takes our taste buds on a culinary adventure. I rub dusty elbows with my neighbor as I dig in to a spiced delicacy cradled in a humble leaf bowl. The warm coriander and the burn of green chilies at the back of my throat make me feel like I belong in this foreign land, amid clinking spatulas and the excited chatter of locals who don’t seem to mind the white-hot sun slashing past the orange and red roadside awnings as they grab a quick bite before continuing on with the rest of their day.

That is the world that Roni Mazumdar transports me to as he animatedly describes the vision that led to The MasalaWala. Father and son Satyen and Roni Mazumdar wanted to bring this fast-paced, electrically-charged South Asian street food experience to New York City. The gold coin on the logo is reminiscent of the coins that Roni used to save up to buy Samosas and Bhel Puri from the wallas (street hawkers).

Kolkata Gobi Manchurian is so Fresh and Savory

The long dangling lights are refined versions of the stark bulbs that illuminate rows of stalls serving diners late into the night. Colorful paintings of wallas reflect back an earthy, warm glow, and spice jars dot the wall of shelves in the center of the room. The vibe at The MasalaWala is a blend of old-fashioned hospitality and modern day execution as Satyen greets customers at the door and bids them farewell with a hug, while Roni and Chef Abdul Junel use real-time data to evolve the menu.

Traditional dishes such as the creamy and sweet Shrimp Konkani curry, the intensely flavored Nawabi Chicken Biryani, tender Chicken Tikka and Indo Chinese style Vegetable Jalfrezi are authentic, but what makes The MasalaWala a destination is its unique array of East Indian Chaat-Wala and South Asian street-side bites.

Roni tells us that the Dahi Puri is the ultimate street side bite. Each spoonful has a little bit of everything. Chickpeas provide a bite that balances out airy semolina puffs and soft potatoes. Tamarind, mint and yogurt chutneys bring a bright acidity and hint of sweetness.

Dahi Puri is the Ultimate Street Side Bite

The Bhel Puri is a chilled ball of puffed rice, spiced potatoes, chickpeas and curry leaves filled with yogurt. I ignore Roni’s warning to pop the whole thing into my mouth and end up squirting yogurt onto my shirt. Note to self, listen to my host. This cooling dish is the perfect accompaniment to a spicy curry, preparing the palate for another burst of heat and spices.

We are also treated to a cold glass of Mango Lassi. The sweetness of the thick yogurt drink makes me want to save it for dessert, but I am assured that we will be treated to homemade sweets at the end of our meal. A modest wine list accommodates a wide range of preferences with wines from France, Spain, Argentina, South Africa, Germany, Italy and California and one organic Tempranillo. Two types of Rieslings are available; the delicately sweet Valckenburg Kabinett for the spicier dishes and the crisp Valckenberg Dry Riesling for creamier dishes.

Our meal continues with Mumbai Samosa stuffed with potatoes and peas. The samosas have a mild flavor and act as a canvas for the dipping sauces. I highly recommend mixing the sweet Tamarind sauce and the spicy green chili sauce in the same bite. Next up is the Kolkata Gobi Manchurian.

Tandoor-grilled Chicken Tikka

I raise an eyebrow as the server brings over a plate of what looks like bright red Chinese take-out sweet and sour pork. This vegetarian dish of deep-fried cauliflower covered in Indo-Chinese fusion spices represents “Hakka Cuisine,” a fusion based on the flavors brought to Calcutta by Chinese settlers in the 1700s.

The Tandoor-grilled Chicken Tikka is a far cry from the dry, stringy chicken I have eaten at a few restaurants. The meat is tender, almost milky. The Lamb Kakori Kebab is equally tender. The ground Australian lamb is so delicate that it is difficult to spear with my fork. The mint leaves and spices mixed into the lamb add herbaceous, green and lemon notes that make the dish not taste gamey.

We finish our walla tour with Gulab Jamun and two types of Kulfi. The Gulab Jamun dumplings are served in sweet saffron syrup and sprinkled with shredded coconut which provides texture. To my surprise, the syrup is not cloyingly sweet so I end up risking the consternation of my fellow diners and eat more than my fair share. The homemade Mango and Pistachio Kulfi (Indian ice cream) are thick and creamy with just a hint of natural sweetness. I finish the meal full, but without a greasy feeling and with some room to spare for the Masala Chai tea. The Chai alone is worth a trip to The MasalaWala; mellow and smooth with a hint of spices that do not overpower the black tea. The Chai takes time as it is made to order, but it is worth the wait.

From start to finish, The MasalaWala transports you to the streets of India and back without having to cross the ocean. Stop in soon and tell them Hazel Sy from DinnerReviews.com sent you!
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Hazel Sy is a writer and photographer always in pursuit of the next culinary adventure. From Dai pai dongs in Hong Kong, a yacht galley in the Maldives, her NYC backyard to her small apartment kitchen, she shares her love of food on her blog TastyPursuits.com. When asked why she started her blog, Hazel says, “I started this blog to explore why the flavors work well together in recipes from my cookbook collection, friends and websites. I then experiment with creating my own recipes based on the flavor principles that I discover along the way.” Please check out Hazel’s great Twitter page at -> @tastypursuits

Message from the Editor in Chief: DinnerReviews.com is pleased and honored to welcome Hazel Sy to our Internet Magazine. Her love and knowledge of food, and excellent writing ability is evident in all of her reviews. We feel very lucky to have her contributions.

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