Wednesday, May 25, 2016

India Cafe

Bombay binge

Alas, Bombay Diner opened, closed, opened and closed again before I could write about it. Luckily India Cafe opened in its place (851 Wayne Avenue, near Giant supermarket, (717) 263-2660) only a few months ago and is a perfectly fine replacement--

--especially on Mother's Day, where the owners had set up a buffet dedicated to everyone's favorite parent (Stuff your mother on her special day! Add four, five pounds to your weight in a single sitting!). 

My first plate you could see above (clockwise): simple salad, paneer tikka masala, and a popular street food called chaat papri. In more detail: paneer tikka masala is cheese cubes roasted in a broiling hot tandoor (a cylindrical clay or metal oven), and served in a spicy rich gravy (basically a curry--what they call a masala in English). Chaat papri is a popular street snack, papri dough fried in ghee (clarified butter) then served with boiled potatoes, chickpeas, yogurt and a sweet-sour tamarind chutney. Crispy on doughy on salty on sour on dairy on sweet--your tongue is too busy dancing to make sense of the flavors, but who cares? Dance, tongue, dance!

An Indian meal wouldn't be complete without bread, and I don't mean white, wheat, whole wheat and rye; I mean naan, glorious naan, or literally hundreds of pancakelike breads of different kinds of flours, different degrees of crispiness or flakiness, an almost infinite number of ingredients one can stuff inside--in this case Kashmiri naan, or bread stuffed with chopped nuts and dried maraschino cherries, all cooked quickly in a tandoor oven, then brushed till dripping with ghee. Dip that in the masala--I dare you. I double dare you.

Note the glasses of thick golden cream--lassi, or yogurt in a glass, either salty or mango. Ice water won't work on a tongue coated with chili; carbonated soda acts like sandpaper on your sensitive tissues. Dairy is the right way to cool the coal-fired furnaces, the chili-seared tongues. 

Second plate was as follows (clockwise from 10 AM): more chaat papri (the dough was crispier when hot and fresh); a vegetable somosa (basically a fried turnover stuffed with peas, carrots and potatoes); an onion pakora (onions battered and deep fried); and acharu eggplant (spicy pickled eggplant).  

More mango lassi; lots more. 

Dessert was an English trifle. You heard me--light sponge cake stuffed with fresh strawberries and maraschinos and bananas, then slathered over by as much whipped cream as the tray can bear. What did this deliriously rich dessert have to do with Indian cuisine? I don't know, but it was airy, rich, sweet. 

On the way out there's a sauceboat filled with fennel seeds and candy, to freshen the breath (personally I thought it flavored the breath but no one else was bothered by the distinction).

Next: a nap or heart attack. And the odd realization that I'd stuffed myself with an all-vegetarian meal (actually there was meat--tandoori chicken, buttered chicken, lamb koftas (spiced meatballs), salmon tikka masala). Tell the truth I'd gone through all the vegetable entrees before I realized I was full, and by then it was too late. Oddest thing--it didn't matter. It was all delicious.

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