Courtesy of Babu Ji. Photography by Mikey Pozarik.
If you soon find yourself in Manhattan's scrappy Alphabet City and spy a crowd congregating outside a restaurant, you might assume they're waiting for one of the usual suspects: a fancy burger or some new Cronut-style thingamabob. In fact, this hungry mob is queuing for the garlic naan, the spice-packed beef curry, and all the other appetizing dishes being reinvented at Babu Ji (BabuJiNYC.com), the newly minted hot spot that Jennifer Singh runs with her husband, the chef Jessi Singh.
Babu Ji makes Indian cuisine feel fresh by deviating from its typical takeout-centric model. "Chefs and operators of many Indian restaurants are hardworking, brave migrants who are seeking a way to make a living by owning a business," Jennifer says. "They're typically not from the culinary field." Though a number of high-end Indian eateries have made their mark in the United States, they are mostly for the white-tablecloth set (many of India's best chefs hail from swanky hotels). "We have a creative drive and are somewhere in the middle," Jennifer says.
That translates to foodie-friendly offerings made with farm-to-table ingredients served in a casual, hip environment. Curry-philes can't stay away, nor will you be able to after a bite of Babu Ji's luscious butter chicken.
And New York isn't the only city channeling New Delhi. West Coasters wishing to dig into new-wave Indian can score some chutney and fried cauliflower at Bollywood Theater (BollywoodTheaterPDX.com) in Portland, Ore. Baadmash (BadmaashLA.com), in Los Angeles, has dubbed itself an "Indian gastropub" and recently dished out chicken tikka poutine at Cali's famed Coachella music festival. Austin's G'raj Mahal (GrajMahalAustin.com) offers tatted locals pints of local brew to cool a super-spicy vindaloo served on a spacious outdoor patio. And Chicago's Pub Royale (PubRoyale.com) has turned Indian into the drunk food of choice with its glorious salt-cod samosas, on the menu until 2 a.m.
If restaurants like these continue to impress, America's next surge of Indian food options will come quickly, their flavor profiles reaching farther and wider. "Indian food, like the Indian people and their cultures, changes so frequently within the country," says Jennifer. "Travel 25 miles, and the people will look different, speak an entirely different language, and have their own unique cuisine." Savoring that cuisine is a delicious journey to be on, especially when it spares you a pricey plane ticket.
Your New Indian Favorites
Had your fill of tikka masala and Goan curry? Try these less familiar dishes.
Popular in the northern Kashmir region, this lamb-based stew cuts the heat of Kashmiri chilies with curried yogurt.
Millworkers in Mumbai were addicted to this stuff back in the 1850s, and today the tomato and potato dip (meant to be sopped up with bread) is a common street food.
For dessert, cool down with this Indian ice cream. The dairy is boiled down until it thickens, and it's then sweetened with honey, giving it a texture that's spongier than the scoops you're used to.
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