I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Seeking out a Vada Pav at Desi Gallery

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Food taste better while driving

Who knew that about ½ hour from where I grew up was a little Mumbai? Well more like a little Bombay because it was still Bombay in the 1990s. Iselin, New Jersey is home to a predominantly Indian community. Oak Tree Road is the main strip is littered with various Indian businesses and food related stores. Driving from one end of Oak Tree Road to the other you are transported, in which you see stores supermarkets and pizza joints, typical to any place in Jersey but then suddenly you are transported and the Shoprites and pizza joints are transformed into Patel Cash and Carry and a Kati roll shop. Until recently, I have never been in this area and coming here I always find new places to explore and by explore, I mean eat. 

Vada Pav
In the recent April issue of Saveur, the theme of the issue was sandwiches and one sandwich that caught my attention/belly was one called a vada pav. Now I am a big fan of sandwiches. I mean first off, a sandwich is composed of bread and I am a carbo-whore and pretty much anything can be shoved in between bread and taste great. I mean, growing up and up until high school, I had the same lunch everyday: a turkey sandwich. It was not a Wonderbread turkey sandwich though, it was very specific, and first off the turkey was generally what was on sale and the cheapest so it was Butterball turkey for me. Bread was mainly the square loaf breads from the Asian grocery store bakery, which was bigger and heartier, on occasion Maria’s Italian loaf bread was used but Asian square loaf bread was the core. Mayonnaise always and the only condiment and was spread only on the one side. Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise was what we used for the majority of the time but Hellmans was the backup. Like all little kiddies, I did not necessarily enjoy having the same sandwich day in and day out. I also longed for the Wonderbread sandwiches my Caucasian friends ate but it was not until later in life, in college, I realized how much comfort that this sandwich brought to me as I would find myself recreating my classic turkey sandwich in college. If food is a universal language, then the sandwich is a dialect. Sandwiches are part of ever country or region, but like a local dialect, each has its own unique difference.

Vada Pav and Fig Milkshake

In this sandwich issue of Saveur, they featured the vada pav, which is a sandwich, a street food staple that is a potato fritter stuffed in a roll. Due to my ignorance, I have never thought of Indian cuisine having such a sandwich and thought that Kati rolls was the only sandwich that represented Indian cuisine. Naturally to correct my ignorance, I went in search of a vada pav. My search led me to the Desi Gallery which was like a mini-restaurant/food court/counter and I do not really know what to classify it as, I just know I can get food there. Inside there are 2 counters an ice cream counter and another counter that housed both Indian sweets and one or 2 dishes. However, they had a huge menu in the backdrop in which you could order pretty much any atypical Indian fare, once you get the attention of someone behind the counter. I was in luck in which there was a lunch special of the vada pav. 
Huge potato fritter
 The vada pav came exactly how I imaged it and is quite an impressive sandwich. My vada pav order came with 2 soft rolls, that was similar to a parker house roll and they were soft and pillow like a good old Martin potato bun. The rolls were barely able to contain the 2 potato fritters that looked like it had a case of elephantiasis; the rolls were barely able to contain the potato fritters which were not good for structural integrity but great for my hunger. The vegetable kingdom has very little representation in this sandwich and makes a brief appearance in the tamarind and cilantro chutney. All of this was topped off in a tangy hot sauce that was to an acceptable level of spiciness. By acceptable level it did make the mouth go a bit numb, but neither runny nose nor sweat was broken. I suspect that I only got profiled and only got “gringo” spicy and must specify the level of spiciness I want. The potato fritter had onions in it as well and the spice combination in it reminded me of the filling of a samosa. This is a heavily starchy sandwich, actually it is a starch sandwich but it is oh so good. The tamarind and cilantro chutney is a perfect spread on the sandwich bringing a sweet and sour level of depth to the sandwich. The high level of starch one would except dryness or a certain level of grease but this sandwich had neither and is another sandwich I was humbly disproven about my food knowledge of another culture. 
No Rocky Road Ice Cream here
 Given that I am always in the mood for ice cream, I had to get myself a milkshake here. Sure they had the usual suspects of vanilla, strawberry, chocolate but they had a couple other ones that are not on the Baskin Robbins menu such as figs, mango, dates and chikoo ice cream. I only noticed the chikoo ice cream after I ordered a fig milkshake which was very tasty but I asked to try a sample of the chikoo ice cream. According to the lady, she told me it was just a fruit grown in India. The ice cream had a bean-like taste to it, kind of like red bean with sweet potato. This is a horrible description but I am intrigued by this said fruit and will most likely add this to things to eat as I continue my food quest.

Desi Gallery
825 Us Highway 1 S.
Iselin, NJ 08830- 2634

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