On August 15, also India's Independence Day, I attended a Press Dinner at The Masalawala located in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
A festive and colorful restaurant, The Masalawala is a partnership between a father and a son who bring you Indian street food, in other words, ready-to-eat food and drink sold along a street-side shed or dhaba. Their motto is “taste above all.”
The folks here offered us a very generous tasting menu which consisted of six appetizers, way too many entrees to count, a few desserts, and of course, Masala Chai.
Being of Indian origin, I can safely attest to the fact that Masalawala serves up some tasty and authentic Indian cuisine in all of New York City.
I've tried the overpriced Devis and the fancy Tamarinds, and while I still like those restaurants, The Masalawala delivers far more in terms of taste, authenticity, and overall value!
179 Essex Street
New York, NY 10002
(lower east side)
MENU: The MasalaWala menu.
RECOMMENDED TO: Couples, Casual Dining, Small Groups, Kid-Friendly.
Since it was India's Independence Day, in addition to our tasting menu, we were also served a complimentary Mango Lassi, a divine concoction of mango and yogurt which is essentially a mango smoothie. Tasty and perfectly sweet, you could really taste the mango.
And I also had a glass of Yauquen Cabernet Sauvignon, a vibrant wine with sweeter tannins and body. Paired well with all the Indian food.
Appetizers (left to right)
Dahi Puri - my favorite. Semolina puffs filled with spiced potatoes, tamarind, mint, and yogurt. Traditionally you should eat this flavorful appetizer in one bite to really taste the concoction of flavors. Sweet, tangy, and crunchy at the same time. Mouthwatering and beautiful presentation with a pomegranate seed that sits on top!
Bhel Puri - Puffed rice, spiced potatoes, chickpeas, curry leaves, mustard seeds, with tamarind and mint chutney. The Bhel Puri echoes flavors of the Dahi Puri mentioned above, however this tasty appetizer doesn't contain any yogurt.
Mumbai Samosa - Hmmmm... Samosa is to Indian food as an Empanada is to Latin American food. Crispy triangle turnovers stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas, accompanied with mint and tamarind chutneys. Anything fried is delicious.
Kolkata Gobi Manchurian - Cauliflower florets tossed in ginger, garlic, and Indo-Chinese spices. Although I really enjoyed Masalawala's version of Gobi Manchurian, it could have been more flavorful, perhaps sautéed scallions and extra garlic/ginger would help enhance an already delicious dish.
Chicken TIkka - my second favorite. Tandoor grilled chicken marinated in authentic tandoori marinade. The Chicken Tikka was loaded with flavor, it just hit the spot.
Lamb Katori Kebab - Australian lamb grilled in a Tandoor Grill until soft. I'm not a big lamb eater, but OMG, the lamb was so tender and smoky, you could really taste the cumin. Outstanding!
Entrees (left to right)
Nawabi Chicken Biryani - a fragrant medley of slow-cooked long grain Basmati rice, saffron, spices, and chicken. Good.
Baingan Bharta - Roasted eggplant cooked with ginger and cumin. Baingan Bharta happens to my favorite Indian vegetarian dish, however this dish was disappointing. To begin with, I didn't like the addition of peas, and I believe the flavors were not concentrated enough to achieve that smoky eggplant flavor. A let down.
Vegetable Jalfrezi – my favorite. Tantalizing vegetables flavored with paprika, tomatoes, and coriander. My favorite Vegetarian dish, it almost tasted achari (pickle-like), tangy and delicious.
Shahi Paneer - Indian cottage cheese in a rich velvety cashew almond cream sauce. I always say Paneer is India's gift to the world, understandably so, it is rich and creamy, and you can't really mess up a paneer dish, IMO!
Chicken Saagwala - Fresh creamed spinach with slow-cooked chicken. Chicken and spinach is a favorite combo of mine. Yummy!
Lamb Pasanda - Sautéed lamb cooked in yogurt, cream, tomatoes, and cashew sauce. Can't recall the flavor.
Shrimp Konkani Curry - my favorite. South Indian curry with red cayenne pepper, coconut milk, and coriander. The shrimp was soft and cooked to perfection, the curry was so appetizing with a strong flavor of mustard seeds. A taste of heaven!
Kerela FIsh Curry – my second favorite. Sweet and tangy fish curry from Southern India with onions, tamarind, and fenugreek. Excellent dish made with tilapia.
Dal Makhani - A classic Punjabi dish. Black lentils, herbs, cilantro, cooked in a cream based sauce. One of my all time favorite dals!
Dal Tadka - Yellow lentils with herbs and spices. A simple lentil dish, it was good, but also nothing out of the ordinary.
Garlic Naans, Basmati Rice, & Raita
Garlic Naan – Delicious. So fluffy and hot. Loved it!
Basmati Rice – aromatic Indian rice.
Raita – a spiced yogurt sauce.
Load it up… my First Serving
Mango & Pistachio Kulfi - Homemade traditional Indian ice-cream. Both were delicious, but between the two, the pistachio was my favorite.
Gulab Jamun - Khoya dumplings in a sweet saffron syrup. The gulab jamun was painfully sweet in my opinion. This dessert was a let down.
Masala Chai - my favorite. An Indian meal is incomplete without a hot cup of Masala Chai brewed fresh with milk and Indian spices. The Masalawala's Masala Chai has been rated the "best chai in the city," and I second that. At many Indian establishments that offer Masala Chai, I find the chai too thick and lacking in flavor. Masalawala's version is light and robust in flavor. Simply divine!
VERDICT: 4.5 / 5
The Masalawala offers the best authentic Indian food in New York City. Everything at this restaurant is so flavorful, especially the Dahi Puri, Chicken Tikka, Shrimp Konkani Curry just being some of the many highlights. I haven't been to a single Indian restaurant where almost every dish was perfection, that's rare. The Masalawala hits the nail on the head on most dishes.
Additionally, I find that Indian food tends to be overpriced because it is often thought of as fancy, exotic, complex, but it really doesn't have to be. The Masalawala is excellent, authentic Indian food minus all the frills. The best part is it isn't overly oily or creamy, in other words, they use just the right amount of oil/cream needed to prepare a dish, and thus you won't have a trail of oil hanging out on your plate. For those of you wondering is the food spicy? Yes, a little bit for the average non-Indian, but nothing you can't handle, it's just the right amount of spice to please both the Indian palette as well as the non-Indian palette. And if Indian food isn't your cup of tea, just head to The MasalaWala for a hot cup of Masala Chai, you'll thank me for it.
Surely, I'll be dining at this lovely Indian restaurant soon again, for one, I need to decipher what's in that aromatic cup of Masala Chai, and second I want my husband, an Indian food fanatic, to try The Masalawala.
And last but not least, the owner (dad) went out of his way and gave each of us a doggy bag with leftovers + fresh garlic naan to go with it. At the end of a great meal, it’s this little gesture I seem to remember which made all the difference. And now I have to say, Thank You, Uncle!
|Food: Outstanding, or very close to it.||Dahi Puri, Chicken Tikka Kebab, Lamb Kakori Kebab, Shrimp Konkani Curry, Kerela Fish Curry, Vegetable Jalfrezi, Garlic Naan.|
|Drinks: Excellent||Mango Lassi, Masala Chai. Wine/Beer served as well.|
|Décor: Cozy & Casual||Old Bollywood tunes playing in the background.|
|Service: Excellent||Friendly & Attentive.|
|Value: Excellent||Reasonably Priced for NYC. Appetizers ~ $5 to $8. Entrees ~ $10 to $18.|
TELL ME: Have you been to Masalawala? Do you like Indian food? If so, what's your all time favorite dish? What's your favorite Indian restaurant in Manhattan?