Indian food! We all love it, at least I do. But I rarely get to enjoy it. My entire life I have been fascinated by the colors of India – both in the textiles and in the food. I have been craving Indian food for the past few weeks and when the time came for me to choose what cuisine to explore next, there was no better option. In order to find a good Indian food place around Columbia, I decided to ask a natural expert in all things Indian, my friend from Delhi. I ceaselessly ask her questions about the different festivals that she celebrates, the kind of food she eats, the way she eats it, and Bollywood films. Luckily, she is eager to teach me everything. Thus, I came to her with one request – bring me out for a good Indian meal, please. And so she brought me to Doaba Deli on 107th street and Columbus Ave.
She warned me that the restaurant was very casual (and by that, she meant very casual) and different from Indian food commonly served at restaurants, but more like home-cooked food. I had a feeling I was in for a treat, and boy was I right!
We walked into a make shift seating area with three tables, each with four chairs, and an area to stand to quickly eat. Up two steps was the way into the kitchen where you order your meal. There is a cart with the daily specials. The basic order is a tray with four special options and a side of naan or rice. Additionally there is an entire menu of different vegetarian dishes, different bread sides, and different desserts to order.
During my meal, I got to try a large selection of different dishes and they were all absolutely delicious. If you tend to shy away from Indian food because of the heavy spices, then you would prefer the food at this place as it was relatively less spiced than other Indian food I have had and it definitely did not feel as heavy. The list of the dishes is as follows: gourd squash, yellow curry yogurt sauce, mashed greens, spinach and potato, eggplant and potato, dal (lentils), paneer with peas, and chickpeas.
We also ordered a dish called ‘samosa chaat’, which was samosa (fried, potato-stuffed pastry triangles) and chickpeas topped with yogurt, coriander sauce, tamarind sauce, and a spicy red sauce. It was a burst of flavors, but well balanced. This is a typical Indian street food dish. The warmness and heaviness of the samosas was cut by the tanginess of the yogurt and the fresh flavor of the coriander.
I apologize for not being able to particularly point out each individual flavor in the dishes, but Indian food is all about the mixture of spices. To make up for this, I have done some research about the typical spices used in Indian dishes. Cardamom adds a fragrant flavor, chilies add spice, coriander adds a fresh and earthy flavor, cloves give a rich flavor, tamarind gives a tart flavor, and turmeric gives a bright yellow color. Most of the dishes include a variety of these spices in different proportions. Thus, each dish has a hint of each of these flavors, and depending on the dominating flavor it is evident which spice was used most heavily.
There is no fork or knife served with the dish, only a spoon for the rice. The rest of the meal is eaten with your hands. You rip a piece of naan and scoop up food into your mouth or spoon food into your bowl of rice and mix it.
During the meal, I could not help but notice all of the Indians coming in to get a quick dinner or chai tea. They were definitely regulars and were friendly with the old lady who served the dishes. It did not feel as if I were eating in public, but rather as if I was in someone’s kitchen. Many people shared their tables, if there was no other room. Do not expect to have a private or served meal. Instead, expect a very comfortable and casual atmosphere with no pretentions.
For dessert we ordered a gulab jamun (fried dough ball soaked in sugar and oil). It is good, but nothing extraordinary. In fact, it is quite bland compared to the rest of the meal. Before taking a bite, you should press it down to squeeze out the oil.
Overall, the meal was an incredible experience full of satisfying food and cultural immersion. It feels as if you have left New York walking into Doaba Deli and have stepped into a true Indian corner shop with the smells of the local cuisine and the sounds of the local language. There is even a small section to buy all sorts of Indian biscuits. Another benefit are the very low prices. A generous meal can easily cost between five to ten dollars per person. I am so glad to have found such a good, casual eat-out place right by Columbia. I definitely plan on coming again, and highly recommend it to anyone.