MURRAY HILL, CURRY HILL. DISCOVER A LITTLE BIT OF INDIA WITHOUT LEAVING MANHATTAN
Who knew there was a Michelin-starred chef from Mumbai cooking papadam on Lexington? We have amazing pictures and dining tips of where to go for your Indian food fix
By DANIELA STALLINGER
By one recent count there are 141 Indian restaurants in Manhattan, and our guess is that a pretty good percentage of them are concentrated in the three-block stretch of Murray Hill, just north of 26th Street, affectionately dubbed, Curry Hill. It’s a little hard to discern exactly how this neighborhood within a neighborhood came to be, but our guess is that it’s like other ethnic eating enclaves around town: one family opened for business, which attracted friends who moved close by, who attracted even more families, sometimes from the same hometowns, but often just geographic neighbors. The Indian spice mecca, Kalustyan’s, for example, was opened in 1944 by an Armenian immigrant but was soon sold to the owner of a nearby spice-and-sweets shop, and then to a Bangladeshi immigrant and his first cousin in 1988.
Vienna-born photographer Daniela Stallinger is the founder and editor of the BearleaderChronicle.com a travel site and inspiring mosaic of photography, history, musings and ephemera that capture a sense of place. The adventurers who contribute to Bearleader range across the globe, from Germany to Greece, from the Los Padres Forest to Place des Voges, from the Lower East Side in New York to Central London. Their essays and stories, with amazing portraits, fashion shots, interiors and food still-life photography, are a window on the world. We knew Daniela and her team at BearleaderChronicle would uncover the very best of Curry Hill, both new and old. Here are their favorites:
This is a Curry Hill classic. Pongal, which refers to an annual harvest festival in Southern India, features a menu of kosher and vegetarian Indian cuisine. Pongal is known for a sweet rice dish prepared in honor of each the cattle of each family and their role in ensuring the year’s bounty. The honored beasts are embellished with flowers, bells, and doused in colored powders for the event. Look for Pongal events in New York in January, but in the meantime, get a taste of it here.
110 Lexington Avenue
Sahib is the newest venture of Herman Mathur, the twice Michelin-starred chef, restaurateur, and tandoori master. Mathur got his start at the famous Taj Hotel in Mumbai before moving to America. At Sahib, Mathur serves a menu reflecting the rich cultural history of Northern India. I like the way he serve dishes are served in small copper pots, the traditional cooking vessels of the region.
104 Lexington Avenue
THE ROYAL MUNKEY
I felt like I was stepping back in time to the Old Bombay of the 1930’s and 40’s with chef Derik Alfaro and his Chef de Cuisine, Chetan Patil. Their fusion menu, which they describe as “Mess Hall”, is inspired by the Indian cuisine of the English Officers clubs in India during the time of the Raj. My tip: Order the Royal Munkey’s “Paanch”, the Hindi term for a five ingredient drink. It’s the forerunner of what we now know as “punch.” And leave room for The Royal Munkey’s delicious English Sticky toffee pudding.
438 Second Avenue
In India, a “Dhaba” is a kind of roadside truck stop that provides fast, freshly prepared food and a sleeping cot for a quick nap. The Dhaba on Lexington Avenue has no cots, but they do have fresh and simply prepared lunch cuisine. The price is right, too.
108 Lexington Avenue
I discovered Inday on the border of Murray Hill and Nomad. It’s not strictly Indian, but more of an Indian-inspired casual eating hub. The restaurant is the brainchild of food entrepreneur Basu Rantnam and partners, who’ve updated Indian fare with a built-a-bowl approach, kind of like a sub-Continental Chipotle. You start with one of three different base offerings: long grain organic basmati rice, fermented organic quinoa or the “no-rice” option, shredded cauliflower. Then pile on “Bombay basher “, turkey meatballs prepared in the style of tikka masala, or “Life aquatic”, grilled salmon served with pineapple, greens and lentils.