Monday, November 28, 2011

TMDTIATW: Desi Food Galaxy (Somerset, NJ)

The most delicious thing I ate this week (TMDTIATW) was en route to the most disgusting thing I ate this week (same acronym).

My relatives enjoy playing "Let's Torture Uncle Jim" by forcing me to endure horrendous food (recall my memorable experience at Tavern on the Green).

This year, Thanksgiving was to be celebrated at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Princeton. (I won't recount the meal except to say that both Ruth and Chris ought to be hustled out to the parking lot and strangled. Oh, and memo to the manager dude who came around to magnanimously accept our congratulations at meal's end: I'm not sorry if you overheard my stage whisper to my niece about your position in the world being indistinguishable from a Burger King supervisor. If the truth hurts, it's not my fault. Believe me, the evening hurt me a lot more than it hurt you.)

I was, obviously, not looking forward to this gustatory hazing. And so when I pulled off Route 1 to escape the mind-numbing traffic in favor of back roads, some dormant inner juju ignited, and worlds of glory were somehow conjured up amid the bland subdivisions of central Jersey. Great place after great place appeared (see details in Saturday's posting), and I started collecting takeout menus from the ones that were open Thanksgiving day.

One might have gotten the impression that I was in no hurry to get to dinner.

My main function for the evening was to chauffer my Mom, who was beginning to fume in the passenger seat while I grew ever more giddily distracted by the accelerating cascade of discoveries. I composed myself and prepared to drive directly to the waterboarding dinner, when, out in the distance, I spotted a sign bearing a phrase I could not possibly ignore. The sirens of central Jersey called out to me, and their name was "Desi Food Galaxy", and I was powerless to resist.

Desi means, loosely, "homestyle Indian". The real thing. A galaxy of the real thing!

Blood pumping hard in my temples, I pulled into the parking lot to grab a menu. But in the vestibule I found about twelve takeout menus. Puzzled, I figured the owner must also own other local places. But then I swung open the door, and viewed a miracle.

Before me was a large space lined with concessions. Gujarati, Hyerbadi, Punjabi, Indian-Chinese, Tamil-ish Southern, a small operation tucked toward the back staffed with shy Pakistani women in head scarves, and, more segregated still, some dude with wild eyes who does something he calls "Indian/Italian", with a menu that made my head explode (click photos to expand):

Also: a juice/lassi bar. A paan (and newspapers) stand. I may be forgetting a few. Oh, and it smelled just fantastic. Sort of like how South Asia must smell from the International Space Station.

Each concession is a separate, independently owned restaurant, with a full-service kitchen turning out not just a few snacks, but a complete menu of impeccably authentic regional treats (including plenty of rare dishes even full restaurants don't often serve).

My mom protested weakly as I pulled her out of the car while making incomprehensible noises of ecstatic excitement, but she soon was won over by scrumptious plates of samosa chat (Punjab), momo (Nepal), and kati rolls - both chicken tikka and paneer achar (Bombay). It was amazing. Furthering the this-can't-really-be-happening vibe, two bottles of Poland Springs water cost $1, total.

We returned the next day and had, from the Southern guys, the best rava masala dosa of my life (even better than at Flushing's Dosa Hutt):

....and very good sarson da saag accompanied by traditional (and exemplary) makki di roti, i.e. corn bread (Sikh/Punjab):

....and, from the Pakistani counter, glorious goat haleem, the best version I've ever had (including killer haleem made by the great Mina in Queens):

The women there were also flame broiling the best-looking chicken kebabs I've ever seen. I yearn for these kebabs, which I didn't get to try:

Quality ranges from very good to earth-shatteringly great, and everything is diligently authentic (this is no shiny, pandering EPCOT-ish gringo ploy; this place is organically Desi all the way). The catch, which worries me, is that prices are, quite properly, restaurant prices rather than snack bar prices. Non-Indian Americans would never accept this, given the visuals. Hopefully their Indian clientele is cool with it. Me? I gladly pay for quality, period.

Desi Food Galaxy is worth a ride from the city. It's worth renting a hotel nearby for a few days. And lord knows it was worth filling up at en route to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.

Desi Food Galaxy
2021 Rt 27, Somerset, NJ
The Desi Food Galaxy Online (before clicking to their (outdated) site, be sure and turn your volume up for the full audio experience)

P.S. - Want to know why you can't trust Yelp? Have a look at the complete morons' view.

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