When Worlds Collide

Methi Roti

Methi Roti

To my rather plebian New England-raised palate, Indian food has always seemed “other-worldly.” Indian food always seems to have the volume turned up a notch: it doesn’t just smell good, it advertises. Each fragrance is like a free sample—the culinary equivalent of the little scratch and sniff perfume samples they put in magazines. Which is not to say that I’m comparing Indian food to that area of Macy’s you have to hold your breath to walk through to get to the Seventh Avenue side—quite the opposite. The aromas of Indian food always seem to doing some olfactory ballet to lure you to the table.

Now departing from that for a moment, let me tell you about a woman I worked with many years ago when I was a waiter. One Saturday night she grabbed a couple of tortillas and, wrapping them in a piece of foil, shrugged, “I’m having eggs for breakfast tomorrow.”

Huh?

She explained that being from Southern California she always ate her eggs with salsa, wrapped in tortillas. At the risk of sounding sheltered or provincial I admit that at the time that was “other-worldly” to me. (I was young. I didn’t live in New York. OKAY??)

Naturally I tried and fell in love with “Huevos en Tortillas con Salsa.”  

Now I live in New York City, and after many years of working with many Indian folks, Indian food has moved closer to the center of my culinary radar.

What initially prompted this was an office Christmas lunch. Being a rather diverse crowd, we needed a place that was vegetarian and kosher. No big deal in New York. A Kosher Indian restaurant was chosen. Again, in New York, no biggie.  Walk up and down Lexington Avenue in the high 20’s and take your pick.

I approach new food with the same unabashed glee that used to make me drool at Detroit’s newest when I was a kid and my dad would take me to the Auto Show (I was car crazy as a kid) so I was, of course, in heaven. Everything was new and different and spiced to singe but not overwhelm.

I asked the Indians in the crowd what they thought. The consensus was that the food was very nice, but nothing great. I pushed the point a bit. I really wanted to understand what would have put the meal over the proverbial edge. I asked one coworker to explain, hoping he would impart the knowledge, the subtlety, and the cultural insight that would forever enable me to discern good Indian food from truly amazing Indian food.

“It was a little mild. We like our food with a little more heat.”

I have a dirty little secret to reveal here: I don’t like spicy food. It doesn’t matter if it is chili or curry. If food is too spicy I don’t taste anything. It’s just hot. Wasabi on my sushi? Pass. Red pepper flakes on my pizza? Pass. Chili in my chocolate? Pass.

You New Yorkers are thinking, “Your tongue was numbed as a child by too many cups of creamy chowder.” So be it. I’ll own up to having a somewhat unrefined palate, but what it lacks in refinement it more than makes up for in enthusiasm.

My Indian coworkers are very tolerant about my sad little palate, and even more so when I ask about their home cooked lunches. “No,” they explain, “these aren’t Cheerios in milk, they’re chickpeas in yogurt.” You get the gist.

So I’m afraid they’d shudder and perhaps cry if I revealed my latest discovery: Methi Roti, the fragrant Indian flat bread. They are heavily infused with fenugreek leaves, and warmly aggressive in flavor and fragrance.

With a wink at my California-bred former co-worker, I have found they make an amazing jacket for a gently scrambled egg or two along with some chopped tomato. Salsa is not needed here, as the Methi Roti supply all the heat and spice needed along with a satisfying graininess. Who needs toast?

If, unlike me, you need things with a bit more heat, try a dash or two of a good spicy curry powder in the eggs.

I can also recommend Methi Roti’s more buttoned-down brother, Chapati. Both are fine blistered over the flame of your stovetop. Dip them in yogurt mixed with some mint leaves and cooked chickpeas and you’ve got an appetizer.

And who knows? Maybe Methi Roti and Chapati may go mainstream. Hey, when I was a kid bagels were considered ethnic food.

(Sidebar about fenugreek: it is often used to make artificial maple flavor (no, the Methi Roti do not have any maple flavor.) In fact, there was a mystery recently here in the New York area: a mysterious maple syrup-like smell would suddenly waft over the city and areas of New Jersey, and then disappear. Turns out it was caused by a factory in New Jersey that was—you guessed it—processing fenugreek into artificial maple flavor.)

2 Responses to “When Worlds Collide”

  • Sparky Devon:

    Great photos.. and article,very informative. Props to you for your delve into the Blogasphere Community

  • Dori Rosenthal:

    I LOVE Indian food! Unfortunately my husband does not, so I don’t get the opportunity to indulge in it that often. I did however have unbelievable cravings during my recent pregnancy and I drove around Las Vegas trying to find the best Indian food I could… My hubs indured that the best he could.
    I am not a hotty either really. I do like my spicey tuna spicey and actually add hot chili oil with soy sauce and green onions and sesame seeds to all of my sushi( along with wasabi.)
    My Indian food cravings were mostly Aloo Paratha with Chana Sag or Pallack Paneer… Pretty dull, I know…

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