Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tim and Jordan's Best of . . . Indian Food

This week in Tim and Jordan's Best Of: it's a delicious, flavorful, spicy cuisine that's ubiquitous on campus. It's Indian food, oft-enjoyed by undergrads discovering Penn's ever-varying tapestry of ethnic offerings. Our campus has its fair share of basic staple smorgasbords, but don't settle: skip Sitar, nix New Delhi, and venture a bit off the beaten track if you're looking for the best. Today we'll take a look at some of the more Indi-pendent joints around campus that are the cream of the Calcutta crop.


Founded by a Wharton MBA graduate, Tiffin is primarily a delivery service. After all, a tiffin is a lunchbox in India, into which wives (or servants) diligently package freshly-prepared food to be delivered midday to their working spouses (or clients). Appropriately, Tiffin is just that–freshly prepared, delivered, home-cooked Punjabi-style cooking. Tiffin's major selling point is its sincere authenticity. It's not overspiced, or swimming in cream and oil like in much of the buffets' standard fare. Rather, each bite is delicately spiced and exudes lightness. One lunch or dinner tiffin will run you $7.50 to $8.50 and includes two vegetable dishes, a generous smattering of dal (lentils), a heap of rice, and a serving of accompanying chutney. Compared to the 12 or 13 dollars you'd have to shell out at one of those buffets, Tiffin is an amazing deal. Tiffin's cuisine suits all, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, and we were amazed by their expansive but concentrated menu.

Our tiffin featured gobi manchurian, a delicious marriage of sautéed cauliflower and a zingy tomato sauce; aloo mutter (a simmered curry of potatoes and peas); and dal tadka, delicately cooked yellow lentils with a hint of cumin. Needless to say, each dish left us extremely impressed.

For the more adventurous, be sure to try their Indian pizza, which has become a very common dish in India. It consists of a bang-on combo of a western crust layered with paneer, curry sauce and various spiced toppings, combining the best of cream and spice into a familiar form factor. In this case, better ingredients really does mean better pizza–a veritable Papa Jain's, if you will.

Bottom line, Tiffin offers some of the best indian food you can get in Philly, in our opinion. And it's convenient to boot! They also boast a collection of physical restaurants, which we're itching to try. And who says Wharton graduates don't go on to do great things?

Desi Village

Situated west down Baltimore Avenue, Desi (pronounced DESS-ee) Village is a hidden gem in an already overlooked but foodie-approved section of West Philadelphia. Even from the outside, there is a welcome and warmth to its ambience, not unlike the food itself. Abandon the all-you-can-eat approach and tailor your meal for your cravings: Desi Village's menu covers it all, from ajwain to zindagi.

The reviewers' typical meal starts off with a platter of pakoras, served with a plop of mouth-watering pudina chutney. Our curries arrive–malai kofta, paneer tikka masala, and saag paneer, say–not to discount the side of raw onion and garlic naan. We suggest going the family-style route: the more the merrier. Everything can be spiced just to your liking, so no capsaicin complaints there. The curries are clean, fresh, and flavourful. The malai kofta, those classic balls of vegetables and cheese, bathe in a savory tomato curry sauce, but aren't drenched. Sop up the spinachy saag with your garlic naan, or taste some tikka, whatever you like. Both are scrumptious and smooth, flavored to the last detail.

Or try some other nuggets: their chicken tikka is some of the best there is (or so we've heard, the authors are vegetarian), or have a go at more lamb vindaloo than you can shake a stick at. Top off your meal with a glistening gulab jamun, and you'll see why this place is second to naan.

Desi Chaat House

Looking for something different? Desi Village owner Hassan just can't seem to quit. He's added yet another treasure to the toolbox. Desi Chaat House, a stone's throw away on 43rd on Balitmore, offers something completely unique to Philadelphia: authentic Indian street food, also known as chaat (pronounced like "chart"). Bits of bhel peppered with papris are placed in a pool of tangy yoghurt and sweet 'n' spicy tamarind chutney. Cold and salad-like, these are surprisingly satiating as a quick bite or dinner on the go.

For beginners, don't be fazed by their confounding conglomerate of choices. And don't let the sulfurous odor dissuade you: it's the natural brimstone-containing black salt pervasive in these parts. If you're planning a trip, we'll help you out with your order. The papri chaat, samosa chaat, and bhel puri are all safe bets, each with their own spin on this crispety, crunchety treat. Be sure not to miss out on their student deal (but which doesn't include authentic Indian sodas like Thumbs Up! and Limca). If you're itchy for a litchi, they've got that, too. Unlike Taglio and Già Pronto, this dynamic duo really packs a your tastebuds, not to your wallet.

So there you have it: our take on the best of Bharat. The next time you have a craving for curry, transcend Tandoor and try out one of these Hindustani havens that are sure to keep you cumin back for more.

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