Most of you are thinking - India by way of New Jersey? Queens' Jackson Heights or Manhattan's Curry Hill, perhaps - but NJ? Yes, NJ!
The Edison/Iselin area has one of the fastest growth rates of Indian population in the Western Hemisphere. So, when I needed to purchase an outfit for a wedding in India, I hauled my ass to New Jersey. Got a gorgeous teal and gold salwar kameez and matching bangles, but after shopping I convinced my friend Sandra that a stop at Jhupdi was a must.
What is this Jhupdi of which I speak? It is a little mom and pop Gujarati vegetarian restaurant tucked in an unassuming strip center on Oak Tree Road. Up front there is a slip of a store selling Indian sweets, snacks, and various tobacco products, including the popular Indian chew called pan -- rolled betel leaves, masala, and spices, and sometimes a bit of tobacco too. Who would guess that behind this rather nondescript stall is a wonderful, homey dining room and Alka Patel, a hard-working female chef from India, who's recipes were passed down by her mother and grandmother.
Sipping on an sweet, yogurt-enriched Mango Lassi, examples of Gujariti cuisine made their way to our table, including Samosa Chaat, a flash-fried, potato-filled turnover, smashed and topped with a heady combination of tomatoes, chickpeas, onion, tamarind chutney, green chutney, and citrus.
Then there was Pau Bhaji, a make-it-yourself dish which had us heaping rich vegetable curry onto soft, squishy rolls -- sort of an Indian vegetarian version of Sloppy Joe's.
And, our absolute favorite was the platter of Patra...
...savory pinwheels with a hint of jaggery sweetness laced with ginger and coriander. To make them, deep green Colocasia leaves are brushed with spiced chickpea dumpling dough, rolled tightly, sliced, and then baked. With a light sprinkle of freshly grated coconut, they were addictive to say the least.
The Indian food in India will have a lot to live up to. New Jersey's Jhupdi sets the bar exceptionally high, and a New Jersey Transit ticket is a heck of a lot cheaper than a flight to Mumbai or Bangalore -- or even to Gujarat's capitol of Gandhinagar.