Saturday, November 26, 2005
Raj Prime Vegetarian Restaurant
No, I didn't intend to go on such a chaat eating binge, despite my personal calling for trying more. I just happened to be in Little India today, so I figured that I'd better try this place out as I had been meaning to come here for a while anyway (76 Syed Alwi Road near Mustafa, 6297-1716). This vegetarian spot boasts of being from Calcutta, and features both North and South Indian cuisine. Most importantly though, this place features a chaat station up front, stocked with fresh ingredients and spices dedicated to making those awesome little sour and spicy appetizers. It turned out that I came at the right time too, as it looks like the prime chaat serving hours are after 2 PM, and my favorite pani puri is available only on weekends. It was a no-brainer as to what I was gonna order.
The pani puri did not disappoint. There were a number of differences between it and Bombay Woodlands': for one, the shell was a bit thicker and greasier. It was less spicy than Bombay Woodlands. Finally, there were fewer veggies sitting inside (and no onions - and hence, no dragon breath). If I had to choose one, I'd probably choose Bombay Woodlands for its lighter shell and more robust fillings, but that's only if I had to choose. One could argue that Raj's is better thanks to its slightly greasier shell and a bigger capacity for the spicy juice (what the heck do you call that stuff, anyway?). In fact, Raj's almost seems purposely geared for the spicy juice, given its fewer veggies, more rigid shell, and the fact that the juice comes in a little metal pourer. I like both - and just like this morning's dahi batata puri, I just may opt for Raj's more often when I don't need to be saddled with the dragon breath that Bombay Woodlands' pani puri provides.
One other very noteworthy item was the cheese masala dosai. While it didn't have that one kick-ass rich chili-based chutney that Bombay Woodlands provides, it was made with a sharper and richer cheddar cheese...this literally tasted like a giant Cheez-It. Frankly, I'm surprised that I never really saw cheese dosais bring pushed in the US, given how basically everyone there has grown up eating Cheez-Its. I suspect the problem is that Indian food in the US is unfortunately saddled with the bad perception of being based on those buffet-style troughs of curry and rice.
Would an ambitious entrepreneur like to take this up? I suggest you go to a trendy place like LA, where Los Angelinos tend to latch on to "exotic" trends and tell their friends about it like it's an exclusive secret. Don't serve it at an Indian restaurant (lest they be deterred by the misperception of the buffet troughs there) - instead, dedicate a shop to dosais and create a cute and catchy Westernized name (and logo) that people will remember and spread by word of mouth like a virus. (Maybe try in a college town too, and keep it open until 4 AM for post-drinking belly-filling.) Start with the cheese version, and make sure it's a sharp cheese so as to approximate the taste of a Cheez-It as much as possible. If you're successful at effectively creating a cult following (i.e, make it the next Krispy Kreme or In-N-Out), then commercialize it via venues like shopping mall food courts, introduce some non-cheese dosais, and then send me some royalties or equity in your company. Ha ha - remember - you heard it here first. :)
Anyway, I digress. Raj's is worth coming to. It is decently well decorated inside, and the staff is very friendly (they seemed so surprised that I knew what chaat and pani puri were, and they loved talking about it too). It also looks like they have another location at 80 Biopolis Way #01-03 (6478-9495).
Digested at 3:12 PM
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