Vegan food tourism highlights at Kalustyan’s and Vatan New York for an Indian vegetarian dinner.
When I go on trips, I like to do a lot of food tourism, even outside of the restaurants we visit. I like to go to niche markets and grocery stores looking at the spices, specialty products, cookware, and dining ware that is unique to a particular kind of cuisine.
For a long while now I’ve wanted a couple of kadhai for serving curries that are like the ones they use at a local Indian restaurant. While I’ve seen basic kadhai elsewhere at places like World Market, they don’t have the ornate beauty of the copper ones I was hoping to find.
I knew that New York City would have no end of markets to visit, and so I did a quick Google search to see where I could find kadhai. The first place that came up was Kalustyan’s in the Flatiron neighborhood.
The store has several levels and is filled with loads and loads of spices sold by the bag, chutneys, oils, teas, and frozen goods. There was also a bulk area, a wall of hot sauces, a restaurant upstairs, and an area for cookware in the bottom level.
There were griddles for making dosas, metal tiffins, and a wide array of kadhai.
Before boarding the plane to NYC, I’d had to remove a couple of pairs of boots from my bag and return them to the car, because our shared bag was over the weigh limit.
(Each way it would have cost $100 for the over-weight bag!)
So I knew I had to be careful about how many pieces of cookware that I purchased.
I picked two kadhai in varying sizes.
Then as I was checking out I noticed they were selling fresh dates. I’d only ever had the dried ones before, and so I bought a few out of curiosity.
The clerk said that they could be eaten at their current stage of ripeness or they could be eaten later as they softened.
The flavor reminded me of an astringent under-ripe hachiya persimmon. It left a kind of chalky feeling in the mouth. They weren’t my cup of tea, but I’d be interested in trying them another time.
Grand Central Station
After walking through some of the other stores in the area, I headed to Grand Central Station to experience it for the first time.
I’ve always found airports and old post offices to be kind of romantic. There are so many promises there – greetings, separations, anticipation…
I haven’t spent as much time in train stations, but they have that feeling too. The promise of a journey – the sadness of saying goodbye, the hope of saying hello, and all of the energy that comes along with the purpose of going somewhere.
The sheer size and beauty of Grand Central Station was captivating. It was filled with people running off in either direction. Then in the center of it all, there were people standing and waiting for arrivals, to meet with friends.
What surprised me about it was how much new existed in that grand old building.
On one level there was an Apple store. (It was right behind me when I was taking the above picture.)
There were restaurants, shops, and a long food market. A person could spend hours just inside of Grand Central Station.
Vatan New York
For dinner that night, I met up with David and a couple of his co-workers at the vegetarian Indian restaurant, Vatan.
The interior of the restaurant looked like an Eastern take on Rainforest Café or a restaurant at Disneyland.
(You can’t see it in this picture but there’s a plush monkey hanging from one of the large fake trees inside.)
It’s a prix fixe, all-you-can-eat restaurant that is $32/per person. Instead of having a long buffet line where foods aren’t always as fresh and hot as one would hope, everything on the menu is brought to you at the table.
Diners are asked to remove their shoes at the side of their table. Then you sit on long cushions at the table.
When the server comes to the table, you can let her/him know that you’re vegan. Then you will only be brought the vegan items.
While you wait, there’s puffed chips for snacking until the appetizers arrive.
Individual trays are brought to each person at a table.
For appetizers, there were so many things, including samosas, mirchi bhajia, ragda patis, sev puri, and batatavada.
Then the entrée portion included bowls of toor dal, chole, bhaji, ful-cobi, and more.
Plus, there were breads aplenty like puri and papadam.
Everything was universally delicious and well balanced.
After each course, we were invited to ask for more of anything that we’d like. The portions are generous. I simply didn’t have room to even finish what I received, let alone ask for more.
There was also a full tray of chutneys for the table to share, including roasted garlic slices.
What do we have to do to get every restaurant to start serving roasted garlic slices with every meal? This is an idea that needs to catch on.
My only quibble with the meal would be dessert. We were all served masala chai. Then David’s coworkers, who aren’t vegan (or vegetarian for that matter), were served homemade ice cream.
The dessert for vegans was pureed mango. It was thin and liquidy like a one-ingredient smoothie.
I feel like they could have taken dessert up a notch with something more exciting like a sorbet or coconut ice cream. Pureed mango doesn’t really seem like a dessert to me. It’s more like baby food or a dessert of applesauce.
This dessert was a little better… As we walked out into the warm air, this was the view just outside – the Empire State Building in all of its beauty.