Thelewala Brings the Kati Roll from Kolkata to NYC

by Ailsa Sachdev

Every New Yorker knows that you can only eat so many salads and sandwiches before you get sick of them. There are only so many options to grab-and-go for the busy, always-running-to-the-next-meeting, New Yorker. That’s why easy to eat, portable food from other countries have become so popular in the Big Apple. One such example is the kati roll.

Traditionally, it’s a kebab wrapped in a paratha, or type of Indian flatbread. Nowadays, the filling can be vegetable or meat, often with some condiments and chopped vegetables to accentuate the flavor. This is the simple-to-make meal that South Asians everywhere found in their lunch boxes or ate when they came home from school.

What most people don’t know is that the kati roll originated at the Nizam restaurant in Kolkata, India. This place has been around since 1932. Every visit to my mother’s hometown always included at least one mandatory midnight snack at Nizam’s. In fact, I know some family friends who often take the overnight flight from Dubai to Kolkata to satisfy their Nizami roll cravings!

Obviously, I was more than pleasantly surprised when I found out that a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Thelewala sold the same Nizami rolls. As a kid, there was so much hype around this dish that I was glad to find that this tiny piece of my heritage had found its way to my vicinity. It’s been a while since I’ve gone to Kolkata, but my mother, who visited this summer, said the Nizami rolls at Thelewala come “pretty damn close” to the original thing.

The restaurant is located on the most happening block of New York called MacDougal Street, opposite their competitors, Kati Roll Company, but there’s no argument that Thelewala is better. Plastered on their walls are reviews by the New York Times calling them one of the “Ten of the Best Inexpensive Restaurants of 2011.”

My favorite items on the menu are the chapli roll, okra roll and puchkas (which are Kolkata-style pani puri). The most expensive dish is their famous chapli roll, which is only six dollars, consisting of lamb patties with red onions, lime and fried egg: Perfection in every bite. The lamb is juicy and has a smoother texture than the shami kebab, which is found at Kati Roll Company. The red onions are slightly pickled so the heat from the raw onions doesn’t overwhelm one’s palette. The pickling of the onions also introduces a sweet element to the dish. The addition of lime brings in a much-needed acidity and, in a way, doesn’t let the egg’s distinct flavor become the boss of the dish.

The beauty of the Nizami rolls is that they use sharp ingredients and then tame them down to complement each other. This ensures a balance, not only with the other fillings inside the roll but also with the paratha.

The okra roll is simpler in terms of ingredients and flavor profile but that doesn’t mean it’s any less delicious. There’s plenty of crunch from the crispy okra and fried, pickled onions and, like the chapli roll, the lime accents all the flavors with its bright tartness. However, in this roll, the lime is allowed a little more leeway because there is a magical punch when eaten with the okra.

The puchka is the one thing people don’t like as much, but mostly because it doesn’t taste like a traditional pani puri. The puchka has more tamarind in the paani, or flavored water, and therefore, is tangier than the pani puri, which originated in Maharashtra and Gujurat and is more commonly found in Indian restaurants around the world. I’m particular biased to sharp and sour flavor profiles and for that reason, I’m particularly partial to the puchka. Beside the tamarind syrup is the masala, which has a mixture of potatoes and Indian spices.

To eat this, you poke a small hole in your puri (a fried, crisp, round ball) using your thumb and fill it with the paani and masala. Then, you put the whole thing in your mouth and let it erupt as the puri crumbles and the fillings overflow in your mouth. It’s an experience.

Clearly, this isn’t the best place for date night since the puchka isn’t a particularly graceful food and there are onions in everything. However, this is an extension of Kolkata’s history for New Yorkers to enjoy and like I said before, the rolls are easy to carry around and eat on the subway. Just make sure you have some breath mints before you run back into office so your coworkers don’t smell your breath and get jealous of that insanely delicious onion-y meal you just indulged in!

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Ailsa Sachdev Ailsa Sachdev is a writer, and the New York City editor of an upcoming food website called Gourmandatory. She is passionate about food and travel, and can say “I’m hungry” in over ten languages. 

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

5 Indo Caribbean Food Experts you Need to Know This Winter Season

trinidad curry
Curried Chicken with Roti Parata or Roti, popular Middle Eastern/Indian cuisine

It is officially that time of year—the holiday season. There’s nothing like Christmas and New Year’s in the West Indies. Between the pepperpot in Guyana and the palm trees decorated in lights in Trinidad, the home food, warm weather and laid-back ambiance makes us wish we could escape the cold and head back to the Caribbean. Most of us, however, cannot “take holiday” and find ourselves hungry for fresh dhal puri and doubles. But, thanks to these Indo-Caribbean food bloggers, we can bring the motherland to our kitchens.

1. Matthew’s Guyanese Cooking

From Diwali mithai specialties to curry chicken, Matthew is creating a name for himself as a young Guyanese food blogger. He makes a great effort to incorporate Hindu holidays and traditions on his Instagram account, in conjunction with the customary foods and sweets associated with these religious events. However, his expertise does not end there, with new and alternative recipes for classic dishes such as curry chicken and bhara, Matthew takes center stage sharing both traditional Guyanese dishes as well as specific religious dishes made for festivals. His most popular YouTube video, with 1.4 million views, features his grandmother and focuses on the best tips to make the softest Guyanese paratha roti. In addition, his YouTube account is home to many videos offering guidance to Indo Caribbean cooking. Find recipes at @mattews.guyanese.cooking

2. Trini Cooking with Natasha

Natasha Laggan of Trini Cooking with Natasha is wildly popular throughout the Caribbean and the U.S. With humble beginnings, Natasha credits her love of food to her family’s business. She speaks of the nostalgia home food provides her as she reminisces memories of her grandmother’s cooking and helping her mother make sandwiches early in the morning. Featured by Forbes, Natasha grew her Facebook following quickly throughout the pandemic by posting old YouTube videos. Today, she has more than 1 million followers on Facebook and over 200K followers on YouTube. She uses her passion for cooking and Trinidadian culture to bring easy-to-follow recipes to viewers. Her following has now reached the West Indian diaspora globally as she has also become a brand ambassador to two well-known food companies.  Follow the food expert @trinicookingwithnatasha.

[Read Related: 5 Indo-Caribbean Recipes for the Holiday Season you Have to Make]

3. Cooking with Ria

With over 100K followers on YouTube, Ria is quite the expert when it comes to making roti. Her dhal puri, sada roti and paratha roti tutorials have over 1M views! However, her expertise does not stop there. Of the 180 YouTube tutorials, her recipes vary from curry to other Trinidadian favorites like macaroni pie and pigtail soup. Just scrolling through her YouTube page makes your mouth water. From doubles to classic Trinidad bakes like pound cake and sweet bread, she provides precision and anecdotal commentary while guiding you through the familiarity of home food. Check out Ria’s page at @cookingwithria.

 

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4. Chef Devan

Known as Chef Devan, Devan Rajkumar embraces his Guyanese Canadian heritage by creating recipes combining flavors of both the East and West Indies. His love of food has allowed him to expand his role to judge in a popular Canadian cooking show: Food Network Canada’s Fire Masters. His cooking often blends the flavors of multiple cultures but also creates the classic recipes of his motherland. With a multitude of interests, Chef Dev uses his social media platform to connect with followers by sharing various aspects of his life that go beyond cooking. His most recent YouTube video provides a trailer for an upcoming video “Tastes Guyana” which shows him exploring Guyana from the inside, specifically deep parts of the inner country. To learn more about Chef Devan follow @chefdevan.

 

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5. Taste of Trinbago

Reshmi is the chef behind the growing blog, Taste of Trinbago. A Trinidadian native who now resides in Texas, she uses her love of food and Trinidadian culture to share hacks, tips and easy recipes with West Indians throughout the globe. She finds a way to simplify traditional West Indian meals, that we once watched our elders make with curiosity.  From holiday specialties like black cake to Diwali delicacies, Reshmi has brought vegetarian and non-veg recipes to followers in an extremely accessible way. She even posts recipe cards on her IG highlights for followers who may need written instructions. Her IG profile is a mix of various West Indian foods while also sharing bits of her life and even her secrets to baby food. Follow her @tasteoftrinbago.

 

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These are just five Indo Caribbean food bloggers sharing their secrets to easy cooking. The once very daunting recipes and food instructions our parents gave have been simplified by most of these bloggers through video, voice over and modernized recipes. We no longer have to estimate a “dash, pinch or tuk” of any masala. We are just days away from Christmas and this is the perfect time to find the best-suited recipe to make that paratha for Santa.

Featured Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

By Subrina Singh

Subrina Singh holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Asian & Asian American Studies from Stony Brook University and a Master’s Degree … Read more ›