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$6 bhelpuri


mongo_jones
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don't mean to pick on suvir in his hour of entrepreneurial glory but i was struck by the presence of bhelpuri on the appetizer list on the menu at amma. i'm a little bemused by the growing fascination with indian street food in the u.s. i don't quite know what to make of it--on the one hand, there's the irrelevant thought of trying to imagine a street-corner hawker in india trying to charge rs. 300 for bhelpuri; on the other, i'm trying to picture some haute restaurant in india specializing in american food charging a ton of money for popcorn or nachos or a hot-dog. i'm not saying that indian street food isn't restaurant worthy, i'm just wondering whether its growing presence in the menus of "cool" indian restaurants in the u.s (the over-rated bombay cafe in l.a has its frankies as a symbol of its "authenticity") has something to do with some strange fetishized quest for authenticity on the part of both restarauters and foodies. kind of like expensive clothing chains and designers hawking working-class chic at astronomical prices.

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kind of like expensive clothing chains and designers hawking working-class chic at astronomical prices.

Well, it's like a real estate myth.... location, location and location.

I am sure you would never charge your invited guests at home anything for BHEL PURI.

I really don't know where you are from, but when you hear what kind of rents and labor you pay commercially, nothing is astronomical. It's all a passive cost, not that bhel puri costs any big money, it's so simple where you are eating bhel.

I am very much with you, when you why it should cost $ 6 for bhel, but when you see an insight of the biz, it is very astronomical. I much rather sell bhel for $ 6 and make $ 5 groos profit than sell a lobster for $ 25 and buy it for $ 20.

BTW I sell bhel too and it is $ 5.95, I am 5 cents less than Suvir.

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prasad,

i get the economics of why bhel puri costs more in a manhattan restaurant than on a bombay street. i guess i'm more mystified by what bhel puri is doing in a pricy manhattan restaurant. is this a welcome democratization--a step that the bukharas and dum pukhts should follow (as perhaps should fancy french and italian restaurants with their own street food)--or is something else (simultaneously) happening? i'm not suggesting that indian restarauteurs in the u.s are in some conspiracy together--just wondering what the larger cultural narratives driving all of this are. now that indian food of a certain type has been "done" there seems to be a mad search for the new--everyone's down on butter chicken now, its on to frankies and bhel puri. i'm inclined to think that all of this isn't unrelated to the explosion in ethnic chic in the u.s in the last 10 years (pier 1 imports, cost plus etc.): the larger narratives of commodification and fetishization of third world culture (made palatable of course in the new settings, devoid of that heat and dust that looks nice in the catalog but might cause cholera).

me, i'd rather eat bhel puri at a corner stall, or in a sweet/snacks shop--there's something about that experience that isn't merely culinary. just as eating puchka at a store or a restaurant isn't the same as standing around in a para or mohalla and dripping it all over yourselves and your friends.

mongo

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me, i'd rather eat bhel puri at a corner stall, or in a sweet/snacks shop--there's something about that experience that isn't merely culinary. just as eating puchka at a store or a restaurant isn't the same as standing around in a para or mohalla and dripping it all over yourselves and your friends.

mongo

Me too Mongo.

But I do not see it happening in the streets of the US anytime soon. There are many reasons for that.. and eGullet would not be the site to speak about them. It is not an easy thing to speak about without talking politics. You can email me and I shall be glad to share with you via email my understanding of what the challenges in doing that really are.

In a country where we cannot have our Bhel wallas, Puchka/Gol Gappa Wallahs and Chana Kulcha Walas on the streets with stands of their own, a restaurant quickly becomes the venue where people missing these will come to. There are reasons why menus evolve. This could be one of the many.

Then you also have chefs and food writers and customers that love and enjoy street foods. Their own need to be serving what they enjoy is another factor.

Then there are those (including myself) that become the vendor even sitting at a restaurant table. Fat Guy and Mrs. Fat Guy once met me at Dimple Chaat House in NYC to plan an Indian trip for the Mrs. The conversations happened even as I played chaat vendor and made puchkas for our group. Yes we were missing the street, the aromas and the setting, but at least not the hands of another making the puchkas serving us. It was fun for me to do, and it gave Mrs. & Mr. Fat Guy a limited, but I would think sweet entry into the world of Indian street foods. The other option would be nothing. I could not live with that.

I make puchkas at home, I make Bhel at home.. and I make most all street food dishes I miss both at home. When I make them, I try and serve them as they would be on the streets, immediately. I have friends (Indian and non-Indian) and family that come at odd hours to enjoy these. And then there are times when I go with these same friends and family members to restaurants to enjoy these foods.

And yes even as I make Puchkas on a table, even the most careful of persons eating it, will make a slight mess. So the dripping is still happening, but at another level, in another setting.

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prasad,

me, i'd rather eat bhel puri at a corner stall, or in a sweet/snacks shop--there's something about that experience that isn't merely culinary. just as eating puchka at a store or a restaurant isn't the same as standing around in a para or mohalla and dripping it all over yourselves and your friends.

mongo

Mongo, Suvir took words out of my mouth. Me too just like you enjoy eating on the streets and beaches in India. Dahi poori and Gol Gappas are perfectly fine, so what they drip a bit on your suit, the feeling and the satisfaction is quite different on streets with street food.

As Suvir has said it's not available in US as street, hence people are looking at avenues and we as restaurateurs only are trying to fill in the gap and give at an ethnic traditional touch with some modern punch to the other foods.

BTW what is "PUCHKA"?

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I am on a diet and  you guys are killing me with bhelpuris and gol gappas. DAMN ATKINS

Monica, at least it brings you into the forum... have missed you here as you have worked on greater more important issues. :smile:

Glad to know the craving of Bhel can bring you back into our ghetto. :raz:

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Hey Suvir -- I was out ill for a while..plus other personal stuff.. I am back yes. Bhel is my favorite.. not allowed right now on Atkins.. I could cry!! :sad:

Well it is upto you Madam to choose this diet... why cry?

Welcome back... and yes Bhel is an instant favorite of most all that every eat it... even the first timers who are non-Indian.

I could cry for I want to eat it now and do not have the sev... :sad: But I should have checked my grocery list.... Will make it soon.. and think of you and eat your portion. :rolleyes:

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BTW what is "PUCHKA"?

Gol Gappas are called Puchkas in Calcutta.

Pani Puri is the same as Puchkas and Gol Gappas.

Thanks Suvir: See you live and learn. In Hyderabad they call the "GUP CHUP" on the streets.

Monica:

What stage of Atkins are you now? I guess the second or third phase of the diet lets you eat few grams a day. May be you could have some after all and spicier, tangier the better.

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ha ha..i was jsut going to say that you could always incorporate bhel into your carb-up post induction (is it??) i know with CKDs you can eat carbs on weekends.

and honestly, you could do worse that bhel puri for your cabrs, considering a lot of it is vegetable. :biggrin:

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Maybe one of us.... since I am leaving now for a few... can give a glossary of unusual terms (not understood by many) that we have used in this thread.

If I were Indian born in the US, or non Indian, I would wonder what language we are speaking in...

Can someone please do this before we drive away some of our members???

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I must say I wholeheartedly agree with Suvir on his serving "street food" in his upscale Indian restaurant. I am all for anything that can be done to popularize Indian food -- both in the sense of "upscaling" it as well as in the sense of making it more ubiquitious.

Although I have been known to frequently complain about the lack of "value-for-money" in the Indian restaurants in the San Francisco bay area, I completely see Suvir's point. As long as his restaurant provides a good "value-for-money", this is absolutely the right move. And I hope he does.

To give a local example -- Shalimar in San Francisco has no ambience, has plastic tables, fluorescent lights etc. And the place is cheap. Yet they have the very best Tandoori Chicken in the area. On the other side of the scale is Turmerik in Sunnyvale. Decidedly upscale (although not to NYC or London Indian restaurant standards), but the food is good and so is the ambience, service etc. To me, both have good value-for-money, and I keep visiting both of them.

My point is, you can't use just the price alone to justify whether something is good or not. There are other factors at play here.

And, BTW, congratulations to Suvir on his new restaurant and wish him all the best.

Edited by bong (log)
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from a quasi-NY'rs viewpoint, i've made bhel puri from suvir's recipe, and i've had it at diwan, which i consider to be an upscale restaurant. given the time it's taken me to make it at home, i'm very happy to introduce it to friends at a restaurant, even at what i consider to be a meager price of 6 dollars.

hamburgers and thai satay can be done well at home as well for pennies, but i often pay 10 dollars for a great product.

i don't see much of a difference.

Edited by tommy (log)
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my original musing--less about price and value for money, more about the strange journey of bhel puri from indian streets to tony manhattan restaurants--has gotten lost in this thread, so i'll let it go.

on my way out though let me ask another question: are there any innovative indian restaurants in the u.s or u.k that have set up mini snacks/halwai areas in their space where people who want to enjoy indian snacks--samosas, pakodas, chaat etc.-- or sweets can hang out just for that stuff in a more casual kind of ambience (like a seafood or tapas bar)?

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...

on my way out though let me ask another question: are there any innovative indian restaurants in the u.s or u.k that have set up mini snacks/halwai areas in their space where people who want to enjoy indian snacks--samosas, pakodas, chaat etc.-- or sweets can hang out just for that stuff in a more casual kind of ambience (like a seafood or tapas bar)?

Nyet :sad: (Or so I guess)

anil

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i'm trying to picture some haute restaurant in india specializing in american food charging a ton of money for popcorn or nachos or a hot-dog.

Well at one time that's what the coffee shops in 5 star hotels were doing. Maybe not popcorn, but nachos and I remember as a kid one of the ultimate treats was the ultra long frankfurters at Samarkand, now the Palms at the Oberoi Towers.

BTW Vir Sanghvi, who writes hands down the best food column in India, under the pseudonym Grand Fromage in the Hindustan Times, had an excellent piece last Sunday on the growth of hotel coffee shops in India. Here's a link:

http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/674_388...07,00310006.htm

I like how he captures the way in which such coffee shops had an influence far beyond the hotels themselves. Its in his observation that unlike hotel coffee shops anywhere else in the world, those in India always had a higher usage by locals than hotel guests simply because they were the cheapest way locals could access that five star hotel ambience and also till recently they were often the most stylish places to eat in and only places you could be assured of getting a decent cappucino or pizza or something like that.

These days are past thankfully since really most of the coffee shops weren't that great (I am thinking of the Taj's Shamiana and shuddering inwardly) and quite expensive. Now there are independent restaurants like Indigo and pizzerias galore and in anticipation of Starbucks arriving, Coffee Day and Barista are flooding us with lattes and mochas. Still in their heyday the coffee shops did play an important role.

my original musing--less about price and value for money, more about the strange journey of bhel puri from indian streets to tony manhattan restaurants

The hotel coffee shops also offered Indian street food at inflated prices and surprisingly, if you could bring yourself to eat it when the authentic stuff was on the footpath outside, it wasn't bad. It was useful when you were entertaining foreign guests with nervous tummies since it was, allegedly, made with bottled water (now others like Swati do the same).

I've eaten the bhel at the Sea Lounge, the one Taj restaurant I have some fondness for, sitting and watching the constant entertainment afforded by it being the number one place in Bombay for those formal first meetings between the two families in arranged marriages. I think this was partly because it had that slightly separate section outside where after enough chitchat and coffee the girl and boy were allowed - so modern, no! - to go and "get to know each other". I don't know why but in such situations the girls always seemed so nice and the boys always seemed such losers I'd be sitting there trying to mentally transmit to them, "no! NO! Not him!"

But this is perhaps drifting away from the topic,

Vikram

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don't mean to pick on suvir in his hour of entrepreneurial glory but i was struck by the presence of bhelpuri on the appetizer list on the menu at amma.  i'm a little bemused by the growing fascination with indian street food in the u.s. i don't quite know what to make of it--on the one hand, there's the irrelevant thought of trying to imagine a street-corner hawker in india trying to charge rs. 300 for bhelpuri; on the other, i'm trying to picture some haute restaurant in india specializing in american food charging a ton of money for popcorn or nachos or a hot-dog. i'm not saying that indian street food isn't restaurant worthy, i'm just wondering whether its growing presence in the menus of "cool" indian restaurants in the u.s (the over-rated bombay cafe in l.a has its frankies as a symbol of its "authenticity") has something to do with some strange fetishized quest for authenticity on the part of both restarauters and foodies. kind of like expensive clothing chains and designers hawking working-class chic at astronomical prices.

mongo,

on your obsevation of charging a ton of money I am reminded of a story.

I was attending a seminar and the guest speaker was the ex secretary or Director General of tourism GOI. I forget what the subject was but I remember what he narrated.

In the US you charge what the cutomer will pay but in my days in India if you charged too much there would be lot of hue and cry. Anyway the the opposition minster chided the ruling party that they had no control over pricing, gross profiteering was rampart and the public was being ripped off. The Oberoi hotel in New Delhi was charging Rs 100 for a tandoori chicken the same you could have at Kake Da Hotel for Rs 20!

The question got filtered down to this DG Tourism for a reply and , as he knew personally MS Oberoi the owner of the defaulting bussiness, he decided to visit him personaly to quiz him and get his views.

'We are not selling tandoori chicken' was the reply he got, 'we are selling an experience, ambience, service etc.,its a package of which tandoori chicken ( and other things on the menu) just happen to be a part of'.

I guess the same could apply to Suvir's place too.

We pay $ 2.25 for a Kingfisher beer at some dhaba style eateries and the exact same thing is $ 5 to 6 bucks at the fancier joints, so common give Suvir a break.

And we dont have to go to India for restaurants charging a ton of money for American food.

Take the simple hamburger.

A buck at McDonalds when on sale, $ 3.50 to 4.50 at FiveGuys specialising in Burgers and listed as the best burgers in the DC metro area, $ 6.50 to 7.95 at neighborhood eateries, and $ 8.95 and above at the fancier places.

Bhasin

Edited by BBhasin (log)

Bombay Curry Company

3110 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305. 703. 836-6363

Delhi Club

Arlington, Virginia

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I did not for a moment think Mongo was questioning me or Amma or money.

He used the timing of my posting a menu on eGullet from Amma, that had Bhel Puri on it, as a way of discussing here a trend.

That is what I understood and I have enjoyed the debate that has ensued.

Did I get you wrong Mongo? Did you have a problem with Amma serving Bhel for $6? If so, I need to add other posts here.

But I thought he had started a great thread... which could help us in the restaurant world understand trends... and maybe explore more of these street type foods and see if we can translate them for our environs.

And yes, in doing so, he also shared the key factor for many of us when eating these foods, the attachment to memory. I love Bhel.. eat it at homes and restaurants.. but each time I have it, I miss the best Bhel Puri I would eat in South Extension Part 1 in New Delhi. I can never have Bhel and not revisit that part of my life. But it never stops me from having more Bhel and paying far greater sums of money than I used to in South Extension.

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my original musing--less about price and value for money,

on my way out though let me ask another question:

are there any innovative indian restaurants in the u.s or u.k that have set up mini snacks/halwai areas in their space where people who want to enjoy indian snacks--samosas, pakodas, chaat etc.-- or sweets can hang out just for that stuff in a more casual kind of ambience (like a seafood or tapas bar)?

Mongo

I am sure a lot of restaurants do offer some great deals on certain days and some street fares on certain days or times of the week for Indian food.

I offer a Sunday Brunch at my restaurant which is kind of a stylish, formal and yet casual a restaurant with fine dining kind of mood setting.

This is how the Brunch goes.

I have a rolling trolley set up with live fire, where a lady cook in a saree is usually preparing,

Masala dosas, uthappams, masala ommelettes (Indian style), fresh aloo tikkis, medhu vada and or some fresh pakoras.

Followd with that is a Sambhar station with four salads. Also some cold chutney Sandwitches are prepared.

Right next to that is a chat station with all the mix and match pani poori and bhel stuff and fillings.

Then one usually finds two tawas, one offering a veg prep (Like gobi manchurian or batata vada, chana dal vada or pav-bhaji. The other Tawa usually a meat or chicken preperation, like shammi kababs, chiliy chicken, or chicken 65 etc....

Then you have the buffet with Frankies, Tandoori Chicken, at least two rices like lemon or tamarind rice and zeera pilav or mattar pilav etc..

Veg offerings are at least three more in choice.

Fresh breads at the table.

At least four Indian sweets / desserts.

All of the above for $ 13.95 all you can eat. Wait a minute folks, it doesn't get over yet it comes with a mimosa or a bloody mary or lassi.

It is not money at issue here, it is just to promote the food, the restaurant and cuisine in general.

Edited by prasad2 (log)
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