Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Brilliant Food Finder, an Amazingly Stupid Restaurateur, and Finally, Mughlai Paratha

Last Sunday morning I had a craving for mughlai paratha, something I hadn't eaten in years. It's an Indian stuffed bread that I used to see on menus at 6th Street Indian restaurants, before I developed a palate for good Indian food and stopped patronizing those sorry joints. I never see this bread on the menu at any of the Indian restaurants I frequent now. I suspected it must be a Bengali specialty, as most of the 6th Street holes are Bangladeshi-owned. A little research bore out that mughlai paratha is indeed a Bengali specialty.

According to some recipes a mughlai paratha is simply a paratha (fried wheat flour bread) with eggs, but the kind I'm talking about have a keema (spiced minced mutton, goat, or, if you're not a Hindu, beef) filling, garnished with coriander leaves in additon to the egg. It's somewhat similar to the Indonesian martabak daging, a multilayer pancake with a meat and egg filling.

Where could I go to satisfy my mughlai paratha craving, I wondered. Would I have to head over to 6th Street? Then I remembered a wonderful resource that I don't use frequently enough, the Find-a-Food feature of Menupages. You enter the name of a dish you're looking for, and it will return links to the restaurants that feature that item on their menu. My search for mughlai paratha yielded 26 results, and a good many of them were on or around 6th Street, while a number of others had Bengal in the name. I noticed that one place on the list, Joy, was a short walk from my apartment, on Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Heights, so I decided I'd go there for lunch. I'd been there once before, several years ago, shortly after they opened, and found them decidedly mediocre, basically at the level of the 6th Street dumps. But I was, after all, on a mughlai paratha mission.

When I got there the place was empty. I took a seat at a table for four that gave me good window backlighting for photos. I was approached by a guy I assumed was the owner (he was wearing civvies and sitting at a table talking on the phone when I arrived). "How many will you be?" he asked.

"Just one," I said.

"Could you please move to this table," he said, pointing to the lone table for two in a cramped corner.

"I'd prefer to stay here," I said.

"But this is a table for four," he said.

I was starting to get annoyed. "Are you serious?" I asked. 'Do you expect to fill up all of a sudden within the next hour?"

"I'm sorry, but this is a table for four. Please take the other table." I couldn't believe this guy (who was still on the phone, by the way).

"Would you rather lose my business than let me sit at this table?" I asked.


I went ballistic. "What kind of idiot are you? You'd rather lose my business than let me sit at this table?"


Idiot escalated to asshole. I started shouting a string of invective at him. My adrenaline was pumping. It was great! Almost as much fun as shouting down an evangelist. "You'll hear from me online," I told him. It's the closest I've ever come to "You'll hear from my lawyer."

I left the restaurant. Unfortunately, I somehow hadn't noticed on Menupages that Amin, a Park Slope restaurant closer to my apartment, also serves mughlai paratha, so I had to figure out lunch plan B. I decided to stop by Olive Vine for one of their lahmbaijin (literally "meat with dough") pizzas, a variant of the Turkish lahmacun, something that would satisfy my spiced, chopped meat and bread craving.

The following day, at the office, I went back to Menupages to see if any place near my midtown east office had mughlai paratha. I came up with Shamrat, a bit of a walk at First Avenue and 73rd. I decided to go for it.

I ordered my mughlai paratha and asked the waiter if the owner was Bengali. He looked taken aback, was silent for a few seconds, then said, "Calcutta."

"I figured," I said. "You generally only see mughlai paratha at Bengali Indian restaurants."

The mughlai paratha was decent but the egg wasn't noticeable. It was drier than the mughlai parathas I remembered, but it was years since I'd had one, and I wondered if I was confusing it in memory with the generally moister Indonesian martabak. Still, I also wondered whether it was really just a straight (egg-free) keema paratha (more common on Indian menus), or if perhaps the dough had only gotten a light brushing of egg.

This mughlai paratha thing had taken hold of me, and the following night I got one as takeout from Amin, in Park Slope. Amin is another one of those forgettable Indian restaurants that I had tried once and never returned to.

I got home, took my coat off, and unwrapped my mughlai paratha. Yes, this was what I remembered, the stuffing a mix of minced meat, egg, chopped onions, green peppers and coriander leaf. This was exactly what I remembered.


Blogger bullelephantseal said...

"you'll hear from me online," the most devastating thing to say to a restauranteur. "you'll hear from my lawyer" doesn't have the same comical value. real life is more entertaining than the stuff we make up...

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was searching mughlai paratha and found this... I must say, what my mommy makes is ten times better than anything you'll find in a restaurant. You should definitely find a Bengali family and become friends to eat their sweets and food :) Hahaha, anyway, I was searching mughlai paratha because my friends are coming for a sleepover tomorrow and they wanted to know what it looked/tasted like. You know what I'll be having for breakfast Saturday morning :P Mughlai paratha is sooooo delicious but it's a once in a while thing for us since everyone's in college/working in my household.

12:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My parents are from Bangladesh and whenever they took us back to Dhaka, my aunt would make the most delicious mughlai paratha. I was craving it as well so I made it. It's not that difficult but takes some practice to get it right.

However, the kind I would have at my aunt's was a recipe apparently made in the district of Sylet. It was layers of paratha with the ground beef and egg but also the salty paneer (cheese) that is indigenous to Bangladesh. It is the best tasting thing I have ever eaten. I don't know how to make it but I am planning on adding a small amount of the mildest feta to my next mughlai paratha to come close to that taste. You're lucky you live in the city, we have to make it ourselves!

12:26 AM  

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