Seems like I’m finding myself in Queens a lot these days, but that should come as no surprise considering this borough’s reputation as being home to some of the best Asian cuisine in NYC. When it comes to Jackson Heights in particular, a neighborhood known as “Little India,” you are confronted with the full range of food from India, not simply the north Indian (specifically Punjabi) specialties that we have come to know in the west as “Indian food.” In addition you have the massive Indian subcontinent represented with restaurants specializing in Nepali, Bhutanese, Tibetan, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi food. But where to go? What to order? Sometimes it’s all so overwhelming that you need some help.
So as I ventured out on an expedition to find some great Bengali food, I made sure I was accompanied by a native speaker. She took me directly to Ruchita Restaurant, a small, clean, fairly newish looking place that does not have a written menu. The guys working there that day did not speak much English either, so I would have been reduced to pointing at the various serving trays of curries—not entirely sure of what I was getting. Instead, I asked my friend to do the honors (with a few special requests by me), and in a few minutes our table was filled with all kinds of delectable dishes. This is what we ate:
This fishy fermented paste is definitely an acquired taste. I could see liking it over time, but the first try was a shocker for my taste buds.
Think mashed potatoes laced with chilies and spices. Yum!
This bitter gourd, which was either steamed or boiled, was not at all bitter.
You can’t see the fish through the thick, spicy gravy here, but this light flaky steak reminded me of kingfish, and it tasted just as good!
Wow! You don’t see quail too much. It’s a somewhat gamey bird like fowl or pigeon, but so small that you really have to work for the meat (and preferably have a few). Since this was not the only thing we were eating, however, I stopped at one.
I was really looking forward to this dish seeing as I love crustaceans so much, but unfortunately it was a little overcooked (and thus tough). The gravy, however, was so good it could be eaten alone.
In addition to providing an informative briefing on each of the dishes, my friend also explained that Bengali food is essentially folk or ‘peasant food,’ unlike, for example, the rich Mughal cuisine of Pakistan. Rice, fish, and legumes are the staples in Bangladesh. Breads are not popular as they are in India, and mustard oil, not ghee, is the main fat used in cooking. This ingredient already imparts each dish with a very characteristic taste, which distinguishes it from similar dishes from the region. The food also had a pleasant kick to it, and if that wasn’t enough all the dishes were sprinkled with fresh, whole green chilies (which definitely scores points in my book). To top off the experience, we ate with our hands, which is standard practice for the full enjoyment of a Bengali meal. Talk about finger-licking good! I didn’t even have a chance to try the goat dishes this time–not enough room–but ‘ll be back for sure.
35-68 73rd St. (betw. 35th and 37th Ave)
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
(photos courtesy of Laila’s Blackberry)