MashAllah Sweets and Restaurant, Brooklyn
In September, the authors of a book about the New York Police Department’s Demographics Unit leaked one of their key primary sources to the press to gin up publicity. The “Sports Venue Report” listed “South Asian Sports Locations” and “Arab Sports Locations” all over the five boroughs, and helpfully provided a map of the best places to watch cricket, football and Muslims watching cricket and football.
This was immediately denounced as racial profiling and an outrageous assault on civil liberties because, y’know, it is, but it did also occur to me that the NYPD had unwittingly compiled the very curry guide that the city was sorely lacking. I had pretty much given up on curry, partly because my wife, the Girl from Ipan-Keema, is averse to spicy food, and partly because the "Indian" restaurants in my neighbourhood are so mediocre.
There are apparently fantastic curry houses in the Bangladeshi quarter of Jackson Heights, in Queens, but that’s a three-hour round trip. The offerings on Murray "Curry" Hill in Manhattan are variable and expensive. The NYPD’s dossier promised better. I’d cycled and run along the Pakistani stretch of Coney Island Avenue a few times without ever thinking to stop and investigate the food, which with hindsight seems stupid. After doing a bit of research on Yelp – the cops make no mention of whether the food is any good – we (myself, Chapati Smith and Vindaloo Reed) picked a block with three restaurants and resolved to eat at whichever looked best.
Punjab Restaurant resembled a 1980s airport lounge, Shandar Sweet and Restaurant a Pakistani Wendy’s. In the end, we went for Mashallah Sweets and Restaurant, which also had a neon-lit, fast food vibe, but somehow appeared a little more welcoming. Chapati Smith and Vindaloo Reed are both born fast bowlers, a whippy six-foot plus, and as English as gooseberry jam. Your correspondent Martin Jalfrezi, his Scottish ancestry notwithstanding, hails from Oxford. We may as well have been aliens.
When Vindaloo Reed wondered aloud whether we should order some Aloo Gobi, the man behind the counter gave us a shy smile, his eyes like saucers. How do they know? The deal was canteen. We asked for Chicken Jalfrezi, which wasn’t on. “Everyone likes Butter Chicken,” he said. We ordered Fish Masala, Lamb “Champ Curry” and Aloo Gobi, and embarrassed ourselves by not knowing the difference between bhaji and pakora. Two rice, two perfect fluffy naans.
The Mashallah was clearly a no booze establishment, so we ordered a Coke, a Pepsi and a glass of water, resolving to have a couple after to make up for it. Our waiter brought the first dishes. “I think I know where you are from,” he told us. A beat. “Russia.” We explained that, no, we are English, dropped into the magic curry at birth. “That colour? English?” He wasn’t convinced. I asked if it was a Pakistani restaurant. “Yes,” he said, “and the food is good because we are all Muslims.” I made a mental note to report him to the police.
|Some of the sweets from MashAllah, according to the excellent Ditmas Park Corner blog|
It was the best curry I’ve had in New York. All three main dishes were spicy, but not over the top, with extra whole chillies for the hardcore. The fish masala, in particular, was absolutely delicious, probably the best fish curry I’ve ever had. At the cash register, they asked for $31. For all of it. We went to a bar that is a flower shop by day – this is Brooklyn – and spent almost as much on two gin and tonics and a pint of bitter. I’m already planning to cycle back with a rucksack and some Tupperware. Next time I may even buy some of their sweets.
|Heavy petal: that flower shop-stroke-speakeasy nearby ...|
A few days after filing this, I had a good reason to return to the neighbourhood and stop in at Mashallah. I explained that my wife was of the pasanda persuasion and asked if any of the dishes could be considered mild. "All the meat dishes are spicy," the man told me. "The vegetables, not spicy." I bought a large meal to take home: lamb and chicken curries, mixed vegetable curry, daal and some pakora.
The Girl From Ipan-Keema took one bite of the pakora, dipped in raita, and immediately started gesturing as if her throat was on fire. She tried the daal and the vegetable curry and began to sweat. Both were, even for me, seriously spicy. So she warmed up yesterday's lasagne and I looked forward to a whole week of eating curry for lunch. Alright!
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