A Tribute to the Wallahs

People often ask us where to get the best Indian food in New York. The real answer is probably in the homes of immigrants who use their own recipes and sprinkle in a hint of hospitality.

Roni Mazumdar, owner of The MasalaWala restaurant in the Lower East Side, agrees. He aims to replicate that homemade taste for every item prepared in his restaurant’s kitchen. This includes the masala chai, made in fresh batches to order by Roni’s father Satyen, who introduces himself to diners as Mr. MasalaWala.

The taste of home in each cup led Tasting Table to declare The MasalaWala’s chai the best in New York. We paid a visit to see what makes the chai so special and to witness Mr. MasalaWala at work.

Mr. MasalaWala uses a 1:1 ratio of milk and water, adds black peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and fresh ginger. He puts in a few heaping spoons of sugar for each cup. “This is the authentic way it is served in India. We add sugar unless customers specifically ask not to have it,” says Roni Mazumdar.

After bringing the mixture to a boil that nearly bubbles over three times, Mr. MasalaWala adds tea leaves sourced from India. He lets it simmer for a few minutes then strains the chai through a cloth, using a technique inspired by the chai wallahs of his native Kolkata.

It’s a lengthy process, but the taste is worth it. “It slows the kitchen down,” says Mazumdar. “Efficiency wise, this is the wrong choice.” But quality wise it is the best choice we have ever made and we will not serve anything less.”

We drink our chai and eat freshly fried pakoras and samosas dusted with chaat masala. We can taste the authenticity in each sip and bite.

“The flavors we want to bring in are from the streets of India,” says Mazumdar. “This restaurant is a tribute to all the walas in South Asia.”


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