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.

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The Taste of Kashmir in Queens

Manhattan has its slices of South Asia – Curry Hill, Curry Row in the East Village, and dhabas scattered across the island. But to fully immerse ourselves in New York’s chai culture, we trekked to Jackson Heights, Queens, the heart of the city’s South Asian community. Descending the steps from the 7 train, you might feel like you were dropped off in the middle of Mumbai – and saved the airfare! Surrounded by sweet shops, sari stores, sidewalk astrologers, and halal butchers, we knew we had come to the right place to find some of the best chai wallahs in New York.

Under the 7 train

Under the 7 train

Tinny Bollywood music drifted out of a roadside chaat shop and the smell of samosas frying filled the hot, sticky air. We bumped into a six-foot sardar pitching palm reading services. The only future we were interested in at the moment was where we were going to find the best chai in the neighborhood. Without hesitation, he directed us to Al Naimat Restaurant & Sweets at the corner of 74th St and 37th Ave. Twirling his wiry white mustache, he promised their chai was “Sab se acchi.”

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Downtown Dhaba Chai

As our date of departure nears, we have been dealing with the logistics of picking up and moving halfway across the world for the foreseeable future.

Tata India map

Constantly cleaning the apartment to secure that elusive responsible, clean and sane subletter? Check.

Nonstop studying of YouTube tutorials, DSLRs for Dummies books and dpreview.com comments to learn how to take stunning photographs of the chai wallahs we meet? Check.

Scrambling to stay on top of our website, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and WordPress accounts – and accidentally deleting essential HTML code along the way? Check and check.

Amidst the madness, we carved out time to meet some key players in the Indian diaspora – the Chai Wallahs of New York City.

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