Deccan Spice: They Got Your Goat
A decade ago, Jersey City's Little India—a stretch of Newark Avenue that descends rather alarmingly toward the Meadowlands swamps—was really Little Gujarat. This bustling district teemed with immigrants from that far-western Indian state who patronized its temples, groceries, sari stores, restaurants, gold-dowry jewelers, and sweet shops. But gradually, their numbers dwindled. Now a fresh group of Indian immigrants, many from the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, have replaced them, and a whole slew of new restaurants has materialized almost overnight. These places offer fascinating regional cuisines rarely glimpsed before in the New York area.
Named after a vast plateau that dominates the area geographically, Deccan Spice mounts a menu typical of Hyderabad, located in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh. Heavy in tech industries and call centers, the city is often touted as India's Silicon Valley. The restaurant's interior is remarkably plain, just two rows of unadorned tables in a white room, with nothing to speak of on the walls. The menu reflects the diverse population of Hyderabad, where Hindus and Muslims rub shoulders, and one of the primary ethnicities is the Telugu, a group that speaks its own distinct language.
If you eat meat, a good starter is goat-trotter soup ($6.99)—subtly spiced, reddish-brown, oily, and supremely mellow. You'll hopefully enjoy fishing out the little chunks of gelatinous material and eating them. By contrast, there's a vegetarian app that goes by the American-sounding name of corn fritters ($6.99). Resembling flat falafel, they're composed of cornmeal studded with fresh kernels. In keeping with the American theme, ketchup is served alongside.
The menu is rife with other, more agreeable surprise ingredients. The meat in mutton gongura ($13.99) comes mired in a pureed leafy vegetable that might be mistaken for spinach, except for a pleasing lemoniness. It turns out mutton is one of the menu's preoccupations, and when it says mutton, it means mutton—and not the bland kind that mars the chop at Keens Steakhouse. Goat is everywhere, too. For organ enthusiasts, the menu might startle you with its offer of goat brains and intestines, things rarely seen in an Indian restaurant here. But the best goat selection is Hyderabadi korma, laved in a creamy curry-leaf sauce thickened with yogurt.
In its full roster of foods southern Indians like to eat, Deccan Spice offers dosas, tandoori meats, Mughal vegetarian fare from the North, and Indo-Chinese food—a fusion cuisine of recent vintage that is wildly popular on Newark Avenue. Skip them all until you've sampled the biryanis—parti-colored rice pilafs that form the heart of Hyderabadi cuisine. Natu kodi biryani ("country chicken" biryani, $14.99) is a weekends-only offering of a half-bird cooked in a rural style plunged into rice festively scattered with purple onions, lime wedges, and slender green chiles. The dish includes a boiled egg coated in masala and deep-fried. What a pretty picture this Telugu specialty makes! (If you're visiting on a weekday, natu kodi is available, just not in biryani form.)
Eggs are rarely found in northern Indian restaurants, but at Deccan Spice, they're all over the place—though you'll never endure a runny yolk. An entire menu section ("Anda") is devoted to ova, both boiled and scrambled. My favorite is Sultani Egg Masala, named after the residents of a town in northwestern India. It immerses boiled eggs in an onion gravy so good, you'll mop up every trace with the bread you need to order as a side. Accustomed to eating scrambled eggs only at breakfast? Well, for a change try anda bhurji, which whips up the suckers with a typical south Indian flavor scheme, including black mustard seeds, onions, green chiles, cumin, and curry leaf (a small, shiny, astringent herb that has nothing whatsoever to do with curry powder).
Even the breads are remarkable at Deccan Spice. Mooli paratha (two pieces $5.99) is a flatbread filled with shredded daikon radish, which gives it an engaging sweetness. The interior is studded with seeds that include fennel, mustard, and cumin, providing a welcome crunch and creating little explosions of flavor. Malabar paratha—name checking a coastal area important in the spice trade for centuries—is a buttery flatbread and one of the best things my friends and I have tasted all year. The flaky round has been configured as a swirling vortex by cooks who understand geometry. Just don't stare too intently at it, or you might hypnotize yourself and fall face-first into your intestine curry.
For more food coverage, check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, at voicefoodblog.com. Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.
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