Vegetarian (and Vegan) Delights of NYC: Pesarattu Upma at Sapthagiri in Jersey City


Pesarattu upma is one of the vegetarian dishes hitherto-unseen in the region, making Sapthagiri well worth the visit. Instead of potatoes, the interior holds a secret surprise.

A new restaurant featuring the vegetarian cuisines of north and south India has materialized in Jersey City’s Little India.

Not on Newark Avenue, but located on a side street, Sapthagiri offers nearly the full range of vegetarian Indian cuisines, including such southern specialties as masala dosa in its umpteen variations, curd rice, and gutti vankaya, the latter an unusual stew of baby eggplants in a mellow sauce incorporating pureed tomatoes and peanuts.

From the northern roster come Mughal vegetable curries like alu gobi and mattar paneer. There are a plethora of breads, too, the most amazing of which is bhatura, which is like a poori times ten.

The space is perhaps too well-lit, but also has an elegance denied many of the eating establishments that line Newark Avenue.

While the northern and southern menus have become familiar to us in the last decade or so, variations keep popping up to hold our avid interest. At Sapthagiri, one of the principal additions to the vegetarian canon is pesarattu upma ($6.99), with a wrapper much like a dosa, except it’s made out of ground mung beans insteal of ground rice and urad dal. I assume the fermentation process is similar. The difference lies in a darker and grassier taste in the pesarattu, which hails originally from Andhra Pradesh on the southeast coast of India.


A disembodied thumb pries up the wrapper to reveal pesarattu’s contents–cream of wheat!.

The filling is different, too. Instead of the usual potato stuffing studded with cashews, onions, peas, and perhaps a shredded green chile or two. pesarattu is stuffed with the cream-of-wheat porridge called upma, one of the chief breakfast delights of southern India. Other occupiers of the interior of the pesarattu cylinder include slick, lightly sauteed onions and chiles.

Pesarattu upma would be vegan except for some butter in the upma. There are plenty of vegan choices on the menu, however, such as bisi bele bath (Sounds like something you’d buy at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, doesn’t it?), a pleasing assemblage of rice, lentils, vegetables, and spices; and avial, another vegetable assortment cooked in coconut milk and flavored with curry leaves and black mustard seeds. 804 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, 201-533-8400

The action on Newark Avenue–pan sellers, dowry jewelers, sweets vendors, restaurants, curiosity shops, and markets–continues well into the evening.

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