Over the past few years, the kati roll has gained quite a bit of traction in Manhattan. A street food that originated in Kolkata, the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal, the roll has evolved over the years from a paratha wrapped around a kebab to its current form, a paratha rolled with many types of filling.
Back in 2006, Midtown Lunch raved over the so-called Indian burritos offered at Kati Roll Company; subsequently, they began appearing on the menus of numerous Midtown street carts, and even attracted the fickle attentions of Angelo Sosa. The Kati Roll Company’s Midtown location was actually its second in New York; its original outpost is on MacDougal Street.
While the Midtown location has plenty of nearby competition, its New York flagship long enjoyed kati-roll supremacy in Greenwich Village. Until three weeks ago, when Thelewala opened almost directly across the street. The tiny shop sells an assortment of Indian street foods, including “famous Nizami rolls,” which is another name for kati rolls — “Nizami” refers to Kolkata’s Nizam restaurant, where the rolls are said to have been invented. So naturally, we wondered how they would compare with the competition. Both places offer a paneer roll, and so a battle plan was formed.
First we went to the Kati Roll Company. There, paneer (or fresh cheese) comes in the form of the achari paneer roll. Priced at $5.25, it came stuffed with cheese, thin slices of purple onion, a hunk or two of green pepper, and precisely one piece of tomato. The exterior of the cheese boasted a delightfully garish orange hue from, as the menu informed us, being marinated in spicy pickle. The paratha enclosing everything was griddled to order, and fairly greasy.
Although the vegetables registered as an afterthought, the paneer itself was terrific. Fresh, a bit salty, and pleasantly chewy around the edges, it wasn’t nearly as spicy as its spicy-pickle bath would seem to promise, but still gave off a decent amount of heat. The paratha, though a little oilier than we would have liked, was soft and flaky and all of those good things that parathas are supposed to be. While we would have preferred the roll without the errant vegetables, as the tomato was flavorless and we loathe green peppers, it was all in all a very enjoyable kati roll. We’d certainly eat it again if we found ourselves on MacDougal Street and in the mood for something that wasn’t Mamoun’s.
On to Thelewala, which, like the Kati Roll Company, is also located up a short flight of stairs. Its dimensions — approximately those of a clown car — make those of its diminutive competitor look palatial. It’s not really a place to sit and linger, but then kati rolls aren’t really a sit-and-linger food.
The paneer on Thelewala’s lime paneer roll ($4.50) was bright yellow to Kati Roll’s bright orange, and also much spicier. We couldn’t really detect the roll’s purported lime and coriander underneath all of the heat, but still, it was pretty wonderful cheese, with that ideal crisp-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside texture that we love in griddled cheese. The paratha was almost identical to the Kati Roll Company’s, as were the thinly sliced purple onions it contained. Thankfully, there was no random vegetable matter to contend with. Like its competitor’s paneer roll, Thelewala’s was completely enjoyable, and we’d certainly stuff another one down our gullets.
Which means that, honestly, we liked both of them almost equally. If pushed, however, we’d give the win to Thelewala, if only because we slightly preferred the texture of its cheese and didn’t care for the flavorless and/or unnecessary vegetables lurking in Kati Roll’s paneer roll. Also, for the budget-minded, Thelewala offers the better deal. Regardless, both places are worthy of your patronage, and offer further proof that we live in a charmed city: Where else, outside of India, are you going to find two kati-roll purveyors on the same block of the same minuscule street?
112 MacDougal Street
Kati Roll Company
99 MacDougal Street
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 27, 2011