To the total bemusement of my friends and family, I once went on vacation to northern New Jersey and didn’t once enter New York City. But hear me out on this. In the northeast, the suburban stretch of the Garden State closest to the city is a bit like Houston; different towns are filled with different ethnic specialties, much like Space City neighborhoods.
Edgewater, New Jersey is home to the largest and most comprehensive Mitsuwa Marketplace I’ve ever seen. In my opinion, the little town is an even better stop for Japanese goods than LA’s Little Tokyo. Palisades Park is filled with excellent Korean eateries and nearby Fort Lee has an aces H Mart. But perhaps the greatest jewel of all is a pair of towns farther south—Edison and Iselin, two suburbs populated almost entirely by people of Indian heritage.
For a fan of Desi food and culture, the area is a wonderland. It's India without the pricey plane ticket. There are a few businesses with locations both in Edison or Iselin and in greater Houston—my beloved Kwality Ice Cream, with its flavors like mitha pan and chickoo, has a store in Sugar Land and another coming soon to Hillcroft. And two biryani spots with Jersey locations are around the corner from each other, near Little India. I've yet to try Biryani Pot, but last weekend, I had lunch at Bawarchi Biryani Point.
Yes, biryani was the goal, but perhaps the greatest discovery was something closer to an Indian Scotch egg. The egg bonda is simple in theory, really nothing but three hard-boiled eggs coated in chickpea batter. And though the yolk might be dry, the pleasure of the earthy coating, dipped in gingery coconut sauce, is far from modest.
Pairing it with a glass of rose milk didn't make perfect sense, but it simply had to happen. Imagine strawberry Nesquik but deeply floral instead of...whatever it is strawberry Quik tastes like. The purple reflection, incidentally, is from the color-changing lights that line the ceiling. Every few seconds brings a new rainbow hue.
Of course, the restaurant's raison d'être is biryani, and the kitchen knows what it's doing. The servers, perhaps not so much. I ordered the minty "special chicken biryani" and ended up with the goat option. But the meat fell off its tiny bones amid a just-right jolt of heat. What the toothsome grains lacked, though, was acid, which was provided in the form of cilantro-speckled raita and a warm, comforting tomato-based gravy.
And yes, it reminded me of eating in Jersey. But more importantly, it prompted me, once again, to feel damn lucky to live in Houston.