Desi Galli: Fast Food, Indian Style

As a lover of all foods, I am not kidding when I say I will eat anything. Raw baby octopus? Sure! A Polish soup made with duck’s blood? Done! A Nepalese meat hash made from the heart, kidney, and intestines of a goat? Delicious!* But the one genre of food I always stay away from? Fast food. Specifically, American fast food. I have to differentiate these because other countries have amazing fast food – meals designed to be eaten both on the go and on the cheap. Sure, other fast food chains have dug their golden arches into foreign soil, but there will always be guys selling their favorite foods street-side. Many food writers, including Anthony Bourdain, have celebrated foreign street foods for being a much more accurate representative of their people.

Desi Galli, located in the sub-district of Murray Hill affectionately called Curry Hill, serves up Indian street food specialties at extraordinarily low prices. The restaurant’s name comes from des, a Sanskrit term indicating the Indian subcontinent, and galli, a Hindi word meaning “alley.” Alexa and I were treated to a wide array of selections from their impressive menu.For an appetizer, we had the samosa chat (above), a pastry stuffed with seasoned potatoes and topped with beans, yogurt sauce, and cilantro chutney. It was an amazing variation on one my all-time favorite Indian starters. Our other appetizer was the vada pav, a potato patty served like a slider (below). I can definitely see the appeal of this to vegetarians.

The regular entrees (mostly served in a manner similar to wraps) also featured a good amount of vegetarian-friendly fare, including paneer bhurjee, featuring cheese and tomatoes served in a parantha, a lightly-fried flatbread (below). We also enjoyed the galli omelet, a perfect on-the-go breakfast, pairing eggs up with peppers, chilies, and tomatoes (below).

For our three non-vegetarian items, we enjoyed chicken tikka, a spice and yogurt-marinated cut of chicken that is a personal favorite of mine. The spices rendered the chicken a dramatic shade of orange-red, seasoned to perfection. Our other two wraps featured lamb, which for many is an acquired taste. For people who love it (like us), it is still a particularly “heavy” meat, meaning we enjoyed a few bites of both the mutton keema (minced meat) and the bhuna lamb (slow-cooked) before we had to tap out because we had gotten too full. Both were delicious.

We washed our meal down with two traditional Indian beverages: mango lassi (a yogurt-based drink not unlike a smoothie) and an Indian soda called Thums Up, which is somewhere between Coca-Cola and Pepsi in terms of its balance of kola nut flavor and sweetness, respectively.

After we let dinner settle, dessert came. The first was rasmalai, cheese dumplings served in a sweet milk and seasoned with saffron. If it sounds a little strange, don’t worry; it was really sweet and a little refreshing. Our last dessert was gulab jamon, a staple of many Indian restaurants that has khoya, a mixture of flower and cooked-down milk, sitting in a sweet syrup made from saffron and rosewater that tastes a bit like honey. Both desserts were incredible (and the gulab jamon is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth!), capping off a series of delicious portable meals.

* I’m not exaggerating: I have had all of these things and more.

Photos by Alexa Altman

Desi Galli
101 Lexington Avenue

About Alex DiBlasi (72 Articles)
Alex DiBlasi is a writer and musician based out of Philadelphia. As a journalist, he has contributed articles for the Queens Courier, Long Island City magazine, the Journal of Rock Music Studies, and the American Music Review. As an academic, he has written about Frank Zappa, The Monkees, The Kinks, and the cinema of the Czech New Wave. He also previously taught literature at St. John’s University in Queens. His first book, an anthology of scholarly essays from all over the world on Geek Rock, co-edited with Dr. Victoria Willis, will be released in October 2014 by Scarecrow Press. Alex spent most of 2013 and part of 2014 on the road with his partner Alexa Altman, visiting each of the Lower 48 states as the basis for a book. Aside from his work in the arts, Alex also works with the Manhattan-based Sikh Coalition as an advocate for religious freedom.