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The Find: Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se in Artesia
Pomegranate seeds spill from the sandwich after each bite, brilliant and glistening like freshly polished rubies. Peanuts tumble out too, speckled with flecks of cumin, cinnamon and ground chiles. They land with a percussive patter that completes the sensory experience that is the Indian snack dabeli, a White Castle-sized, potato-based slider that's a staple on the streets of Mumbai. At Artesia's Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se, dabeli is just one of Sailesh and Shruti Shah's edible odes to their former home.
The husband and wife brought the pulse of Mumbai's cosmopolitan streets with them to the United States a decade ago. Sailesh spent most of his years here as a software engineer, all the while accumulating the knowledge and resources required to launch a restaurant. A year and a half ago, he put programming in the past and opened Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se with Shruti.
Much about the Little India restaurant is familiar: Its tableware is disposable (plates are Styrofoam, cutlery is plastic) and its ambience depends on whichever choreographed bit of Bollywood happens to be dancing across the TV. But Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se (literally "from the streets of Mumbai") is unique to the neighborhood. While Gujarati chaat shops offer an increasingly familiar cast of snacks, Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se is the only eatery to focus on the flavors of India's largest city.
On its first day, the restaurant served only three dishes, all roadside-style bites from Mumbai and the surrounding state of Maharashtra. The all-vegetarian menu has since swelled to nearly 100 items encompassing Punjabi classics, south Indian standbys and even the Indochinese fusion that's endemic along Pioneer Boulevard. Still, the restaurant's street spirit is what truly inspires the kitchen.
The dabeli, in all its seeming simplicity, is the quintessential dish. Each order consists of two of the miniature sandwiches, their tiny toasted buns wrapped around loose potato patties flavored with dabeli masala (a spicy mix of chiles, cumin, cinnamon and other aromatics), onions, green grapes, peanuts and pomegranate seeds. It's texturally complex and well balanced, enlivened by bursts of sweetness that shock the senses and dull the burn. The dabeli is as enjoyably messy and thoroughly rewarding as any great burger.
On the milder side are two preparations of sabudana, glutinous tapioca pearls typically eaten during periods of fasting. Try sabudana khichdi, sautéed sabudana plus chunks of potato, cilantro and peanuts. The dish looks a lot like Israeli couscous and is a pleasant paradox: remarkably light yet notably filling. There's also sabudana vada, a batch of fried sabudana fritters. The miracle of sabudana vada is in the crunch, as the outer pearls fuse into a crisp crust while the interior beads remain tender and whole.
Pav bhaji, a tomato-based vegetable curry scooped up by blocks of toasted bread, commands countless orders. So do the various plates of puri, hollow puffed wheat shells stuffed with potatoes and pulses and accompanied by chutneys, yogurts and scented waters.
There are two dozen street snacks, including dakor na gota (spiced Gujarati gram-flour fritters) and ragda pettis (a ball of potatoes, green peas and coconut buried under an avalanche of yellow lentils). Because all of these are sized for on-the-go appetites, it's easy to over-order. As Sailesh and Shruti Shah explain, two items per person is plenty.
Try a yogurt drink
Even if you opt for a thali or combination plate, there's always room for a drink. Unlike a run-of-the-mill lassi, Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se's piyush is a labor-intensive beverage of fresh, homemade yogurt infused with saffron, cardamom, pistachios and almonds. The yogurt takes three days to make and the piyush's resultant tang is unmistakable and excellent. Those lacking an ironclad stomach might consider a Kashmiri soda, an effervescent digestif made from carbonated water, carminative spices and a shot of lemon juice.
Ever the proud Mumbaikars, Sailesh and Shruti are happy to help you through the menu, guiding every order with the care of close friends and the shrewd intuition of personality profilers. Eventually, you come to understand what Sailesh means when he says that the restaurant reflects his heart, his values. Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se's food is homemade in the truest sense: without pretense, but with plenty of passion.