Bronx Eats: Chaat and Other Snacks from Starling Coffee Shop
In spite of its generic name and imprecise storefront signage, which advertises a sprawling menu that jumps from "Chinese food" to biryani to bagels, Starling Coffee Shop manages to keep a tight focus on the streets of Bangladesh. Stick to the menu's left side and you can cover a wide range of filling Bengali streets snacks.
Most prominently featured on the menu are pitha, an hugely popular winter dessert found in Bangladesh and neighboring Indian states. Taken with a cup of aromatic tea (sweetened with condensed milk), they'll make you forget all about the chilly air. (They're worth enjoying, though, any time of the year—even in this warm weather.) The puli pitha ($1) is the best of of the offerings: shaped like empanadas, the soft and stretchy dough is filled with threads of coconut and sugar-laced oil. There's also the leaf-shaped muksala pitha ($1.50), fried dough swimming in syrup and coated with flakes of sugar.
Less consistently available is the shemai ($1), a cold dessert of vermicelli noodles in a sweet and creamy sauce, often cooked with almonds. Here, green cardamom seeds can be found cushioned by the noodles, subtly infusing their flavor into the sauce. When available, the noodles are in a long tray alongside black chana and rice dishes.
If your sweet tooth isn't calling, there's no reason to sweat. Samosas and singharas, including a punchy variety with liver, are good—but not the best on the block. Given the offerings, its better to go for something less commonly available: jhal muri ($1; spiced puffed rice), begun bhaja ($1.50; fried eggplant), and more. The moglai is an airy white paratha that comes stuffed with chicken ($4) or fluffy eggs ($3). Starling's is particularly crisp and thin. Not quite as tasty, but equally recommendable, is the aloo chop: a large and hollow croquette coated with potato crumbs and spices on the inside.
Legumes makes an even stronger showing. We wrote about Starling's chotpoti before in our guide to eating on the Banglabazaar, but it's worth saying again: if you get just one savory item, go for the chickpeas. Chotpoti is a sour, spicy, invigorating mix of chickpeas cooked with tamarind paste and topped with white onion, cilantro, chopped egg, and green chilies. Once you're done chowing, savor the heat and grab a cup of jhal muri ($1), to go.
Starling Coffee Shop
2174 Starling Ave, Bronx NY 10462 (map)
About the author: Chris Crowley is a former Serious Eats intern and the author of the Bronx Eats column. You can follow him on twitter here, or pay a visit to his new food blog, Sound Bites, over on Wordpress.