TGI Fry-Day: Pani Puri at Bombay Chat in Jackson Heights
It's easy to miss the sign for this place. After all, it's buried under an awning that says "Net Gen" in large letters, and the only marking for Bombay Chat lies below PASSPORT PHOTO and INTERNET/FAX. I have Joe DiStefano to thank for introducing me to this dish at a joint that sells phone cards and Indian digestives in the front, Indian snacks from an interior cart, and Nepali food from a steam table in the back.
Despite the WTF mash-up, this place sells the best pani puri I've had in New York. Pani puri is a type of Indian chaat named for the tiny fried crepes (puri) that puff up into hollow spheres. The spheres are cracked open, filled with a mixture of chickpeas, onions, herbs, and spices, topped off with some sauce, and eaten immediately. It's all the joy of Indian snack food in a bite-size treat: fried and crisp, cool and clean, spicy and herby, and a little funky to boot.
At Bombay Chat, the puri come filled with a spare mix of cold chickpeas, some minced onions, and a bit of chili. You get a small cup of "pani puri water" (my best guess here is the chickpea cooking liquid with lots of cilantro) to add in yourself, along with a squirt bottle of sweet, tangy tamarind sauce. The puri are fresh, the chickpeas cooked and seasoned well, and the sauces vibrant and clean. When it comes to fried snack food, Indian cooks are tough to beat.
73-19A 37th Road, Jackson Heights, NY 11372 (map)