Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Masala Boondi and Richmond's Best Samosas

I write about falafel so often, you have to be wondering why this vegetarian* isn't promoting Indian food more actively? I mean, 40% of Indians are veggie and fantastic non-meat meals can be had all over Richmond at the various Indian restaurants. Well, one reason I haven't been talking Indian since my Valentine's Day post on cheap date night, is the heat. Heavy curries and rice is the last thing I want when it's pushing a hundred outside.

Now that it's September, the coast is clear to bump some coriander chutney and aloo tiki up in the queue. First of all, if you don't want to commit to a whole meal of Indian, you're in luck. There's this great little place at Broad and Hungry Springs, where you can order little plates, like tapas - sorta. And you can sit in a lounge and sip mango lassi while discussing the flavor of your dish. It's called, Cool Breeze Chaat House (coupons on their site!). Everything on their menu is between $1 and $5. That's my kinda eatin!

Another option is to get a samosa. Every Indian place sells them and many discerning diners judge a place based on the popular appetizer. Cool Breeze mashes theirs up and smothers it in accouterments and calls it "chaat." Some places offer theirs with or without meat inside. One would think that there's not going to be much variation when you combine potatoes, peas and spices fried in a thin dough. But, there actually is a BEST samosa in Richmond. Since I've never heard any opinion polls proclaiming otherwise, I hereby declare Bombay Grocery the purveyor of Richmond's best samosas.

Bombay Grocery
on W. Broad just west of Gaskins (by Blue Ridge Mtn Sports) features a modest selection of Indian products. The frozen foods are especially good for quick Indian meals at home. And on the counter by the register are several platters of homemade foods togo. Among the fried goodies, are some plump but plain looking samosas. They're $1 each, last time I checked. Go buy one now and bite into it as soon as you get out the door. Nope. It doesn't need to be hot. In fact, reheating kinda ruins it (so don't let them microwave yours). Besides, there's plenty of heat packed inside of that pouch. Wow. It will light you up a bit, but the bites will fly by compulsively.

I've brought their samosas home and tried to reheat them in the oven, but it didn't work out. The frying oil soaked up by the shell cannot be reactivated. I'm sure they're best right out of the fryer, but that's just not an option at Bombay. To console yourself, buy one or two of every fresh item they have and dig in.

If you want at-home snacks, get a bag of "boondi." What the hell is that, you're asking? I have no idea, but they sure taste good. One day I told the clerk at Bombay that I was making raita and I asked what she put in hers. BOONDI! When I saw the bag of tiny crispy poofs, I just couldn't picture them in my yogurt sauce alongside shredded cucumbers. But, I brought the bag home. (that recipe actually sheds some light on what I was supposed to do)

Next thing you know, Karen has to have a bag of boondi within reach at all times. They're greasy, salty, spicy, and spherical. Think tiny round Indian potato chips, made with "gram flour." If you're brave enough to make a curry flavored salad dressing, then these would make a great salad topper (Black Sheep, consider this on your already perfect salad - you know the one I'm talking about). There are many brands of boondi. So, don't go hunting just for the item above. And not all flavorings are equal. Start with "masala boondi." Practice saying it in the car before you go and ask the clerk. Masala boondi. Masala boondi. Doesn't that feel good?

If you're in the mood for Indian, having read this, here's some places to go satisfy that craving right now:
  • India K'Raja buffet: Not cheap, but the variety can't be beat
  • Ruchee lunch buffee: Cheap and authentic. Not overspiced or glutinous (unless you just can't stop)
  • Farouks in Carytown: Worst Indian in Richmond. You have to try it to believe it. Tell them what you think afterwards. Still kinda satisfies a curry/raita/chutney jones in a pinch.
  • Royal India on Broad/Hungry Springs: Best Indian in Richmond (in my opinion). They own the Chaat House too. Be sure to try the "shahi paneer."

*ovo-lacto-pesca, currently


  1. Love India K'Raja. And totally agree with you about Farouk's.

    Thanks for the tip about this Cool Breeze Chaat House--I've been dying to get Indian lately and that sounds like a fun place to try. :)


  2. What happened to Farouk's? I used to go there in the early to mid 90's and while it wasn't great it was pretty decent and never bad. The last couple of times we've gone in the last 5 years it has been mediocre to abysmal and if you ask for something the staff acts like you've interrupted them from doing something important.

  3. The Cool Breeze Chaat house is great.. but don't try to eat their samosas while driving.. they are kind of messy.

  4. I thought Farouks was always that way.. I haven't been in 17 years.

    We like Malabar... but it's out by Short Pump. Too bad the Indian Garden Grille on Midlothian closed..

  5. Re: Indian snacks..
    Don't eat 'em if you are trying to do low-sodium.. they are really loaded with salt.

  6. I'm glad everybody zero'd in on the one little tidbit of smack talk that I tossed into this one. Well, the law of supply and demand says that I should step up production on the culinary critical beatdowns. Going to a "classy" joint for dinner tonight. Let's hope it's worthwhile.

    So, anyone ever tried Bombay's samosas? Am I the only one who lists samosas in my top ten favorite foods?

  7. Best Samosas I've ever had were at an Afghan place near the Inner Harbor in Bawlmer.. with a great cilantro lime chutney. I think they moved to Federal Hill.

  8. Any Indian joint that serves cilantro/coriander chutney is serviceable. My favorite dip for samosas or nan bread is to combine the green stuff with the white stuff (raita). Spicy-cool. Tempts me to say "yummo-o."

  9. There were a number of great Pakistani places in Kinshasa that served great samosas. Not sure if they're there anymore but the plane fare would be a bit prohibitive.

    I've never really been able to find samosas to match those but if your ever in London they serve samosas from street carts that make most of the ones I've tried in the states seem dry and tasteless in comparison.

  10. The Kebab House across from Chesterfiled Town Center has a few chaat dishes.. had chaat papri yesterday for lunch..

  11. Anonymous7:15 PM

    What about Malabar? Their food is great, and always full of people.

  12. I have to admit that my blog's focus has major blind spots in the far west end and southside. In fact, I've never been on Lauderdale Drive, where Malabar is located. Google streetview just gave me an eyeful of the suburban wasteland. Can't say I'm itching to make the trip, however, great things sometimes come from the suburbs. I was raised in Fairfax County. Okay, enough snarkiness. Thanks for adding Malabar to my radar. Maybe I'll hit it up on the way to Trader Joe's.


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