A food-centric monologue from Aziz Ansari’s character Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation may be changing the culinary vernacular forever. Or maybe it’s just a funny bit from last week’s episode.

The video below fills us in on the new food lingo. You know, in case someone asks if you’d like some super water with your long-ass rice and chicky-chicky parm-parm. In the special food vocabulary coined by Tom Haverford, super water isn’t really water, long-ass rice isn’t rice at all and chicky-chicky parm-parm has little or nothing to do with *that *Parm.

If you can’t get enough of those zerts, there’s a site serving up more: TomHaverfoods.com. Continue reading

Spice Coast: America’s Next Great Restaurant?

So writing about reality TV isn’t really my thing, but there’s a show on Sunday nights on NBC that regularly gets my mouth watering. It’s America’s Next Great Restaurant, and it takes 21 people, each with an idea for a fast casual restaurant, and finishes with a winner who gets his/her restaurant opened in three US locations: Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York. The judges are also the investors in the new restaurant, and provide their input (sometimes ultimatums) as to what they want from each contestant, eliminating one contestant per episode.

They’re down to the top five in tonight’s episode, and one of the remaining contestants is Sudhir Kandula (@sudsnyc), whose brainchild is Spice Coast, featuring – are you ready? – fast casual southern Indian coastal food! Sudhir’s restaurant began the show with the name Tiffin Box (it had me there) but the investors asked him to change it because no one knows what a tiffin box is.

I spoke with Sudhir earlier in the week about the show, the diversity of Indian food, and his idea for a healthy restaurant:

If you’re viewing this from a device that isn’t flash-friendly, here’s the link.

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Top Chef Masters: Coming Back to Earth

top.chef.masters.chefs.jpg The third season of Top Chef Masters is different and not just because it includes for the first time ever, one–wait, make that two–desi chefs: Floyd Cardoz and Suvir Saran. Instead of having about 20 contestants as in previous years, this season has 12, and pits them against each other in elimination challenges like Restaurant Wars that come straight from the original Top Chef series format. But as usual they are all chefs already at the top in terms of professional success, competing to win money for charities and the title of Top Chef Master.

Cardoz and Saran definitely have what it takes to make it to the finals, and they made a good showing in the first episode. It’s too early to tell which of the remaining 11 chefs will make it to the end, but after the first episode last night it is NOT too early to know that Saran and his quips make for good TV. What did you think? Have you tried their food?

You can watch both chefs introduce themselves below.

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Chowpatty Time

veggie.sloppy.joe.jpg Top Chef veteran Preeti Mistry has a pop-up lunch spot in San Francisco called Juhu Beach Club. Pop-ups are temporary guerilla-style dining spots that take over an existing location, and Mistry’s is located in the front part of a liquor store that has a deli and sells lotto tickets. I’ve yet to check out a Sassy Lassi or Bizarre Love Triangle from the Club, but I’m intrigued by the chef’s description of her food.

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Your Customs Is Foreign To Us

for Aseem Chhabra and my fellow travelers

Something Aseem Chhabra said this weekend made me think of this.

Several months ago, I was detained at the Michigan-Canadian border because I had loose, unlabeled spices from Toronto, which the Lords of U.S. Customs did not recognize and needed to submit to agricultural inspection, a request I did not consider unreasonable until I saw how it was to be done. We were removed from our vehicle and did not have even visual contact with our property while they searched it.

(Who will inspect the inspection? They could take something! I said.

They could PLANT something, said someone else.)

As far I could tell, the only person of color in the office where we waited was Barack Obama. I found his picture on the wall comforting.

Our vehicle when we returned to it looked ransacked, but to the best of our knowledge, they took (and planted) nothing. Still, I have learned to prefer the airport. Or the New York border, where my loose Sri Lankan spices flummox no one.

Had a customs experience you loved? Hated? Share below. Continue reading

Passing down vanishing skills during Thanksgiving

I think I probably speak for many of us second generation South Asian Americans when I say that Thanksgiving, as much as it is a holiday for spending time with family, has also become a race-against-time once-a-year cooking clinic. There are a great many tasty dishes and culinary techniques that are disappearing in diaspora communities at the same rate as endangered species and languages. Packaged foods, restaurants, and fusion creations are replacing good old-world home cooking. There are a number of techniques I recommend to combat this trend. First, get a Google Voice account. Ask your mom or dad to call the Google Voice number and hit the digit “4” to record. That way, when they tell you that recipe for the 100th time, you won’t have to worry about forgetting it. If you are at home this Thanksgiving then you can also set up one of those simple, pocket-sized digital movie cameras and record what is going on in the kitchen (like your mom telling you that you are rolling the velan incorrectly). Finally, PRACTICE. You might mess it up 10 times but on that 11th try hit the sweet spot and trigger a flood of memories.

I took my own advice and set up a video camera in our kitchen yesterday. I learned to roll parathas and then flipped them to my brother to cook up.

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Ameen Chef-testant Competes for Just Desserts

malika.ameen.jpgThe latest desi entrant to the reality TV world, Chicago pastry chef consultant Malika Ameen, has a spot on the premiere season of Top Chef: Just Desserts. The series is a Padma Lakshmi-less but pastry and pompadour-laden spin-off of the popular Top Chef.

In its initial quickfire challenge, Ameen’s meringue was all wrong, mostly because she didn’t complete the coconut concoction in time. But the cookie couturier to the stars hustled for the next round, producing a decadent and bittersweet chocolate dessert for the elimination challenge. It made the cut and kept her on the show for another week. Continue reading

Party on the Food Network!

After several months of waiting, the “Next Food Network Star” has been announced, and it is none other than fellow desi Aarti Sequiera! Lakshmi did a brief write up on Aarti as the competition to select the Food Network’s next celebrity chef began, and now we can see the results come full circle. Aarti’s show, currently titled “Aarti Party,” will be the first cooking show on national American television to focus on Indian food, and be hosted by an Indian American.

I consider myself to be an amateur foodie, and between tasting new cuisines, learning how not to starve to cook, and avidly reading others’ food blogs, I always make time to enjoy the veritable smorgasbord of culinary shows. If there are any other foodie mutineers out there, you will know that the Food Network is often mocked for its commercial drive, and celebrity chefs who are more celebrity than chef. I usually don’t watch the Food Network unless I feel like listening to Paula Deen’s comforting southern drawl, but in between seasons of “Top Chef,” “The Next Food Network Star” keeps me satiated.

I have been watching “The Next Food Network Star” since its start, and the Food Network for even longer, but it wasn’t until the third season of TNFS that I noticed something about the Food Network…its lack of diversity in both food culture and the ethnicity of its hosts. One of the contestants on that season, Joshua “Jag” Garcia, was disqualified from the competition after it had been revealed that he lied about some of his culinary experience. In his exit interview, he mentioned how the Food Network has no Latino chefs or shows featuring Hispanic cuisine, and he had hoped he could be the first to bring his culture to the channel. Shortly after, Food Network produced “Simply Delicioso.” Around the same time, the first African-American hosted cooking show premiered, “Down Home with the Neely’s.” Continue reading

My coffee name is…


For those of us who absolutely hate hearing mangled versions of our names, the simple act of ordering coffee at a certain ubiquitous chain can be unnecessarily stressful.

It turns out that we are not alone. The Village Voice’s Shefali Kulkarni recently had this revelation:

…I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had tired of being asked how to spell a name that people find difficult to handle, at least in the super-busy moment of a Starbucks line.

So, like other people, I came up with a “coffee name.” Something simple that a coffee jockey can scribble on a cup without thinking. And, after taking a survey of the local scene, it’s clear that many others have come up with a similar solution.

At the Starbucks on Eighth Avenue, a grande iced caramel macchiato for “Sean” was really meant for “Chan,” short for Chandani.

“I never, ever give out my name,” Chan says. “And they still don’t get it right, but, hey, it’s what everyone calls me.”

Is anyone surprised that both the author of the article and the first person quoted both have desi names? And do any readers use a nom de cafe while in coffee shops or restaurants? I never do, primarily because I am afraid that I will forget my alias and never get my $4 drink. Continue reading

Weird Kitchen Science

IMG_2187.JPGSome old friends of mine were recently in town and came over to make dinner. N, whose family is from Andhra, does lots of cooking stuff differently from me, and it was fascinating to hear her talk about it. We (okay, she; the other two of us mostly chopped and helpfully tasted) made three dishes. One: a South Indian-style daal with veggies in it. (I’ve long plopped frozen spinach in my paruppu, but tomatoes for some reason never occurred to me.) Two: chana with mushrooms from a recipe that we found on the Interwebs… And three: the piece de meat resistance, lamb curry.

We ate and drank and made merry and curry. It was fun, and I learned a lot from watching N. She has a deft hand with spices, and the curry aged well, too. So well, in fact, that I was moved to try some experiments. Continue reading