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Culture Features Feel Good Restaurants

Why One of 2019’s Most Hyped Indian Restaurants Doesn’t Serve Curry

Heena Patel is mad. 

As the owner of Besharam, an acclaimed San Francisco restaurant that serves cuisine from Chef Heena’s home state in India, Gujarat, she’s tired of the expectations for Indian restaurants. Buffets, chicken tikka masala, curry — this isn’t what Indian food means to her, so none of it is on the menu. 

“Why call it curry, if it doesn’t even mean anything?” she says, referring to the fact that “curry,” as most people know it in America, is a catch-all term used for a number of dishes that span the entire Indian subcontinent. Curry isn’t a dish, it’s a spice blend, and Heena wants her menu to reflect that. 

She refuses to use the umbrella term (or any others, like naan) on her menu for ignorance’s sake. And, when oft-seen Indian dishes do appear on her menu, she uses their traditional name. So, no, she doesn’t serve butter chicken. She serves murgh makhani. 

Indeed, she’s fiercely insistent on not indulging uncompromising customers. But, she has no problem educating them, and she’ll do so excitedly.

For serving such spicy food, Heena is remarkably sweet. She says your name constantly throughout conversation as if you’re lifelong friends, she sighs softly before talking about something that excites her, and she’ll tell you to give her a call if you’re ever in the area a mere 30 minutes after meeting her over the phone. She’s a mainstay at the restaurant, along with her husband, Paresh, who runs the front of house operations.

“I’m here everyday, to tell my food that I put on my menu… We are ready to say the stories. We are not just putting [food] in front of them!” she emphasizes before giving the background behind her shrikhand cheesecake, which is a hybrid of two childhood treats: shrikhand, a popular Indian yogurt dessert, and Parle-G, a crunchy biscuit sold in most Indian stores.

When Besharam originally opened in May 2018, this sense of homeliness wasn’t exactly the case. 

Initially opened in partnership with esteemed chef Daniel Patterson’s restaurant investment group, Alta Restaurant Group, Besharam was described as “Californian Gujarati cuisine.” The menu aimed Gujarati cuisine palatable towards those who would otherwise be thrown off by its distinctions, like its lack of meat options. While the restaurant received encouraging reviews, and business was good, conflict was brewing behind the scenes. 

For Heena, staying true to herself is of the utmost importance. Sometimes, that means going against the grain. Born and raised in Mumbai, the second largest city in India, Heena had a traditional upbringing. 

“In my household…  if you stay home, if you manage your house, if you feed your in-laws, your children, then you’re the best daughter-in-law in the world… If you decide to go out of that box, you are not. You are besharam, you are shameless,” she says, shining light on the name of her restaurant. “I always wanted to have a different life than my grandmother and my mom. It’s sad to say.”

Despite this, she followed in their footsteps. She moved to London at 21, where an arranged marriage was waiting, and, after spending five years helping her mother-in-law around the house, moved to Vallejo, CA five years later. There, the Patel’s opened a flower shop and liquor store. While their businesses provided enough for a comfortable life, Heena still felt unfulfilled.

“I wanted to have my own path. I won’t wait for someone else to give me my happiness, I realized I had to go for it.” she said.

During those 20 years, Heena delved into her culture’s cuisine, and learned how to make the childhood dishes she often craved. She began introducing it to her friends, who suggested she open a restaurant. 

Heena initially wanted to open a food truck. This meant joining La Cocina, an incubation group that assists underrepresented populations in the restaurant community in organizing a plan to achieve their restaurant aspirations. After a couple years of running successful pop-ups and catering events, the food truck idea became a restaurant idea that soon became reality.

In early 2018, Alta approached her. At the time the group was looking to support underrepresented chefs, most of whom it has since split with in highly publicized feuds, and offered her a space. Besharam opened later that year, in May, in the Dogpatch San Francisco neighborhood in which it still resides, as a partnership between Heena and the restaurant group. 

Often restricted by this agreement during the initial run, Heena found her restaurant, and herself by extension, pandering to those who only want to eat what they know. After not even a year, Heena and Alta split in April 2019. Backed by investors, she took full control of the restaurant space, and introduced a revitalized menu.

Since then, Besharam has excelled. In 2019, it was named Eater SF’s Restaurant of the Year and was featured in Thrillist’s roundup of the best places to eat in San Francisco, among other praisings.

“Not to show off, but it boosts my confidence… I wanted everyone to recognize me as a chef,” she says of the recent hype. “Because I don’t have any process, I don’t have any template to follow. I don’t have any… say, my mom or grandparents are in the hospitality business. I’m doing it because I know. All I have is me and my confidence.” she professed.

At the end of the day, that’s all any of us have: ourselves and our confidence in who we are and what we do. And Heena Patel, the chef unabashedly bucking her family’s traditional desires to fulfill her own, and carving a space for an Indian restaurant that scoffs at relying on popular Indian dishes, is living proof of what can be done with that.

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#foodbeast Cravings Features Video

Lamb Korma Pizza Pushes Pie Fusions Into Delicious Creativity

Already known for their prowess in marrying Indian flavors with Italian cuisine (butter chicken calzone WHAT), Superkhana in Chicago, Illinois has another ace up their sleeve with a lamb korma pizza that’s a must have. It all starts with a velvety korma gravy, which is an Indian dish that has meat or veggies braised with yogurt or cream. The star protein on this pie is savory lamb in meatball form, a perfect topping to the fusion fever dream that this pizza is. Throw on some pecorino and mozzarella and destination nirvana complete.

This creation from chefs Yoshi Yamada, Zeeshan Shah, and Jason Hammel is further proof that the blank canvas of pizza dough can lay ground for an endless list of creative modern takes on all kinds of dishes from global cuisines. So here’s to blurring borders and linking eager palates together through the burning curiosity of chefs that choose to push the boundaries of creative cooking. More often than not, the results are a delectable hit – just ask anyone who has tried Superkhana’s lamb korma pizza.

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Hit-Or-Miss

Butter Chicken Calzone Is The International Mash-Up We All Deserve

Butter chicken, an Indian dish, is considered a favorite by many and owes its universal appeal to it’s creamy, indulgent sauce that enrobes tender chunks of chicken. Also, butter and chicken — it’s a name that invokes mouth-watering visions of each item somehow coming together beautifully.

Now imagine it suddenly becoming hand-held, ready at your fingertips for many convenient bites. Superkhana in Chicago, Illinois somehow made this a possibility by incorporating an Italian twist — make it a calzone. It’s wild on paper, but if you think about it, a calzone serves as the perfect vessel for the golden goodness of butter chicken.

Born from the imagination of Chefs Yoshi Yamada, Zeeshan Shah, and Jason Hammel, the butter chicken calzone represents the modern takes on Indian cuisine that Superkhana hangs its hat on. Through unique avenues of technique and application, Superkhana has become a Chicago hotspot in the short time its been open, one where homage to traditional dishes is shown through a modern lens. In short, the restaurant is celebrating both Indian and American cuisine through innovation rooted in a mastery of core cooking principles.

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#foodbeast FOODBEAST Health Restaurants Sustainability Technology

A Dosa-Making Robot Is A Highlight At This Modern Indian Restaurant

This past May Dalup Modern Indian opened on 350 7th Avenue in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Featuring a pan-Indian menu developed by Bravo’s Top Chef alum Dave Martin, patrons are invited to create their own personalized korma bowls — or as Dalup calls them, “karma bowls.” With a focus on lighter and more modern versions of traditional Indian cuisine, each bowl includes your choice of base — biryani rice, long grain brown rice or citrus and tomato freekeh — and choice of dairy and gluten-free curry. Nat Loganathan, an owner of Dalup, has this to say:

“Born and raised in Southern India and now long time New Yorkers, we wanted to create a warm and welcoming eatery offering modern Indian cuisine. We wanted to keep the authentically bold flavors, but focus on making it light and fresh with everything prepared in-house.”

Dalup has its sights set on delivering consistency in food quality and operations. To achieve this, Dalup makes creative use of specialized equipment to bake their Naan bread and grill their kebab-style meat, which includes chicken, pork and lamb. One of the most interesting things Dalup has done is incorporate a custom robotic dosa machine that makes dosas à la minute. Yes, robots are indeed taking over. With technology playing a major role, Dalup also donates proceeds to Girls Who Code, a national none-profit organization whose mission is to close the gender gap in technology.

Dalup uses locally sourced meats and produce, housemade dough, spice blends, and supports sustainable and socially responsible production. So if you’re looking for tasty and healthy indian food with a robotic twist, Dalup Modern Indian may be the right fit for you.

 

Photos: Dalup Modern Indian by Simmer Group
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#foodbeast Cravings FOODBEAST Products Restaurants SPONSORED

Biryani Cup Noodles Are An Insane Flavor Collab You HAVE To Try

Over the past few years, Curry Up Now has become a well-known staple in the book of Bay Area eats, thanks in part to a fleet of four food trucks and six locations all dishing out elevated Indian street food, like tikka masala burritos, criss-cut sweet potato fries and kofta fauja singh.  

While creating out-of-the-box, Indian-inspired cuisine has become a way of life for Rana Kapoor, co-owner and chef of Curry Up Now, adding her own special cultural flare to Original Cup Noodles has been a career highlight – especially since it was one of her favorite childhood dishes.

Kapoor explained that she grew up eating Nissin Cup Noodles, in her case always integrating an array of spices and flavors like Biryani Masala, veggies and a touch of onion and sesame.

And now, thanks to a partnership with Original Cup Noodles, Kapoor recreated her favorite version exclusively for Nissin’s Dream Cup Series.    

Kapoor starts her dish by tossing ramen noodles in a 15-spice blend of Biryani Masala, adding ginger, garlic paste, sliced bell peppers, cilantro and julienned ginger. She then tops it with a heap of crispy fried onions and fresh mint. This incredible mashup of culture and cuisine will surely raise some eyebrows for the noodle hungry crowds at FOODBEAST’s upcoming noodle festival.

Come join the festivities as Curry Up Now debuts this exclusive fusion of Asian and Indian culture at Foodbeast’s Noods Oakland presented by Nissin Cup Noodles on April 7th. Visit www.noodsfest.com for more information or to purchase tickets.


Created in partnership with Original Cup Noodles

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Packaged Food What's New

Trader Joe’s Adds Tikka Masala-Flavored Snack Called ‘Bollywood Popcorn’

Bollywood-Popcorn-TJ

We’ve been saving the movie Keanu until the weekend. The only thing we have to worry about now, other than finishing our stories for the day, is what kind of snacks to bring to the Friday Night Movie game.

Trader Joe’s announced one of their newest snacks, Bollywood Popcorn, for lovers of Tikki Masala. The Indian-spiced popcorn features hints of turmeric, mustard seeds, cardamom and garam masala.

Bollywood-Popcorn-TJ-2

While it’s named after the classic Indian dish Chicken Tikka Masala, there’s actually no meat in this vegan snack. Unlike the bacon fat popcorn we had last week.

You can get a 5-ounce bag at Trader Joe’s for $1.99.

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Packaged Food

First Look at Trader Joe’s Paneer Masala-Filled Naan Bread

TJ-Naan-01

When Trader Joe’s announced they were releasing their new Paneer Masala Naan, our first instinct was to head to their website and see for ourselves how good it looked. Unfortunately, their product shots leave a little too much to the imagination, so we had to go and get our hands on some.

TJ-Masala-Product

The Paneer Masala Naan is Trader Joe’s first filled Naan. Paneer Masala is made with a classic dough said to be formed in West India. Inside the dough is “paneer,” a type of Indian cheese. The naan is blended with Indian spices (masala), then stretched and cooked in a Tandoor oven. The paneer is combined with a variety of ingredients including: green chili, ginger, coriander, onion and masala.

They sell for about $2.29 at Trader Joe’s locations.

When you find TJ’s Paneer Masala Naan, it’s frozen and pretty much fully cooked. All that’s needed is an oven capable of hitting 400F and a couple of minutes for the Naan to reheat.

For something that’s been frozen, it actually tastes like it was freshly baked.

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Adventures

Tikka Masala Sweet Potato Fries And Four Other Reasons to Eat at SF’s Curry Up Now

Curry Up Now

The Bay (SF, Oaktown and the rest of the bunch) has so much glorious food to offer it’s ridiculous. So whenever the FOODBEAST crew can find an excuse to jump on a plane and explore one of the true meccas of US food, uh, duh, we do it. We heard about Curry Up Now through the grapevine — a popular Indian Street Food Truck that opened a few successful brick & mortar establishments throughout the bay. Definitely old news for NorCal’ers, but whenever a food truck can make a successful transition into not only one but multiple sit-down locations: congrats, you’re doing something different and ultimately delicious (tested and confirmed).

Outside of the recent emergence of contemporary and yes, admittedly fusion (hate that word) Indian cuisine that seemed to derive from the once bubbling market of gourmet roach coaches, I would venture that most Americans know of Indian food through a slow food/traditional setting or an Indian lunch buffet. That view, while limited in objective perspective since it is my own, seemed to be verified by Curry Up Now management during a lengthy post-meal discussion.

The same conversation affirmed a belief that of the many successful pan-asian restaurant models – a notable and dominant Indian-restaurant brand has never been established across any major category, including fast food, QSR and fine dining. This creates a unique opportunity for a rising restaurant star to experience exponential growth if they can finalize a mainstream menu that works for metropolitan and suburban audiences. Curry Up Now is an eatery vying for that chance in the national spotlight with an awfully affordable menu ($10-$15, a head) and new twists on food that maintains traditional Indian roots.

Now to the important part addressing the headline that brought you here — the food. Here’s the best of what we had.

Guac Sev Puri Curry Up Now San Fransisco

Guac Sev Puri – An Indian Street Food take on Chips n’ Dip — a small, unleavened, deep-fried piece of bread topped with guacamole, lightly fried chickpea noodle and a housemade pepper sauce. The sauce was most similar to Sriracha but packed more flavor and heat.

Tikki Masala Sweet Potato Sexy Fries Curry Up Now

Tikka Masala Topped Waffle Cut Sweet Potato Fries – Roasted chicken in a masala sauce, four types of cheese, crispy waffle cut fries and onions. 

Lamb Naughty Naan Pizza Curry Up Now

Lamb Naughty Naan Open Faced Flatbread (Pizza) – Naan topped with halal lamb, cheese, sliced jalapeños and mixed greens. They didn’t call it a pizza, but when they cut it into 5 slices, I had no choice but to call it such.

Pork Belly Burrito Curry Up Now

Pork Belly Burrito – Soft Chunks of Pork Belly, Garbanzo Beans, Brown Rice, Onions, House Veggie Filling in a Flour Tortilla.

Gulab Jamun on Kulfi Hot Balls on Ice Curry Up Now

Gulab Jamun on Kulfi or ‘Hot Balls on Ice’ – Pistachio ice cream topped with lightly fried dairy-based dough and garnished with almond.

If you’ve been to the eatery, let us know what your favorite menu items are in the comments. And if I’ve glaringly missed any mainstream Indian food restaurants that have had large regional or national presences — let us know!

Check out Curry Up Now here.