Buzzing with Harvard undergraduates, the huge foodery on JFK in Cambridge is full of such venerable institutions as Le’s Vietnamese restaurant, Ben and Jerry’s, “El Jefe’s” Taquería, and…Chutney’s. Oh, Chutney’s. With an ambiance not unlike that of a Greyhound bus stop in middle America, Chutney’s has surfaces that remain vaguely dirty even after a thorough cleaning, and is mostly open to the elements, with the corridor noise drowning out whatever atmospheric Bollywood tunes might have been emanating from the kitchen (which did, in fact, contain actual Indians). Harsh LED lights hang from the ceiling in mysterious, 8-inch-diameter, persimmon-shaped globes, upon which we detected no sheen of grease—although a bit of a sheen might have helped to diffuse the light… Aside from a Picasso-like painting depicting what appeared to be a headless woman with somewhere between 2 and 4 arms, there is nothing to recommend their interior decorator.
Upon examining the menu, we came to one firm conclusion: this place is CHEAP! Like…Berkeley cheap—lamb barely breaks the $10 mark, and all vegetarian and chicken dishes are at a reasonable $7.5. But, as goes the old adage…you get what you pay for. The naan ($2) was among the rubberiest we’ve ever eaten, having been only vaguely reheated on a George Foreman grill right before our very eyes. The veggie samosa ($2) was edible, but a bit stale. However, the accompanying tamarind sauce was a travesty, consisting of glorified high-fructose corn syrup—absolutely atrocious. The two mains—the chicken tikka ($7.5) and the chana rajma masala ($7.5)—were both eminently edible; however, the garbanzo- and kidney-bean-based masala had virtually no flavor, despite having been bathed in approximately ¼ a bottle of “hot” sauce…and the tikka, while decent, gave Chat irreparable heartburn about half way through. The other “street food” main—the “fresh” idli sambar with coconut chutney ($6)—took 15 minutes to prepare (hence the “fresh”), and yet still comprised tasteless idly that were somehow both too dry and too soggy, and were even worse than standard idly (which, admittedly, are usually pretty bad). To add insult to injuridly, the sambar tasted like Campbell’s vegetable soup, and the chutney was grainy and…somehow smoky?
The saviors of the meal were…well…the things with sugar. The gulab jamun ($1) wasn’t bad, but the syrup was disconcertingly gelatinous at room temperature. The mango lassi ($2) was excellent, with good viscosity. The price on the menu had clearly been updated several times, either indicating the volatility of the global mango market, or the fact that Chutney’s has realized that this is literally the only good thing they sell. Finally, out of curiosity Chat tried a Thums Up cola ($2), a legitimate Indian product that actually tasted not unlike RC Cola (and even had real sugar!). However, our elation was dampened by the discovery that, according to the ingredient label, Thums Up “contains permitted flavours”…‽ And the old gods and the new know what is permitted in India. Finally, Yogi tried a Maaza Mango juice ($2), also from the Subcontinent, that was also prominently labeled as “Man Gue” (cue/gue joke here). It smelled of mango, tasted of cleaning fluid, and was yet somehow pleasantly refreshing.
Overall, it was difficult to decide what was the worst thing we had eaten—by the end of the meal the Foreman’ed naan was looking pretty good! This experience, ambiance and all, was one misstep after another, and frankly, we’d give it one samosa (▲) if any of the food had been dangerous…but, as far as we can tell, it wasn’t. We therefore begrudgingly award a two-samosa (▲▲) rating to the Indian fast-food king of the Boston area. We also award Chutney’s the first hard-earned one-rupee (₨) rating, with the caveat that we had to order twice as much food just to choke down enough for a normal meal! It turns out that the word “chutney” derives from the Hindi word “chattni,” meaning, “to lick.” Sadly, at Chutney’s even this most basic of actions is one that we cannot in good conscience condone.