We did it, and have lived to tell the tale. And what a glorious experience it was! Two years and 33 restaurants later, we have reached the end of our epic Indian odyssey. We’ve seen everything from glassy dosa to heavenly aloo ghobi, and while we sometimes feel lucky to have survived, we’d do it all over again. Why? Because of you, loyal readers. Because you…need to know where to find good Indian food in Berkeley.
There was ~10% restaurant turnover over the course of our two-year expedition—some warranted (Viceroy), some accidental (Breads of India…or was it accidental?), some pre-destined (Zaika), and some barely noticeable (Yak ‘n’ Yeti). But we must admit, it sometimes seems as if that natural changing of hands happened all too infrequently, leading us to speculate as to how exactly the mediocre establishments in our sample actually make ends meet. As we did in many of our reviews, we shall leave it to your wild imaginations (or in some cases, we’ll just let you search through the Bay Area news archives).
Another less nefarious conspiracy that we’re still pondering is that of the “packet.” Packetized Indian food can be purchased for single-serving consumption, and can be quite good, depending on which distributor you choose (Yogi recommends “Kitchens of India”). Realizing this possibility, we began to wonder, Could restaurants be serving food from packets? It seems that the only way a restaurant with 50+ items on its menu could possibly manage to serve everything—and serve it within minutes, even the most obscure items that no one ever orders—is to use packets. This idea originally seemed anathema: how could a restaurant be serving us pre-made food‽ But then we began to realize that it’s just part and parcel of the trade, and that other types of restaurants must, in fact, serve at least some pre-packaged fare. Is it a travesty for an Italian restaurant to use sauce from a jar? Or for a Mexican restaurant to use pre-made salsa?
This is not to say, of course, that the use of packets doesn’t have detrimental effects on a restaurant’s samosa ratings. It’s probably no accident that the only five-samosa restaurants (Vik’s Chaat Corner, Udupi Palace, and Krishna Temple) were the only three all-vegetarian restaurants on our list: they had more limited menus, but they made almost everything from scratch.
Another thing we have come to learn is that packets or not, there’s skill involved. Some of the meat-serving restaurants did earn four samosas (Mount Everest Restaurant, Khana Peena, Ajanta, etc.), and they may indeed have been using packets; however, simply buying packets from a decent distributor doesn’t guarantee a good rating. Culinary know-how is required for a number of steps in the preparation of an Indian meal, including, but not limited to: making dosas, baking naan, and cooking the fresh vegetables in dishes like aloo ghobi (notice our various references to varying and generally unacceptable levels of cookitude in the potatoes and cauliflower).
Clearly there’s much more to be investigated, but we’ll leave you all to ponder these various topics.
And now, our hiatus begins. But be assured, loyal readers, that this is not the end. In the meantime, as we prepare for the next step, we would like to extend to you the offer to be guest writers for Masala Chaat in your own home cities…a franchise offer, if you will. If you’re interested, let us know: Masala Chaat needs to go global, so the further away you are, the better. Chicago, Boston, London, Mumbai…if there’s Indian food to be had, there’s Indian food that needs to be reviewed. And just to show that we’re serious, we’ve just added a “Nationwide” Google Map on our homepage.
Our first Masala Chaat “road review” will be coming soon; as of today, we have both Austin and Boston reviews in the works. Until then, thank you for your unflagging support, may your lassis always be viscous, and may your aloo ghobi always be perfectly cooked.
—Yogi & Chat