A monthly blog about the sensory experience of New York City

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

TASTE: Bombay Chat

The neon sign says it all: COFFEE BAGEL MOMO. It’s the first thing that greets visitors entering Bombay Chat, a sort of Himalayan bodega/deli in Jackson Heights, Queens. The store’s name, like the sign, appears to be a wink at its role as a meeting ground for the Nepalese, Tibetan, Indian, and American communities it serves, with “chat” a play on chat, for phone and Internet services, and chaat, or Indian street food. A glassed-in booth at the front proffers phone cards, Neem toothpaste, lip balm, Motrin, batteries, and a bowl of betel leaves and brass urns of spices for paan, the breath-freshening chew. As at any other corner store, a sign taped to the window reads PLEASE PAY AT COUNTER FIRST, but here features a clip-art picture of hands pressed in the namaste blessing gesture.

Inside, a flight of stairs leads downstairs to the Internet room. Upstairs, inside a small room festooned with streamers, one can snack on samosas and momos (Tibetan dumplings), as well as other Himalayan snacks from a steam table and small counter.

Though I saw no signs of either bagels or coffee, the American-Himalayan fusion was everywhere in evidence. A group of Tibetans in wool hats hunkered over tea in Styrofoam cups. A monk in red robes and sneakers rose from his table and bundled into a ski parka. A girl walked in, slipped a McDonald’s apple pie out of a paper bag, and munched on it while she waited for her plate of momos.

I ordered a samosa and vegetable momos, which were boiled to order and arrived fresh from the pot: warm, stretchy dough with poppingly crisp carrots, peas, and scallions bursting through the puckered skin, doused in a squirt of hot sauce. Though the samosa had been plucked from the steam table and microwaved, as it is in many of the Punjabi taxi stands I frequent, it tasted just the way I’ve come to like it: limp and saggy in the middle with large, crisp, flat edges, the inside a warm, soft mush of potato, cauliflower, and turmeric flecked with cumin seeds. A chai tea finished off the meal, tickling the tip of my tongue with a sweet ting of sugar and spices and a warm wash of milk.

As I ate I looked up the portrait of the Dalai Lama hanging over the tables. He had his hands in prayer but was looking over one shoulder with a distracted and slightly bemused expression, as if he had been interrupted mid-prayer by a humorous comment. This seemed a fitting choice for Bombay Chat, which with its Duracell and its dumplings is a prototype of the cultural distraction that enriches and exemplifies our city.


Butchery on Bond Street said...

Great article, Caitlin ! I tried Googling this Cafe and got zilch. What is the street address ?

Ben Feldman

sumoh said...

This place in my neighborhood sounds yummy! Is it on 73rd Street? I'm trying to figure it out from the photo and detail hints...

Grand Life said...

Love your post on the small doors. Would love to see inside one of the apartments. Judy

CVD said...

Hi everyone,
The street address is:
37-19A 37th Rd in
Jackson Heights

123neonsigns said...

Gotta love a neon sign that say "COFFEE BAGEL MOMO" :))
Lovely post, can you please tell us where's the Cafe? it doesn't look familiar and I think I would like to visit!