Saturday, February 28, 2009

Kati Roll Company

The Kati Roll Company
99 Macdougal Street
(between Bleecker St. and West 3rd St.)
New York, NY 10012

On one of our rare visits to Greenwich Village , we dropped in for an early dinner at the Kati Roll Company, one of the older roll places in New York City. Kati Rolls started in Kolkata, at a place called Nizam’s on the backstreets of the Esplanade area. Legend has it that a take-out customer in a hurry wanted to grab something quickly: so they made him a Kati Roll--a piece of roti or paratha or rumali roti that is rolled around a median strip of chunks of meat--garnished with onions, vinegar or lemon, spices and other vegetables. The cylindrical, rolled roti is then wrapped with paper that takes on a translucent look once the oil from the food seeps through. One eats holding the roll like an icecream cone, unraveling the greased paper while working downwards.

Kati Roll Company has a catchy name. The walls have large posters of Bollywood blockbusters from the seventies. It is a small place with a couple of tables for seating. We had rolls with chunks of beef, rolls that had minced mutton, and a vegetarian version of a roll with paneer. They were a disappointment, and I only hope that this wasn’t a normal day for the Kati Roll Company. The oily parathas were a fraction of a mm too thick and the rolls were supersized to American proportions. It is time Indian eateries moved away from the paradigm of oily food, it is a clichéd theme that has served its time. Oil can cover your mistakes, it can herald a false richness to food without trying. You can go through oily Indian food without feeling the flirtatious lemony chili tang of finely chopped garnish that Indian food can bring, and which unfortunately most Americans, fed by journeymen cooks who have learnt their trade through osmosis, have never had.

If you do visit the Kati Roll Company, take a few minutes to stroll down Macdougal. A few blocks away is Café Wha—the legendary nightspot that was Jimi Hendrix’ base for a while and where Bob Dylan played, among other famous names. You will notice it by the number of tourists milling around taking photographs. Your trip here will not go totally in vain.
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