Monday, October 24, 2011

Neerob, on Starling Avenue in the Bronx

Neerob is a Bangladeshi restaurant that is part of a block’s worth of Bengali shops in the Bronx, known as “Banglabazaar”.  In the evening the small restaurant is crowded with young Bangladeshi men sitting around tables, in the middle of an “adda”(a rump session), with cups of tea.  Neerob does a brisk take out business with an established clientele, and the occasional newcomer attracted by the recent review of Neerob that appeared in the New York Times.

Most Bengali restaurants in the tri-state area are Bangladeshi, and as far as I know the now shuttered “Babu” in Greenwich Village was the only restaurant from the Indian side of Bengal, i.e. the state of W. Bengal.  This is not a bad thing as the East Bengalis (i.e. folks from Bangladesh) have a fabulous cooking legacy and they will sneer at the prissy cooking habits of the West Bengalis, their lack of spontaneity, and their annoying habit of adding a spoon of sugar into anything that they cook.  Mass migration of hindus from eastern to western Bengal took place during India’s independence in 1947.  The nation partitioned along religious lines into India and Pakistan, and the food and culture of West Bengal changed forever. 

The Bengali food from Bangladesh differs in two respects from Indian Bengali food.  The first is the heavy muslim influence: the use of beef and aromatic spices more common to North Indian cooking.  Try the Beef Tehari, for instance, something that you will not find in an Indian restaurant.  The second difference, characteristic to many Bangladeshi restaurants, is the heavy handed use of chilli powder and spices, making the food discomfortingly “hot”.  Unless you are at the “macho man” stage of South Asian food appreciation, this will not be too exciting.

The biryanis at Neerob are fragrant and have chunks of tender meat in generous amounts--I would go back again, for the biryani alone.  The hilsa fish curry comes packed in oil, like chunks of sodium that explode in your mouth with heat.  Hilsa is a delicate fish that sings to you when lightly cooked , with a streak of mustard across its tender meat that is held together by a gossamer scaffold of a thousand bones.  It is a travesty to cook it with so much oil and chili.   The goat curry was surprisingly mild and, like the biryani, had soft, quality cuts of meat.  In the confections department, the rosogullas were a delight, with restrained use of sugar.  But the gulab jamuns, which taste fine, show hints of artificial coloring: their whitish cores were tinged with crimson.  There is no need to add coloring—this is a thing of the past and if Neerab is to get the attention of an increasing variety of clientele, they need to pay attention to things such as these.

But go there for the biryanis, for the tea that they will pour out in paper cups at a dollar a cup, and for the ambiance of the adda that grabs the place every evening—for that alone, it is worth a trip to Neerob.
Neerob on Urbanspoon

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