In 2018, when Roni Mazumdar and chef Chintan Pandya opened Adda Indian Canteen in Long Island City, they used an out-of-the-way location to their advantage in that they had room to experiment with dishes they wanted to cook: A glorious homemade paneer. A Mumbai-style macchi starring a mustard-kissed pompano. And the oft-mentioned bheja fry, the goat brains listed under snacks.
Brains and all, there’s a wildly enthusiastic audience for what they’re cooking. Adda’s success helped build its reputation as well as confidence that guided their next move into Manhattan.
Fast forward to this past spring, with the opening of Dhamaka in Essex Market, a no-holds-barred approach to cooking dishes inspired by India’s smaller towns and villages. In quick succession, their reputation was turbo-charged by rave reviews and enthusiastic diners clamoring to get a reservation, even if they’d never get their hands on the $190 whole rabbit.
The energy of those accolades (along with their hard work and focus) has propelled the remarkable Semma, representing food from Southern India, with chef Vijay Kumar.
In the audio, Chintan and Roni discuss the backstory of how and why they’ve opened their restaurants. From Chintan:
….We actually started working together in 2017 and that was my second year in New York. And I had been always disappointed. I've been in this country since 2013, and I always felt that this was the worst form of Indian food that I'd seen in my life. It was very frustrating actually because there's serious amount of depth and technicality and everything, which goes in making Indian food and the way it was represented in this country... was categorized in cheap buffet food. And …nobody wanted to … focus on ingredients. Or nobody was willing to challenge that entire notion.
I think that's where we felt there was a big void of traditional dishes or actual representation of Indian food. That's how our journey started. We started doing traditional Indian food and not modernizing it. And a lot of talented chefs are here in the market cooking Indian food. But I think everybody's trying to modernize the Indian food and not actually deliver that authentic regional Indian food to the customers. And the customers actually want authentic regional food.
Listen in for more.