Jhumpa Lahiri's novel, "The Namesake" opens with a pregnant Bengali women who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts trying to create a street food from Calcutta that she, in her last weeks of pregnancy, craves. She mixes rice cereal, peanuts, red onions, green pepper slices, lemon juice and salt but is missing a key ingredient, mustard oil. Lahiri describes the dish so exquisitely that the reader's mouth waters. Ever since I read the book by the Pulitzer Prize winner I've wanted to taste the dish.
Then, while perusing the menu that is taped on the sneeze guard at Yogi's Indian Café & Market, there it was, bhel poori ($4.99). I had to order it.
At Yogi's the dish has puffed rice (more traditional, I believe) and is mixed with tamarind sauce, potatoes, lentil strips that are as hot as they are crispy and bits of this and that. The portion is enormous. One mouthful is fire and sweet, crunch and creamy, dark and light. My expectations were exceeded. I understand the craving.
We also tried tikis ($3.49), another popular street food. They were described as a potato cutlet, but looked like small potato pancakes; a little larger than a fifty-cent piece (you may have to Google that if you are under forty.) Fluffy and golden brown the cakes were filled with mashed peas and lightly seasoned. They were served with sweet, sticky tamarind sauce and a brightly flavored sauce that was a mix of mint and cilantro, resembling pesto in texture. The flavors came together nicely. Sadly there were only two in the order. I could've easily eaten more.
There were only two samosas ($3.49) in an order as well, but that was sufficient. They came to the table sizzling hot and crispy. Inside were soft mounds of lightly seasoned potatoes and a few other vegetables mixed in. They were tasty especially with the sauces that came with (the same that came with the tikis). We also added the house made mango chutney that hinted at vinegar and a fruity sweetness.
Yogi's is located on the west side of Stone Avenue just north of Grant Road. It's easy to miss and I would suggest parking in the back.
We recommend a stroll through the market while you wait for your food. There you'll find sacks of rice and lentils, packages of ingredients to make delicious Indian fare at home, fresh vegetables, jars of coconut milk, spices in big bags, incense, skin lightening cream, pretty jewelry, brightly colored clothing and so much more. It's a riot of colors, shapes and smells.
Food is ordered at the counter from the one menu that is taped on a sneeze shield that protects a steam table with a few items in it. I have to say this was a bit inconvenient because other people wanted to order and they had to wait while we made our decision. Plus, the description of the dishes is helpful as you eat and later for my writing. A to-go menu would've been great, as well, but requests were met with a shrug and a smile.
The restaurant is bright and clean. A few of the tables have flowers on them but that is the extent of any decoration. A counter holds plastic cutlery, napkins and a squirt bottle of mango chutney. The ice machine was broken so water was room temperature.
Under the snack portion of the menu we noticed something called momos ($6.99) which were described as dumplings. The server told us they would take a little longer. And they did; we'd finished our entrées by time they arrived. Resembling shu mai—the server said they come from the Himalayas—they were served with a thick, orange-colored dipping sauce that had a lot of heat to it. Inside were finally mixed vegetables, mostly carrots. There were probably 10 in the order. Interesting, but I'd stick with the other appetizers.
Our entrées included chicken curry ($7.99), chicken tikka masala ($7.99), dal makhani ($6.99) and the lamb sheesh kabob wrap ($8.99). A note on the last dish; it wasn't what we ordered. We asked for the lamb sheesh kabob plate ($8.99). And I think that speaks to one of the weaknesses at Yogi's. There seems to be something lost in translation. Between the servers' soft voices and thick accents and our old ears communication was difficult. No matter, the service is friendly and as expected at a market restaurant, unpolished.
The lamb was buried under all the veggies (cabbage, red onions, and large strips of hot, hot chiles.) They were all wrapped in romali roti. The dish was disappointing especially since it wasn't what we had in mind.
You can order the dishes mild, medium or hot and were I to return I think I'd try the hot as mild and medium were pretty mild and medium. You also have the choice of white rice, brown rice, basamati golden from turmeric and laced with all manner of vegetables or romali roti.
With the curry, I would've liked more sauce but the masala was thick with a wonderfully creamy, rich sauce. The dal, a stew-like dish, made with lentils, was savory and perfectly cooked. I'm not a big fan of lentils and I loved that dish so take that for what that's worth.
We ordered a mango lassi ($3.99) and Indian coffee ($2.99). The lassi was enjoyable; the coffee was okay.
I got the feeling that Yogi's is a work in progress. As time goes along, they'll discover what works and what doesn't. I look forward to that.