Admittedly, I’m still learning the ropes when it comes to Indian food, still working on my eating hand’s dexterity with curries and dals and chutneys, and on my pronunciation of dishes.  Somewhere, I still see my friend Puja doubling over after I tried to say that I really liked gulab jamun.  Whatever, Puja, so I made it sound like a reggae band, but milky dough is doused in syrup is delicious however badly I mispronounce its name.  In her defense, Puja only made fun of me for three straight weeks.

So Masala Desi was both another step forward in both my exposure to Indian food, and South Indian and street food dishes in particular, as well as a nice lesson in some of Myra’s favorite comfort foods.  I gave the ordering duties over to her, and she conjured up a tasty, hearty meal.

Aloo tikki chaat (fried mashed potato smothered in sweet yogurt and various chutneys with crispy paapri chips)

Aloo tikki chaat smothered in tamarind chutney

Myra gushed about a favorite streetfood snack version of chaat, one which uses chickpea instead of potato.  It reminded how special it is to have a dish, any dish, that sits so close to the nexis of one’s own memory, heritage, and emotion.

Onion bhajiya (onion patties, fried in mustard oil) with raw onions

The bhajiya was probably my favorite dish of the night.  I am a complete sucker for onions, and on top of my fondness for most fried things, the blend of spices had just enough kick to balance the dollops of tamarind chutney I added.  Also, I relish the implied freedom and bravado of devouring raw onions, which is basically playing a practical joke on whoever you happen to be with, except that it’s a really drawn out and the other person knows she’s part of it the whole time.  So I ate a whole bunch of onions.

Next, the dal, masala dosa, and sambar (not pictured) all came in rapid succession, with the two soups arriving in similar mugs:

Dal (lentil stew)
Masala dosa

We confused the sambar and dal in separate bowls with just two bowls of dal, so instead of having the sambar with the crispy dosa, I gave up on the sambar after only a few furtive dips of nan, and then didn’t try the dal thinking that it was the same as the other bowl.  Oy.  Lesson learned.

At least we had some tasty masala chai, which was nice and thick the way a good milk tea ought to be.

Ras malai (milky curds soaked in sweet cream, flavored with cardamom and pistachio)

So far, I can’t say that I’ve come across an Indian dessert that I don’t like.

Indian food is relatively scarce in Shanghai, and I’m guessing that, specifically, tasty downhome Indian street-style food even more so.  Next time, I’ll remember to use only my right hand.

Masala Desi
401 Dagu Lu,
near Shimen Yi Lu
Shanghai, Jing’an