Finding Diwali at NYC restaurants

Being so far away from home doesn’t mean I have to reduce my Diwali dishes to just butter chicken.

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(Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Celebrate Diwali at these Indian restaurants across New York City. (Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Aksha Mittapalli, Contributing Writer

Within the tightly-knit Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Newar Buddhist communities across the world, Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is one of the biggest and most awaited events to celebrate tradition with family and friends. In the lunar calendar, Diwali spanned five days this year officially starting on Oct. 24.

Back home in India, Diwali is the largest festival of the year. A week off from school meant shopping for new Ghagra Cholis and reuniting with family from all over the country. My apartment transforms into a hotel for my extended family, with doting aunties force feeding us handmade sweets, and pious grandparents teaching and reteaching the children the history of the festival. We tell different tales during Diwali, depending on one’s religion and region.

A short message on my WhatsApp family group chat marked my Diwali in New York City this year: “Happy Diwali to everyone! May this season bring joy and light into your lives.” Saddened because I’m away from home, I can only think of what my family and friends are doing back home. A sense of jealousy and longing fills me as I remember the brightly colored attire everyone sported, the diyas I painted at my best friend’s house, and most importantly, the fresh, hot specialties for the body and soul.

Before I let the nostalgia set in, I decided that the best way that I could recreate the Diwali season would be to eat my way through the wonderful Indian food this city has to offer. After trying dozens of Indian restaurants in New York City, I have compiled a list of the best ones that will transport you to India. 

Deep Indian Kitchen (Indikitch)

25 W. 23rd St.

Food served during Diwali is usually what my mother refers to as satwik, or simple, with flavors without too many spices that could unsettle your stomach. My father and I, however, are very partial to spicy food, and used to always sneak out with our cousins to the kati roll truck near my apartment.

If you are looking for some really spicy food, I’d recommend the kati rolls at Deep Indian Kitchen. Every time that my best friend and I are craving something to shake up our appetites from the boring American cuisine to which we have become accustomed, we drop by Indikitch. You can get two kati rolls for just over $12, so bring a friend and enjoy some spicy Indian street food with a cold mango lassi.

Honest Indian Street Food

176 Bleecker St.

When my family comes over for Diwali, we order our staple Indo-Chinese takeout for dinner. The fusion food always hits, with classic Indian ingredients and spices that are used to make noodles, fried rice and other popular Chinese dishes.

Honest Indian Street Food has some of the best Indo-Chinese food in the city, with a variety of vegetarian options that will make you forget meat ever existed. Get some Schezwan noodles with gobi manchurian, a flavorful cauliflower dish doused in a rich sauce, or if you’re in the mood to try something new, order a plate of paneer chili, a denser and more savory version of cottage cheese.

The Chai Spot

156 Mott St.

Chai is a huge part of my culture. In India, I had chai three times a day — with breakfast, at tea break and after school. Chai is just as important as any other meal, providing an excuse for a moment to catch up with your friends, gossip and eat some biscuits. 

Take a break from your local overpriced cafes and stop by The Chai Spot. Served piping hot, the Traditional Cardamom Chai has soft hints of fennel and cardamom brewed into their black tea with organic milk. Sit on the divans inside or outside, and enjoy a samosa with your tea. Just be sure to take off your shoes before you enter the indoor seating area!

Bhatti Indian Grill 

100 Lexington Ave.

Diwali in New York City sparks a longing for home. As much as I love Indian street food and fusion food, at the end of the day, the staples are what make me miss home the most. Some hot dal chawal, curd rice and tomato pickle are what I crave the most.

If you have a little money to burn, Bhatti makes some of the most delicious Indian classics, with an authenticity unparalleled to any other Indian restaurants that I have tried in New York City. Their dal bhatti, a dish made of dark lentils and slow-cooked for hours until it melts in your mouth, is the best I have eaten in a long time. It is the only dish my roommate and I will eat from this restaurant, simply because we can’t get enough of it. Do your taste buds a favor and get a plate of the dal bhatti and white rice. You’ll thank me later.

Contact Aksha Mittapalli at [email protected]