Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Tour of Queens with Blue Scholars

This post was co-written with my friend Sabzi from Blue Scholars and was originally posted on the now defunct Massline Media website:

nyc foto jurnelle #2. by hari and saba

Friday, we went on a little tour of Queens, the birthplace of our friend Hari Kondabolu. We met Hari in Flushing, off the infamous 7 train that baseball player/ racist John Rocker once railed against as an example of all the things he hated about NYC.

NOTE: Blue Scholars and Hari Kondabolu LOVE the 7 train.

Hari is wearing a shirt that says “
India.” We found this redundant. (It is, in fact, a replica of the Indian National Team’s cricket jersey.)

We agreed we had 3 things to accomplish on our trip:

1) Find out who makes the best Masala Dosa in Queens.
2) Find the best Burfi in Queens.
3) Find a bottle of Mazaa Mango Juice.

We began our journey with a walk to the famous Hindu Temple in Flushing. Though it was 50,000 degrees outside, Saba insisted we walk to so Blue Scholars could properly acquaint themselves with Queens.

The temple, a beautiful structure completed in 1977, is devoted to Lord Ganesha.

We were not allowed to take pictures inside the temple, so we watched Hari pray. (He’s very good at praying.)

Here is the prayer proof that Hari went to the temple:

the picture above

Onto our first question: Who had the finest Masala Dosa in

To save time, Hari narrowed the choices between the Temple Canteen, in the basement of the Ganesha temple, and the Dosa Hutt…which, conveniently enough, was right next door to the temple.


Geo, being the obvious fan of kitsch Americana he is, noted that he’d likely think the Canteen would be far superior to anything called a “hut.” You see, years of colonialism will do this to your cultural identity. What do you think of when you hear the word “hut?” Island people, obviously, because you’re probably a racist. (For more details on racists, see Wikipedia) “Canteen” on the other hand, clearly invokes images of John Wayne and the Wild, Wild West. Thus, the inferiority complex shared by victims of colonialism and their desire to imitate their oppressors, needless to say, will make a normal person of color reject their inherent desire to sit in a “hut” in favor of throwin a few back in a “canteen.”

So sad. (Hari would like to note that he did not not write the previous paragraph.)

Getting to the Canteen, however, would prove confusing… well maybe it was more confusing how over-informative the “signs-every-five-feet” directions were.

But eventually…HAZAA! Unfortunately for our young rapper, no oversized cowboy hats, no sasparilla, no unruly poker games with players carrying Derringers ready to snap, no honky-tonk piano. Sigh, just raagas.

We checked the menu and ordered a Masala Dosa.

Now, some of you might be asking at this point, “You’re at a Hindu temple, why is it that the relations between the world’s religious communities are so filled with strife?” That is a good question, friend. A more appropriate question at this point in the story however, would be “what is dosa?” Let’s answer that.

The dose, dosa, dosai, thosai, or dhosa is a South Indian dish. For the folks who understand things best in Eurocentric terms, think of it as an Indian crêpe.

According to Wikipedia, regular dosa batter is made from lentils and rice blended with water and left to ferment overnight. The batter is then ladled in small amounts onto a hot greased skillet, where it is spread out into a thin circle and fried with oil or ghee until golden brown. The dosa may then be folded in half and served, or it may be flipped to cook on the other side and then served.

We ordered a dosa with potato curry in the middle (Masala Dosa) and chutney on the side. We then concluded that these would be the best categories with which to judge our meals: Curry, Dosa, Chutney.

The dosa at the canteen was spicy. However, Hari felt it was “too spicy.” He added further that he felt the spice was covering up what seemed to be a less than spectacular cuisine. What are you trying to hide,
Temple Canteen?? Geo and Saba concurred with this assessment and felt the coconut chutney was also too spicy. Overall, however, pretty solid.

Hari did point out that he disapproved of the
Temple’s use of Styrofoam, particularly the color of the Styrofoam... Perhaps this was a Canteen afterall.

Next up: DOSA HUTT.

In addition to our order of Masala Dosa, Hari ordered a side of idli (no spell-check, we did not mean “idly,” we meant idli- the South Indian rice cakes) and a bottle of Thums Up.

Thums Up is the Indian version of Coca-Cola, even more so now that Coca-Cola owns the company. We enjoyed this beverage, especially because of the logo of a red thumb being bent farther than humanly possible. We wondered if there was some communist meaning to this that we were unaware of. The hand of the worker being forced to appreciate soda more than is humanly possible...?

Saba also noticed a very disturbing sign that he felt encouraged choking victims.

After eating the dosa at Dosa Hutt, we had a clear victor. The Dosa Hutt dosa and curry were less spicy, but had far more flavor. The same was true with the chutney which we also all liked because it was less spicy and green instead of white. Hari, however, was once again disappointed by the use of white Styrofoam.

We concluded the fact that the commercial enterprise, whose dosa was 25 cents cheaper than the temple’s, had won this contest was proof that capitalism really CAN work. Sike!

Next, we took a bus back to
Flushing and then the 7 train to where Hari grew up until he was 9: A part of Jackson Heights known as Little India. We still had to find this mango juice Hari raved about and have our burfi contest.

We first searched unsuccessfully for Mazaa Mango Juice at Patel Brothers, the largest South Asian supermarket in the
United States. We then wandered around Little India and saw movie theatres, jewelry shops, sari stores (with mannequins that looked nothing like the darker skinned people of the subcontinent who generally purchase saris) and music shops. In truth, the area is also home of many Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants, and is a great indicator of the Indian subcontinent’s great diversity--something that the term “Indian subcontinent” itself does not do justice.

Saba noted, in addition, that the use of “sub” as a prefix was never really a good thing anyway, as it always implied inferiority. Except, of course, in the case of Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat. He was undeniably awesome.

Then it was time for burfi.

According the Wikipedia, burfi or barfi (Indian-American children avoid this latter spelling because it has historically lead to ridicule in school) is an Indian sweet “made from condensed milk, cooked with sugar until it solidifies.” It has been called “Indian cheese cake.” By who? Eurocentrists!!!

Hari then asked
Saba, “Hey man, why does Wikipedia think it knows so much about Indian culture?”

DJ Sabzi of Blue Scholars replied: “ Well Hari, Wikipedia took a trip to India when it was 22 with some bro’s to go ‘find itself’ like some sort of spiritual Marco Polo. And it did…along with a bunch of information about Indian food.”

First, off to Delhi Palace Sweets, where a very nice young woman served us a piece of plain burfi. Geo quoted a short verse from a dancehall tune and said “Eddie Burfi! Although the burfi here was quite good, we felt we could do better.

We then went to Al-Naimat Restaurant and Streets, Hari’s favorite sweets spot in Jackson Heights.

We purchased some of their fine masala tea and a “milk burfi.” Geo discovered that burfi was similar to the Filipino dish, polvoron. We all had a nice inter-cultural-laugh about this.

NOTE:The inter-cultural-laugh, a laugh coming from genuine appreciation and respect, is not to be confused with the multi-cultural-laugh, which usually occurs in corporate office meetings and is very awkward.

Geo also discovered that milk burfi is most filthy when held on the tongue for several seconds before hot masala tea washes it away. This experience put him in much better spirits after the disappointment of the Canteen.

After two sweet shops, we were full and decided to call the contest it a draw.

We then had a couple of slices of pizza at Hari’s childhood pizzeria, the non-South Asian run, Pizza Boy I.

That’s right. Pizzaboy... I. Though it is unclear to the consumer if there is a second Pizzaboy, they gave this restaurant “Part I” denotation.

NOTE: Blue Scholars will now be known as Blue Scholars I.

Each slice was very greasy and served within minutes and… TASTED BETTER THAN ANY PIZZA IN ALL OF SEATTLE.

(Hari would like to note that he did write the previous sentence.)

Hari spoke of his childhood memories eating Pizzaboy I pizza on his way back from his elementary school, the inappropriately named P.S. 69. Geo and
Saba laughed. Hari also laughed but clearly did not understand why.

Finally, we were off to complete our search for Mazaa Mango Juice.

Hari’s initial goal was to find Mazaa Mango juice and introduce it to the Blue Scholars in order to convince the folks at Hidmo to quit Jumex and switch over to Hari’s favorite brand. He was thinking about the best interests of the greater Seattle community.

However, after several hours of searching, this became less about Seattle and more about finding a product that had become integral with his Jackson Heights experience. He forced us to look in every grocery store in the area. We kept coming up with results like this:

Two Guavas and a Lychee! No Mango juice?

Hari was a man-possessed. And Blue Scholars were bored. We finally gave up the search and bid Hari adieu.

However, this story has a post-script. When Hari returned home that day, he would open his refrigerator and discover this:

His mother had purchased him what he desired more than any other earthly possession!

Hari then had a crazy Mazaa Mango Juice party.


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