The words printed on the label of Nanee’s Kitchen cardamom lassi are both instructions and index to the consumption of Indian food in America. Ha, ha, the drinker (or at least this one) thinks, looking at the bottle. Three easy steps to personal enlightenment. Course, the first and last are related—in 2010, isn’t everyone looking for transcendence through chilling out? Economic crisis only makes the search for relaxation more ironically intense.. And, as bestsellers and blockbuster movies suggest, combine eating with your praying and loving and cover all the bases in a one-stop shopping trip to nirvana.
But, honestly, my critical gaze is softened into melting pools of ghee by the reality of Nanee’s Kitchen. A diner counter rings a small cooking area, stocked with giant jars of spices, pots and pans ready to tumble and half-chopped potatoes sitting on a cutting board. Next to my companion and me is a couple in their early 20s, youthful, brimming with health, vitality and hipness with her secondhand sweater patterned with blue cats and his long white-boy dreadlocks tied under a bandanna. He smiles at me over vegetarian platters, ours piled with spinach and okra over basmati, and I fall a little in love. I cut into a samosa—baked not fried, and made with what seems like phyllo dough surrounding fillings of spinach and cheese and potatoes—and smile too. Flaky, soft, misshapen, the samosas seem made with love, probably by the woman presiding over the kitchen. Is she Nanee? I didn’t ask, but she too smiles at the young couple and than at my companion and me as we trade kisses with sips of a cardamom lassi that is cool, tart, creamy and spicy, all at the same time.
Recommended: cardamom lassi, baked samosa, vegetarian platter–okra was particularly good