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Sunday, June 15, 2014

To Curry Favor, Favor Curry

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: Hudson, NY, has become something of a dining destination over the past few years, which is why I’m only to happy to encourage its visitors to look at the humbler establishments – such as this Indian food truck parked in a Warren Street lot.


I FORGOT TO ASK why there’s a section of chain-link fence, topped with barbed wire, near Taste of India. But it’s just a corner of that fence, affording no protection, so I initially decided it was some kind of art installation. This is downtown Hudson, remember, where such things are likely to erupt.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
But it’s located in a parking lot of food trucks, and the trucks themselves are incongruous elements in a city that’s seen a slew of fine dining establishments open.

Better to say that there has been a rebirth of dining in general there, and food trucks have as much reason to be on the landscape as anything else. Especially when they’re as appealing as Taste of India.

Good, cheap food is part of the appeal. Informality is another, the informality that allows you to dine al fresco at a picnic table amidst the many Hudson dog-walkers passing through with their inquisitive pooches.

The procedure is simple: study the menu, represented below the truck’s ordering order with an array of helpful photos. Place your order. Wait. Presently you’ll be summoned to make your pickup or, more likely, your meal will be delivered.

It’s not fancy. But you’re already sitting in the least fancy of settings, so the take-out containers fit right in. Oh, it would be nice if it were eternally twilight and you sat in a garden lit by fireflies and strings of colored lanterns, sitar and tabla holding forth nearby – but even the antiques-clutching tourists in Ray-Bans and pastels who hover nearby are forgotten once you devote yourself to the chicken korma ($8) before you.

Or the beef dopiaza ($8.50), or mixed vegetable curry ($6), or saag paneer with rice and salad ($8) – or any of the ever-changing items that make up the bill of fare. It’s hardly gourmet fare, in the sense of a presentation that explores complex flavor combos and presents them in attractive ways. But it’s highly satisfying fast food that, despite the intentionally mild character of the preparations, takes the beige American palate in hand and delights it with the different.

“And if you want it spicier,” says chef-owner Aby “Max” Husan, “I’ll give you some of my homemade hot sauce.”

This isn’t the romanticized vision of Jon Favreau. It’s Max’s hoped-for big step on the road to opening his own Hudson eatery. He’s seen or been in the business all his life because his father is a chef who has worked in India and New York. “He spent 22 years in the business. I guess it runs in the family. I managed some Indian restaurants in New York City, which gave me front-of-the-house experience; my father taught me the back end.” When his family relocated to the Hudson area, he decided to give his own place a try.

“This is my fourth year with the truck,” he says. “I didn’t want to jump into a full restaurant too fast. This lets me climb slowly.”

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
There’s a lengthy catering menu that gives a look at the range of offerings, only a couple of dozen of which end up being the day’s truck selections. Dopiaza, an onion-rich preparation, is applied to chicken ($8), lamb ($8.50), beef ($8.50) and shrimp ($9); you can also find those meats prepared in a curry sauce, or in the spicy curry known as vindaloo, or in a mixed-vegetable-enhanced jalpiaza for about the same price.

And there are more ingredient-specific options, such as chicken tikka shaag ($8), with added spinach; aloo gobi ($7), a dish of cauliflower and potatoes; fish madras ($9.50), marinated in vinegar and citrus and finished in a very spicy sauce, and bindi marsala ($7), an okra-based dish.

Your meal will depend, of course, on which of these items has rotated onto the daily menu.  The chicken korma I enjoyed was a featured special, and I enhanced my meal with orders of vegetable somosa ($1.50) and the traditional flatbread known as naan ($1.50). With a can of soda, my tab was twelve bucks.

A spicy mint sauce is a standard Indian-restaurant condiment and came with the somosas, a pair of deep-fried pastries filled with potatoes and peas. No surprises here, except that restaurant-quality food (in a good sense) was coming out of a portable kitchen.

Korma is a yogurt-based sauce enhanced with such curry spices as cumin and coriander, yellowed by turmeric. There’s some art to its preparation to keep it from curdling or otherwise breaking, and this was deftly realized in what I was served, its only drawback a slight dryness of the chicken meat. But that’s understandable (and, as far as I’m concerned, forgivable) in light of the fact that it has to be pre-cooked.

I returned a little later for dinner. Max was gone. His father was working the evening shift. “You had the chicken shishkabab,” said Max when I later spoke to him by phone. “My father remembered you.” (Which I’ll take as a compliment, dammit.) “I would have suggested you try something else. We make that for people who are afraid of everything else on the menu.”

Which explained the comparative blandness of the dish. Comparative. I ate it during a dinner break while doing a project at the nearby Hudson Opera House, and I wouldn’t have traded it for any of the other dinner-break fare I saw around me.

Taste of India, 347 Warren Street, Hudson, 253-3465. Serving Wed-Mon 11 (or 11:30)-9. Cash only.

Metroland Magazine, 12 June 2014

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