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Sep 4, 2004 09:48 PM

Kashrus of Manhattan Vegetarian Indian Restaurants

  • j

There are a number of vegetarian indian restaurants on or near Lexington Ave. & 28th Street. All are supervised by individuals.

My understanding is that because all are open on Shabbos, no major kashrus organization will supervise them - even though they are owned by non-Jews.

So - strictly from a kashrus point of view - which of these Indian restaurants, in your opinion(s), is the "best of the worst," and why?

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    1. re: DeisCane

      Both of you missed the point.

      First - just because a restaurant "claims" to be "vegetarian" doesn't make it so - especially if the claim is from non-Jews. In fact, I personally know that Madras Mahal actually makes some things that are MILCHIG, even though they claim to be vegetarian. Also - ingredients, spices perhaps - must be under supervision. Thus, my asking which of the individuals who supervise these restaurants is most reliable is very relevant to these restaurants.

      Second - the link that I was sent to speaks SOLELY of the QUALITY of the restaurants. But I am not asking about the quality. I am asking about the relative reliability of the kashrus, so that link that I was sent to was not relevant.

      If anyone else could help out, please do.

      1. re: Joe

        I'm sorry the link was not relevant for you. There was another thread on the topic, as well. I figured I'd help with this one, but you're so ungrateful, I have no desire to help you find the other.

        Second you say, "In fact, I personally know that Madras Mahal actually makes some things that are MILCHIG" as some proof that the place is not vegetarian. Well, that would be proof that it is not vegan, not that it was not vegetarian.

        You have some nerve to insult us when we (or at least I) graciously responded to your question.

        1. re: DeisCane

          I've addressed the issues raised in order below:

          Initially - as far as I'm concerned, neither Josh nor DeisCane was intended to be personally insulted by my prior email. All I said was that I believed the two of your missed my point, that I was asking about the reliability of the kashrus, rather than the quality of the food.

          Second - with regard to Josh's post - You may not be aware of it - but I'd be willing to wager that the overwhelming majority of religious Jews equate "vegetarian" with "pareve." The concept of "vegan" is relatively new, and it's not what most frum people think about. When they hear "vegetarian" they think "no meat OR dairy."

          Third - concerning your claim that an Indian non-Jew can be trusted with vegetarianism - my comment that a reliable Jewish kashrus supervisor is still needed has nothing whatsoever to do with "chillul Hashem" or xenophobia. Your comment is an overly emotional one. I have only high regard for the individuals who maintain these restaurants, and attempt to cater to kosher clientele. However, from a halachic viewpoint, religious Jews cannot rely on the unsupervised "say so" of a gentile. If that were the case -then no supervision would be needed anywhere!

          Fourth - In kosher restaurants that are supervised, cooking can be done by gentiles as long as a Jew turns the ovens on. Truly, I have no qualms about eating food cooked by a gentile, and that's not what my last posting was concerned with.

          Fifth - with regard to DeisCane's posting, again I don't think my last email was an insulting one. And again, you draw a distinction between "vegan" and "vegetarian," but in the mind of a frum person, vegetarian would equate with "pareve."

          Anyway - all of the above doesn't really address the information I was seeking - which is, in your opinion(s), who among the individuals who supervises the kashrus of these establishments is most reliable?

          1. re: Joe

            "in the mind of a frum person, vegetarian would equate with "pareve.""

            LOL, I'm sure frum people are glad you are speaking for them.
            When I see a vegetarian sign, I usually presume there is dairy present, especially if that sign is in front of an Indian restaurant, whose cuisine depends so much on clarified butter and yogurt. Now, if it's in front of a Chinese restaurant, I might be more inclined to believe there was no dairy, since buddhists are more strict in their veganism.

            1. re: Deiscane

              Been away from the board for a bit, so missed the entire back/forth of the Indian restaurant issue till now....and figured I'd throw in my two cents, FWIW! Based on what appears at least to me to be a fairly "popular" current trend, I no longer rely on any individual person's hashgacha or on an agency that is not widely recognized or known. There seems to be just too much political crap and indiscrepencies within the kosher industry, not to mention that there are plenty of choices to be made from eating establishments that DO maintain the well-known kashrus agencies for their supervision. That said, Indian restaurants and those of that ilk would be the one exception, as none to my knowledge use the o/u, o/k, etc etc for their supervision. I'm quite certain this is due in part to the problems associated with most of these places being either open on Shabbos, owned by non-Jews, or run by non-Jews. Not to say that would invalidate the kashrus, but it sure makes it more difficult to supervise. And one other thought from the "turning-on-the-oven" issue: This has little or nothing to do with whether the other aspects of the restaurant are reliable; rather, it is a loophole or way around the problem of Bishul Akum and as such I would only look upon that particular issue independently of any others.

              Anyway, just a side comment: I find it very disheartening to read all of the slanderous accusations and innuendos that are flying in this thread and on this board lately....while I realize that we all have differences of opinions and come from various levels of religious observance, can't we all just get along?! Little pre-Rosh Hashana diatribe there. OK, I'm done. :)

              1. re: Eric

                Thanks for your posting, Eric.
                Which of the Indian restaurants will you go to? Do you go to Madras Mahal? Do you know of R. Gulevsky?

                1. re: Joe

                  I actually don't go to any of them, but that's not to say there is necessarily anything wrong with doing so!!! Just my choice.

              2. re: Deiscane

                If they are so frum, shouldn't they check to see if a restaurant is parve, milchig, or fleshig before proceeding?

                I think this is a non-issue, right?

              3. re: Joe

                >Second - with regard to Josh's post - You may not be
                > aware of it - but I'd be willing to wager that the
                > overwhelming majority of religious Jews equate
                > "vegetarian" with "pareve." The concept of "vegan" is
                > relatively new, and it's not what most frum people
                > think about. When they hear "vegetarian" they think
                > "no meat OR dairy."

                And the same idiots think fish is a vegetable. As the gemara puts it, 'atu beshufteni askinan?' (are we dealing with fools?). Why would anyone think that milk isn't vegetarian? Yes, 'vegan' has 'only' been around as a popular term for about 25 years or so, so I can understand that the 'average frum person' hasn't yet caught up with it, but 'vegetarian' has been around for a lot longer, and as far as I know it has always included milk (and excluded fish).

                As for the quality of the hechsher, an individual who takes responsibility should be better than an anonymous organisation. If you want to know details about the level of kashrut at the restaurant, you can call the person who gives the hechsher, and talk to him, rather than deal with a bureaucracy at an agency. The restaurant on 2nd Ave in the East Village (Madras Hut?) is supervised by the Rabbi of a shul a few blocks away, so it's not surprising that they took him. And I think two of the others (Chennai Garden and Pongal) are in fact under agencies, though not the 'big four', and perhaps they're one-man agencies.

                1. re: Zev Sero

                  Call the supervisor? That'll do me a lot of good!!! Every supervisor thinks he's the greatest. Call even a Conservative Rabbi who does supervision, and I'll bet he could sound quite convincing.

                  I'm amazed that on a forum discussing kosher restaurants, I'm getting such vitriolic responses, because (a) I don't trust the (Hindi?)non-Jewish owners with my kashrus (and nor should you), and (b) I ask a simple question of whether anyone knows of the relative reliability of the individuals supervising these restaurants.

                  Parenthetically, whether the term "vegetarian" properly includes milchig items or not, I think that's really very tangential to what I've been inquiring about.

                  1. re: Joe

                    The reason you are getting such vitriolic responses is your tone, not your concern about kashrut.

                    By the way, its hard to imagine how this post would have generated positive comments about either the restaurants or anything else for that matter.

                    Maybe you could have asked if a "well known" Rabbi could recommend any Indian restaurants and gotten the response you are looking for. Or maybe you could just ask some local Rabbis who you trust/respect.

                2. re: Joe

                  If a frum person equates vegetarianism with pareve, that frum person is wrong, because veganism and vegetarianism are two different things. If somebody doesn't know that, then they are flat out wrong. If somebody makes that mistake and is disappointed to see dairy items on a menu because they wish to go to a vegan restaurant, they can either ask which, if any, items are vegan (or pareve, if you'd rather call it that) or stick to strictly vegan restaurants. They might have a tough time of it, because most, if not all, of the vegan restaurants in New York are not under supervision.

                  Lately, I see so many posts written by people who seem to come here for the sole purpose of pointing out how unreliable restaurants are that claim to be kosher but are not under supervision by any of the major agencies. People claim restaurants that don't exclusively use glatt meat aren't kosher, rather than admitting that some Jews who keep kosher don't feel glatt meat is required. Others claim that any restaurant that is open on Shabbat can't ever be kosher, since the owners don't keep Shabbat and therefore must be lousy at maintaining dietary restrictions. That last one is a shame also, because places like Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Kreme may as well forget about getting supervision, since there's no way they'll shut down for Shabbat to satisfy your idea of what a reputable kosher establishment will do.

                  Look at the posts on other Chowhound boards. They're all about finding great pizza, or reviewing a new restaurant, or complaining about places going downhill. Some people appear to be here just to say that this or that establishment isn't kosher, simply because their personal requirements aren't met. This board isn't a place to find out about good chow. It's just a place to argue about what the "real" observant Jews will do. It's a shame, because the other boards are full of great tips about where to get great chow.

                  As for New Yorkers, it's a crying shame that people aren't allowed to share discourse about all of the great kosher options here. Look at posts about kosher restaurants in other cities. Most cities are lucky to have a pizza place or one mediocre Chinese option. In NYC we have lots of options (although I wish there were many more, and of more varied cuisine) and we're lucky enough to have owners, even non-Jewish owners, who are happy to pay for supervision in order to attract observant Jews. If you don't trust their supervision, that's fine. If you don't trust anybody's supervision, that's fine too. I don't have a personal interest in whether you or anybody else eats out at all. It's a shame, though. Non-Jewish owners who feel that they can't afford OU or OK but who wish to alter their menus in order to accomodate kosher diners, who hire rabbis to certify that the establishment complies with strict Jewish dietary laws, will not have enough kosher diners to make it worth the expense. I'm not saying you have to go to these places if it makes you uncomfortable. I'm just saying that creating this atmosphere of negativity and paranoia doesn't do any favors to those who keep kosher and care about food.

                  Sorry if this rant offends you. I'm one of the posters who has raved about Madras Mahal on this board. You have every right to avoid restaurants for any reason you want. You would certainly be right if you feel that I'm not frum enough to make recommendations that would be satisfactory for you, since I dabble in both the unkosher and kosher restaurant world, and read many of the Chowhound boards. I just think it's a shame so many threads on this board degenerate into the same "I'm the authority on what real Jews do" stuff.

                  1. re: Clarissa

                    Extremely well said. I agree with everything.

                    1. re: Clarissa

                      I never said that these Indian restaurants are not kosher. I solicited opinions as to who of the individual supervisors is reliable. Everyone who keeps kosher knows of the "OK" or the "OU." But Rabbi Gulevsky of Madras Mahal? Rabbi Josephy of Pongal? Rabbi Harry Cohen of Chennai Gardens? Etc, etc. . . Individual rabbis are less familiar with the public, and often do not have as much of a reputation in the frum community to rely upon.

                      1. re: Clarissa

                        Nickelodeon was right: Clarissa Explains it All!

                      2. re: Joe

                        I just came across this thread.
                        Nu, so are any of the hashgochas on the South Indian restaurants along Lex and 28th considered reliable?

                    2. re: Joe

                      Why is a non-Jew trustworthy? Many Indians are just as committed to vegetarianism as Jews are to kashrut.

                      Not only do you come on here and create a chilul hashem by your xenophobic posts, but you also showcase your ignorance when you claim madras mahal is not vegetarian because they make dairy products. Great investigation there.

                      The restaurants are vegetarian. There are no meat products used. They are also supervised. If you can't trust a non-Jew who works there, then you might as well just stay home. And, you might as well stay away from 95% of glatt kosher restaurants, where the cooking is not done by Jews.

                      1. re: Josh

                        Do you think Indians check their vegetables (and fruits) for totoim (bugs) as the halacha requires? I think not. Nevertheless, they claim they are vegetenarian. they also do not check ingredients (stabilizers, additives, etc.) like we do to make sure they do not contain (even minute concentrations of)problematic ingredients.

                        The bottom line is "vegetenarian" does not equal "kosher".

                        1. re: hanistor

                          The point is that they are supervised not only by the Indian owners, but an independent rabbi.

                          I don't know the Indian position on bugs in vegetables, and neither do you, nor do I know their position on checking additives. A rabbi can easily check ingredients to say what is permitted and what is not.

                          I'm not arguing with you whether vegetarian = kosher or not. These places are kosher supervised. You throw in straw men to change the subject.

                          1. re: Josh

                            Actually Jains are more strict that anybody about killing bugs that supposedly they use a broom to sweep as they walk as to prevent them for accidently stepping on a bug and killing it.

                      2. re: Joe

                        Indian pure vegetarian food does not include meat but dairy, mainly in the form of butter, yogurt and boiled-down milk, sometimes fresh cheese, is a main dietary component. So this would be expected.

                        1. re: Joe

                          Yo, Kosher Hounds
                          This message board is a resource to swap tips about the most delicious kosher chow, not the most kosher delicious chow.
                          Wider issues of kashruth and certification, important though they are, are off-topic for our narrow scope. If you're not certain a given restaurant passes muster, make inquiries and check up (and, if you'd be so kind, report what you find out). But endless debate of what people should/should not deem acceptable are a vast ground unto themselves, and we will NOT get into that here. It's not our purview.
                          And we won't get into ANYTHING where participants adopt a huffy, indignant, personally insulting tone. It's essential to create a friendly, respectful atmosphere where readers along feel comfortable in chiming in with their chow tips. This isn't the place for huffy debate or argument on theological or other issues. People who can't talk about food without going ballistic on theological issues are unwelcome here.
                          Look: if one hound is so "reformed" that leaning kosher means removing the bacon from his bacon cheeseburger, and another hound won't touch a glass of water that's not been blessed by twelve internationally celebrated rabbis, great. We can all share the real estate of this board and cover the range from "veg-but-let-it-slide" to "glatt extra VSOP". We're not a forum on kosher issues, we're a forum on kosher (and even kosher-style) chow in all its many manifestations. As in the real world, it's every indivual's responsibility to decide what meets her/his needs and restrictions. We expect everyone to be tolerant of varying needs and restrictions and to simply watch out for themselves.
                          If you have issues with the above statement, 1. tough, the moderators and I reserve right to set borders on the discussion, and 2. please discuss them on the Site Talk board so we can restore this forum to chowy discussion.


                      3. They are all completely vegetarian. They are all kosher. They are all supervised. So what exactly are you worried about?