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Sep 10, 2007 06:15 PM

Kababish -- a good Indian meal in Jackson Heights

You could pass by Kababish a hundred times and not go in. I have. It looks like a tired steam-table joint where you'd be lucky to get a curry made that day. But today I had spent an hour vainly searching for good Indian food all along Hillside Av in Jamaica, and I was desperate. And over the cash register was a sign saying, "Special! Karahi Gosht or Chicken MADE TO ORDER!" Made to order were the magic words, so after checking with the friendly owner that it would indeed be made just for me, I asked for the lamb (Gosht).

And after ten minutes, a waiter proudly bore a tray to my table. There was the lamb, several tender lamb chops in a deep bowl with a lovely red sauce. There were a few tomatoes in the bowl, a pepper, a slice of pickled green mango, slivers of fresh ginger, a liberal dusting of cilantro -- everything, in short, except curry powder. All the spices were fresh or freshly ground. It was a rich, multilayered, slightly tart sauce, with a thicker white slurry mixed in with the red oil. (I've seen similar at Mina's, but the place this dish reminded me of most is the incredible but long-gone Tabaq.) And it was delicious. I ordered a big fluffy nan, which was made to order too. And all for $11. There was even a free salad.

I hope you eat here every day, said the owner as I left. I just might, too, except that I think that apart from this one dish, everything is from the steam table. So maybe it's a one trick pony. But it's quite a trick!

Kababish, 37-66 74th Street, Jackson Heights (on the corner of 37 place near the Indian movie theater, and a 30 second walk from Jackson Diner) There's another branch on Broadway but they don't serve the Karahi.

The owners are actually Pakistani, but the card says "Pakistani Indian Bangladeshi", hence the title of this post. They do a few Afghan dishes too.

Kababish II
3766 74th St, Queens, NY 11372

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  1. so do they do anything cooked to order? or only the lamb dish you had, and I guess, a chicken dish? sounds heavenly, and yes, I pass by that place all the time.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bigjeff

      I think it's only the lamb and a similar chicken. But maybe the owner could be persuaded to do more? He was very friendly.

    2. okay, i've been reading posts about indian food for a while now and biting my tongue, but this post sent me over the edge. I just have to ask: why the mania for cooked to order? As far as I'm concerned, most indian food shouldn't be cooked to order. Most of it is stewed stuff and actually tastes better the longer it cooks/sits, as spices have a chance to meld. When I make an indian dinner, I usually make my curry and dal the day before if i can, as they are infinitely better warmed up the next day.
      Some things (ie. raita and breads, tandoori meat) are obviously better cooked fresh. But I just don't understand the cooked to order thing. (my indian family makes curries, lets them sit around for a few hours, and then eats them--pure veg, and they are infinitely better than any "made to order" curry i've ever had here in the USA.)
      Indian food is not like chinese food--it is not stir-fried and made to order.
      This ranks right up there with the people who complain that their indian food is not spicy hot enough. Indian food has a complex blend of spices but is not always hot. In fact, my indian father doesn't like his indian food to be spicy hot at all, since that's not the way his family made it. If you want it hotter, add a spicy condiment, like chili pickle.
      I understand that stuff that has been sitting on a steam table for several days may not be appealing, but please don't be so quick to dismiss steam table stuff. It may actually be much tastier than something that's cooked to order.

      okay, sorry for the rant but had to get that off my chest. Whew!

      8 Replies
      1. re: missmasala

        So which steam table restaurant in Jackson Heights do you recommend? If there is one which prepares the excellent food you've described above, I'd want to try it. I've never found any as good as what I ate at Kababish, though. And I've been searching for a long time.

        1. re: Brian S

          I don't know jackson heights restaurants well enough to recommend any. I'm just saying that your focus on "cooked to order" may be misguided. for instance, on another thread you mention that you went to a place in Ozone park (i forget the name) that was recommended but didn't eat there because they didn't cook anything to order. Who knows, maybe there was something delicious on the steam table that you would have dismissed out of hand because of your insistence on "cooked to order food."

          I'm not trying to fight with you brian, because I love your posts and know that you are knowledgable about food. I am merely trying to say that a focus on "cooked to order" may not always be the best way to find good indian food. That does not mean that most JH steam tables aren't disgusting and awful.

          1. re: missmasala

            Well I must say it's the first time in my life that anyone hinted my food sophistication level is as low as people who put hot sauce and ketchup on everything lol!

            Two years ago I had an excellent kacchi biryani at a steam table place. They had just put it out. I had it two weeks later on a day it had been sitting around for a few hours, and it was just ho-hum. And of course a kacchi biryani takes over 12 hours to make.

            That made me realize a strange thing about Indian food. India is one of the few countries to have a courtly tradition of cooking... the best stuff isn't the stuff from Mama's kitchen but the elaborate meals prepared for king and local bigwigs. Usually this evolves into a tradition of great restaurants. This is what happened in France, China and Japan. But in India it didn't. The best stuff still comes out of Mama's kitchen... at home.

            Yes, India does have a strong tradition of "street food", snacks like bhel puri. Here's what a famed Indian writer wrote about people's joy after eating a good pani puri: "In that state of beatitude the Maharashtrians stop being surly, the Marwaris look at the millions of stars without being reminded of their own millions, the Sindhis admire the horizon without any intention of selling it, the Gujaratis speculate on the moon instead of the scrips they should have sold, the North Indians dream of things other than Hindi as the official language of the United Nations, and even the Parsi ladies stop nagging their husbands."

            Kacchi biryani, by the way, was invented for the Nizam of Hyderabad, the richest ruler in India. Here's what one travel brochure says about Hyderabad: "Famed for its natural beauty, mosques, minarets, bazaars, lakes, pearls and kacchi biryani, Hyderabad is fast emerging as India's foremost Cybercity, with cyber cafes and software companies coming up in every nook and corner of the city." When the Nizam ate it the meat was marinated for hours in curd and spices, the rice and broth were cooked in clay pots with the lid sealed on by dough. Somehow I dont think they do this in Jackson Heights... and if they did, sitting round for a few hours after the lid was opened wouldn't help it.

            1. re: Brian S

              Wow, thanks for that!

              Here's my ideal: a place in which meat/veg curries and dals are cooked in advance so the flavors can meld, spinach and fish made to order, no steam table and a high turnover.

              Of course, I haven't found that in NYC yet. Not that I look hard, as Indian is one cuisine I cook often at home. I tend to go out mainly for the stuff I can't/don't make, like chat, dosa, idly, etc.

              1. re: missmasala

                If you find it, please please post at once!!! I've often thought of checking out Edison/Iselin on the Tristate board.

                1. re: missmasala

                  I took your advice and went to a steam table place, where curries are cooked in advance. I liked it, but I liked the food at Kababish more. Read the full story.

          2. re: missmasala

            I agree with you that a lot of the stewed stuff/dal tastes better as it melds for a while. But I prefer my vegetables to be freshly cooked. I've never been the biggest fan of palak paneer until I went to Spicy Mina. Before Mina, palak paneer has always been this muddy mess of green-grey mush with some chunks of paneer thrown in. Mina's version with bright fresh green spinach leaves and pan-fried paneer was a revelation. Suvir Saran has a section in his cookbook about stir-fries -- it may not be traditional, but it is indeed tasty.

            1. re: Miss Needle

              I understand what you are saying. Freshly cooked can be good for some veggie dishes, but for many veggie dishes with traditional masala's that can take 20 minutes or more. (obviously that's not true of spinach) I'm just saying I would be more suspicious of a "made to order" dish of alu gobi, say, that comes to the table in 10 minutes (which means it can't have been truly made to order and cooked properly) than of one that I know was made the day before and reheated.

          3. If you received the karahi gosht in 10 minutes, it was NOT cooked to order, despite what the owner told you. It was more likely warmed to order, or at least already partially cooked. Even with a pressure cooker, it would take about 30 minutes to make.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Joe MacBu

              I've never eaten there, but I've heard that Wylie Dufresne served a short rib entree at WD-50 that took two days to prepare. The waiter didn't say, your food will be out in two days, would you like to order an appetizer? But I'd still consider it made to order.

              I used to get karahi food in the old Tawa. It would take about 15 minutes and I could see them cooking it through the kitchen window. The lamb was thin, and underdone, the way I like it.

            2. Is this is the place where they advertise tandoori turkey around Thanksgiving?
              If so, I ate there a couple of times while living in Jackson Heights, and I'm afraid I wasn't so impressed with the food as you. Maybe I didn't get the right dish. (It also doesn't seem to be the cleanest place in the neighborhood.) That said, there's certainly always business at the counter, but I've wondered whether that was due to its key location.

              1. Leaving aside the steam table, all the vegetable dishes at Mina and Kebab King seem much more delicious than those at Jackson Diner or Dehli Palace. Particularly the spinach dishes. Maybe the former are made with fresh instead of frozen spinach.

                As for biryani, I have made it myself (six hours) and it is nothing like what they serve in restaurants, where it seems to be stir fried.