Punjabi was the very first business that I stepped into during the summer of 2011, when I first began walking on the side streets of Manhattan. Every time that I was in the East Village over the next few years, I always made a point to stick my head inside and say hello. I worried about Punjabi being able to survive, as the construction on Houston/1st Street was intruding more and more on their space.
The deli has been in this location for over 20 years, and was accustomed to having multiple cab drivers lining up outside throughout the day and evening. For quite a while, the street was not accessible to vehicles, but somehow everyone still managed to figure out a way to get to Punjabi and grab some of their award-winning, vegetarian, Indian fare, or simply a cup of coffee and some snacks.
The shop’s owner, Indian immigrant Kulwinder Singh, is fittingly referred to by his loyal customers as Jani — an Indian nickname meaning “known to everyone.”
Kulwinder originally left India to work on oil ships and bulk carriers based in Greece, but he landed in Brooklyn in 1980. While finding his feet, he picked up an assemblage of jobs, including a stint as a cab driver. He spent his days navigating the city in search of clients but never failed to drop by his friend’s Indian deli for a satisfying and affordable meal. Some years later, he bought the business with partner Satnam Singh, and he has since upheld its reputation for fast, flavorful food.
Amid the hustle and bustle of running a Manhattan deli that is open from early in the morning until late into the evening, Kulwinder remains a devout Sikh, and he reserves two hours a day for meditation. Upon taking over the business, Kulwinder focused his menu on cuisine from India’s Punjab region and made it vegetarian in deference to his religion. Though the menu items on offer change based on seasonal availability, some options are a constant, including the chickpeas and saag curry and the delicious fried samosas piled high with yogurt, hot sauce and onions.
I had been nibbling my way across Curry Row on East 6th Street, trying out each of the restaurants with my husband - a huge fan of Indian food, when we learned that a new place would be coming shortly. Having dined in Shiva Natarajan's other restaurants further uptown, we looked forward to trying Malai Marke. Because we eat Indian food quite often, we are always looking for a restaurant that offers a few out of the ordinary Indian choices. We certainly found several new palate pleasers here: Kurkuri Bindi (okra tossed with onions, lime, and chaat), Imli Baigan (eggplant layered with tamarind chutney), and Madurai Melagu Curry (available with vegetable, chicken, lamb, or shrimp). This last one raised the bar on spicy for my husband who, until this point, had thought the Phall at Brick Lane Curry House represented the ultimate challenge. This curry, however, proved to be an equally worthy and tasty adversary. When chatting with the manager we learned that this is their own creation - "we experimented and wanted to come up with something that went beyond Phall. " Not only was the food outstanding at Malai Marke, but so was the entire experience. From the moment we arrived, we knew that we were in a special place. The contemporary decor is a welcome change from other Indian restaurants, the people who served us were helpful in explaining the menu and cheered my husband on as he finished off his intensely hot meal. As we were leaving, we stopped to gaze through the glass at the open kitchen and were invited to meet the chef who had been given a Michelin star at another favorite restaurant of ours, Junoon.
Previously the home of Nice Guy Eddie’s, Boulton and Watt is one of the latest additions to the bar scene in the East Village. Several of the young people on the Manhattan Sideways team needed a place to host a casual after-hours business meeting, so they decided to kick things off by going back to 1st Street. They were pleased to find an eclectic array of specialty cocktails on the menu (including a new favorite, the Mexican Revolver) along with several wines and beers. They did not originally intend to dive into the food menu, but as they sat and held their meeting over drinks, a waiter came by and brought them a complimentary Scotch Egg! "Fried and delicious, " was how they described it - the perfect addition to their first time experience at this fun and energetic establishment. I have no doubt that they will become frequent visitors in the future.
Transformed from a building lot to a beautiful space to showcase art, the First Street Garden Art Park adds culture to 1st street. Beginning in the spring of 2012, a variety of cultural events have taken place in this art park which, in 2011, was home to the first BMW/Guggenheim project. There are scheduled weekend programs showcasing music, dance and collaborative art for adults and children. Stop by anytime and see the newly unveiled artwork constantly changing.
A dainty shop located on Extra Place - that little side street off of 1st Street where the Ramones photographed an Album Cover - Nalata Nalata features high quality décor sourced mainly from Japan. In the same way that Manhattan Sideways shares the stories of businesses on the sidestreets of Manhattan, Nalata Nalata, as their website explains, “is a retail experience founded on promoting awareness of the people and stories behind our curated lifestyle products. ”On my first visit to Nalata Nalata, I spoke with Angelique J. V. Chmielewski, who co-founded the business with her husband, Stevenson S. J. Aung. Originally from Alberta, Canada, Angelique came to New York to study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology while Stevenson, her boyfriend at the time, fulfilled his masters in industrial design at the Pratt Institute. Nalata Nalata began as a website beautifully crafted to feature sections like Backstory, with write-ups on the brands behind the pieces, and Journal, detailing the journey and artistic endeavors through captioned photographs. In late 2013, Nalata Nalata opened in Extra Place as a pop-up store and, after falling in love with the spot, the owners decided to make it a permanent stay. Though functional in a traditional way, each product in the store contains intrinsic artistic and narrative values, many sourced from “multigenerational craftsmen who continue to refine their skill. ” Angelique first directed me to the porcelain Ju-Bakos, Japanese stacking boxes, which are traditionally used for food on special occasions. Representative of multilayered happiness, each box was crafted with a different glaze. Later, Angelique held up a glass terrarium box designed by 1012 Terra, a company based in Chiba, Japan that is focused on celebrating plant life. In the box was a dried flower reminiscent of the rose in Beauty and the Beast. “In order to preserve a flower, ” she explained, “pin it in the box and flip it upside-down. When it has completely dried out, it will be straight when turned upright. ”Though devoted to sharing the works of others, Nalata Nalata is cemented by the artistry of Angelique and Stevenson. From the custom-made cabinets to the slab roof ceiling, the two redesigned the entire interior of the store in the months before its opening, with the help of some additional hands. The carefully selected products perfectly complement the spare, bright space. The store's website also reveals a great deal of artistry, with each piece beautifully photographed, set to a white background, and matched with a whimsical remark and a few lines about its origins, making online shopping more homey and intimate. The wool blankets exclaim, “Cool nights, brisk mornings, frigid afternoons. Whatever weather the day may bring I’m a tried-and-true, dyed-in-the-wool cozy friend… Always by one’s side to provide warmth and comfort. ”Nalata Nalata is also working on their own line of products. One recent addition, the denim Ojami, bridges Japanese traditions and contemporary American design. Handmade in Kyoto, the Ojami are versatile pillows. Angelique and Stevenson enjoy using them as seats to “live low, ” but they also function as throw pillows. In the future, the couple hopes to get into more denim and hardware products, while continuing to curate objects they appreciate artistically and sentimentally. For now, Angelique says, “We are just happy to be here. ”