“I moved to New York when I got married 14 years ago, and I didn’t know how to cook. I was in the fashion industry, and it was a recession, so no one was giving me an H1 visa to work. I was at home a lot and craving my parents and in-laws cooking, so I just started experimenting in our studio apartment, making recipe after recipe while watching shows like Rachael Ray, and 30-Minute Meals. The Food Network was on the whole time. Eventually, I was able to recreate my mom’s recipes. I got good at it. So I decided to do something with my newfound talent.
Indian street food was a niche that wasn’t exploited 10 years ago. And I love snacking. I created Desi Galli in 2012 when my friend was giving up a restaurant space on Lexington Avenue. The menu was inspired by the space because it’s so narrow. It looks like only a takeout counter, and it has a speakeasy-feel downstairs.
I was a new girl on the block, when all the other restaurants were owned by older men. Because of jealousy or competition, no one would talk to me, no one would help me, no one would advise me. I could not even borrow a cup of sugar from my neighbor. It was very lonely. That was my first experience with sexism. To this day, women make up only 13 percent of this industry.
But by 2015, I had mastered this restaurant. So in 2016 we opened up Avenue B. But only 5% of the demographic here was South Asian, so I had to educate people on Indian street food. For first-timers, I always recommend Desipoutine, an Indian-French dish I invented to pay homage to Montreal, where I was born and raised. Poutine is french fries with your traditional gravy and cheese curd, but I made the Indian version with the chicken gravy you’d put on tikka masala.
This year, we’re going to continue expanding up DG Pantry, which sells meal kits and ingredients, and we’re expanding our catering services. Indian food is becoming more mainstream. Social media and TikTok help share our culture and our festivals, and people just want to participate in everything. Especially in a diverse community like New York, everyone’s open to anything.”