I had heard of his food even before I knew what it was. Whilst I was living in Vienna, two of my New Yorker buddies had messaged me on a weekly basis with ostentatious descriptions of the “best tasting street food in NYC”. Finally they told me that it was South Indian-inspired fare, sold in a strategic location in the West Village from a super-friendly guy named Thiru Kumar. He is clearly renowned, totally respected and eagerly sought-after by hungry tourists and locals alike.
Having spent some time in Kerala and Karnataka in South India, I can identify with this wonderful cuisine. Words don’t do it justice; one has to feel, smell, see, touch and of course taste this complex mix of flavours to get an idea of the time that goes into the preparation, and the exotic imagery that it inspires. My theory is that once you taste South Indian food, you will want to spend the next portion of your life in South India.
Now, some months afterwards I find myself in New York, and some weeks after arriving I find myself standing at the entrance to Washington Square Park looking at the “Dosa Man” food cart. I stand there for a bit, just taking it in.
Thiru is as courteous and friendly as one can be. He talks with his guests, bristling with excitement in the queue, like they are old friends, completely at ease. We were served within minutes, and it seemed that Thiru kept a track of each order (6+ not including us) like it was simple arithmetic.
With locally sourced produce straight from Queens, a firm passion in food and a keen respect for the compass of elements that are needed for South Indian cuisine, Thiru creates an uncomplicated menu of mouth-watering dishes. We had the Jaffna Pancakes and the Special Pondicherry Dosa, served with the typical coconut chutney and a simple, clean sambhar.
Thiru is a hard worker, a family man, a lover of what he does and a wholly genuine character. On asking him if he continues to sell when it snows heavily in the New York winter:
“No, I go upstate to relax and take some time off”, he says with a laugh as he expertly flips our Dosas without looking.
It seems to be all about the balance here. Away from the accepted definition of “soul food” Thiru effortlessly leads his life with a balance that is all so obvious in what he serves: food for the soul.