[all photos by Conor Rose]
Translated, Vatan means “motherland,” and after having dined there once, we’d say it’s a pretty accurate name. A pioneer of traditional Indian food in the city, having been around since 1996, means Vatan is practically ancient in NYC time, and in turn has more street cred than many of the other Indian restaurants in the neighborhood. Located just off of 29th and 3rd amongst a myriad of seemingly similar restaurants, the space inside takes you far from the city. Upon entering Vatan, you’ll feel transported to an Indian village, surrounded by handpainted murals, staff dressed in authentic garb, and most important, an extensive selection of dishes featuring Northwestern Indian cuisine.
The ever-present, very stressful (and yes, very first world) problem of what to order doesn’t exist here, as Vatan’s only menu option is a $34 prix fixe, complete with appetizers, an entree course with accompaniments, dessert and chai tea. The entire menu is vegetarian, and if you’re vegan, gluten-free, or nut free, dishes can be prepared to your liking. Meat isn’t missed here – a variety of vegetables and grains keep the meal filling. Meals are served thali style, with an assortment of small dishes – perfect for anyone who is new to Indian food and wants to try a little of everything, and also perfect for anyone who already loved Indian food and wants to eat everything and more. Upfront, the portions may look tiny, but don’t be fooled – if you want more of a dish, you can reorder it at no extra charge.
Arriving to the table on a silver cafeteria style platter, the appetizer course is paired with a variety of spicy and sweet sauces, plus a side of roasted garlic. Our standouts being the Ragda Patis (potato cutlet in a white bean sauce), Chana Masala (spicy chickpeas with onions and coriander), and the Batatavada (fried, pillowy potato balls in a chickpea flour batter, so good we ordered an extra serving).
The entree course can be prepared mild, medium, or hot, and comes with accompaniments – rice with peas, Khichdi (a mixture of lentils, rice, and vegetables), and Kadhi (soup with yogurt and spiced chickpea flour). Beautifully arranged on a dish in tiny silver bowls, the entree thali consisted of a diverse mixture of flavors and textures. The Bhaji (sauteed spinach and corn) was our favorite, plus the hearty, soft, and grainy Roti with butter, as well as the Batakanu Sak (potatoes cooked in a mild red broth-like gravy), and we also added an extra treat. Mango pulp can be ordered upon request at no extra charge – thick and sweet to balance out the spicy, savory dishes.
You can choose from any of the desserts, or go for the gold and have them all – the selections are cardamom ice cream, Gulab Jamun (waffle balls in sugar and rose syrup) and Masala Chai.
The last page of the menu summarizes everything about Vatan in one line: “Do not visit Vatan while on a diet.” We couldn’t agree more.
You can visit Vatan at 409 3rd Ave in Manhattan. This meal was provided by Vatan, however all opinions are our own.