How it feels when you wake up to your familiar aroma of homemade breakfast dishes on a Saturday morning thousands of miles away from India? Surreal and heavenly! A working couple from South India has turned their neighborhood into a dosa-loving community of the locals and other Indians residing there in the northeast USA. They capitalized on the Indian culture of cooking and sharing food to make friends with strangers in their adopted home and started Brooklyn Curry Project in 2021.
“Swetha and Venkat Raju’s Brooklyn Curry Project in Fort Green, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, is to dosa lovers what Queens’ Ganesh Temple canteen is to devotees in the Big Apple. What they had started as a makeshift social hang during the pandemic has now become one of the few best places for authentic South Indian food in New York City. It is their third kid (now a toddler) after a 14-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter,” said Sourav Agarwal, the Editor of Travel Beats, a leading Indian Diaspora portal.
It was 2016 when Venkat and Swetha Raju with their firstborn moved from Bengaluru to New York for a better life in the land of American Dream. “We really missed home when we first came here, so we just started cooking and inviting neighbors over,” Swetha, a software engineer, told Brooklyn Magazine, as we Indians believe that the way to one’s heart is through the one’s stomach. Soon the neighborhood began to swear by their food, and of course, their friendliness. Venkat, a lawyer by profession, is equally good at cooking; both come from families with a tiffin business in Karnataka.
Brooklyn Curry Project was born out of their daughter’s lemonade stand that was set up one summer near the weekly farmers market in Fort Greene. The sense of satisfaction, as they describe their feeling of meeting people at the lemonade stand, became a driver for their heartfelt wish to serve Bangalore-style masala dosa, fluffy idli, uthappam, and masala chai to the locals. While dosa – the king of the menu – is the crowd puller, they do also offer nutritious lunch platters with chapati, rice/khichdi, curry, pickle, and moong sprout salad.
Both Indians and non-Indians make a beeline to their humble food stand even before the first ladle of fermented batter makes it to the heated pan for a crispy dosa every Saturday morning. In addition to filling the void of authentic South Indian food in the lives of Indians in and around Brooklyn, Swetha and Venkat dispelled the most common myth of Indian food being all about butter chicken and chicken tikka masala. “Indian food is so stereotyped outside of India. There is more to our food culture; every region has its own cuisine,” said Swetha, a cofounder of Brooklyn Curry Project.
“It is like having a piece of India in your backyard. Swetha puts love into every dosa she makes. They even catered for our 2-year-old’s birthday celebration and made it extra special. The sambar she makes is probably the best. No exaggeration at all. As a New Yorker with a small child and no family nearby, their stand makes Brooklyn feel more like home,” said one of the regulars to Brooklyn Curry Project in Fort Greene. “It reminds me a lot of what my mom cooks in India. The food tastes just like mom’s. Besides, the Raju family is amazing,” said another Indian regular.
Mango lassi and masala chai are among the bestsellers in the Rajus’ repertoire. The USP of their parttime venture is their practice of environmental sustainability; those who bring containers from home for takeaways get a 5% discount. Another USP is the judicious use of spices that they source from India and ground at their New York residence. They also share various dosa recipes on Instagram and offer a weekly subscription of dosa batter so that customers make their own in home and don’t miss them on week days.
“Venkat and Swetha Raju organize an annual dosa eating contest out of their business sensibility for increasing the brand equity and brand loyalty among their customers. Indeed, Indian food is ruling tastebuds even on the other end of the spectrum, that is Washington Square Park at lower Manhattan where the ‘Dosa Man of New York’ effervescently serves smoking hot masala dosas. There is no denying that the proliferation of Indian food culture, including Payal Saha’s Kati Rolls, continues to make New York home to a majority of Indian immigrants,” said Editor Sourav Agarwal.
This exclusive story is part of the series, Indian Life in America, by Indian Eagle, a most trusted travel-booking partner of Indian Diaspora in the USA. Subscribe to Travel Beats, a thriving community portal by Indian Eagle, for Indian Diaspora stories, US-India travel news, visa and immigration updates.