After a long, antagonizing winter New Yorkers could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel as the beginning of May approached. As the last sheets of ice melted from the sidewalks in Gramercy Park, workmen furiously set up booths and tents a few avenues away in the area across from Madison Square Park for the seventh season of Madison Square Eats.
As many native New Yorkers can confirm, one can mark the change of the seasons by the spring and fall sessions of the bi-annual culinary event. Started in 2008 by Urban Space, MSE is a month long food festival running from the beginning to end of May and from the beginning of September until the beginning of October. It combines cuisines from all New York corners and ethnicities to compose a symphony of deliciousness. Although May might seem slightly late to welcome spring weather, on Madison Square Eats’ opening Friday, May 1, all visitors bombarding the area were grateful for a gorgeous day to accompany the tantalizing foods.
Veteran restaurants returned after past successful MSE experiences such as The Cannibal: Beer & Butcher with its mouthwatering Pigs Head Cuban sandwiches, Calexico which boasts of food with the flavor and authenticity of Mexico, combined with the fresh, healthy produce of California, and
Red Hook Lobster Pound which has brought New Yorkers the most savory lobster rolls since it’s opening in 2008 in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Several new establishments had also made their ways down the block to the Urban Space area such as Hill Country Barbeque Market, Uma Temakeria, and Bombay Sandwich Company, which provides patrons with a menu of all vegan and all organic options.
“I used to walk by almost every day and think wow, this place has the most amazing smell of spices coming out from it,” said Kira Kull, 22, Gramercy resident and patron of both Bombay Sandwich Company and Madison Square Eats, “Now I’m addicted and want even just a little bite from the countertop jars whenever I walk by.”
Bombay Sandwich Company debuted in 2012 at the Brooklyn food festival, Smorgasburgh, started by Shiv Puri and Shikha Jain, a husband and wife team who in fact met by running into each other amongst the bustle and car honks of the busy Delhi streets. It was love at first sight.
Puri, New Jersey native and alumnus of New York University’s Stern School of Business maintained a variety of interests since graduating in 2002. From Microfinance and investment banking to being the manager and drummer for the rock group Bamboo Shoots, Puri searched in multiple directions for a calling that spoke to him on both a mental and emotional level. He found it in the realm of New York City farmer’s markets.
While biding his time in-between tour dates with Bamboo Shoots, Puri realized that being a lower level rock star paid less than movies lead one to believe. Newly married to Jain, Bollywood actress and model, Shiv needed a way to keep food on the table without returning to the high profile headaches of Wall Street. To do so he turned to literal food by helping to stock and distribute produce at local New York farmer’s markets.
Around this time Jain was also having trouble in regards to food. Ever since moving to the city from India, the actress had begun to put on weight and couldn’t understand why. She was eating the same meals that she did back home, but here they were causing her to go up in clothing sizes and anxiety. That when it occurred to her that although the recipes being used in America had the same name as those in India, they were certainly not using the same ingredients.
This planted the seed that sprouted Bombay Sandwich Company, a restaurant that uses all the spices and flavors of Indian through locally grown, organic produce, all the while catering to a vegan menu.
“Nothing fried, nothing oily, nothing greasy, everything is either lightly steamed or chopped, “ explained Puri about the making of his menu, “Super, super healthy-no processed ingredients, other than cheese which is in only two menu items, everything else is made from scratch on the premises.”
While walking back into the kitchen of Bombay Sandwich Company, it’s difficult to not become slightly overwhelmed at the sight of so many spices and fresh ingredients. Leafy greens compliment the bountiful red tomatoes and golden ginger. While the fridge is filled to the brim, the kitchen does not have a freezer as all ingredients arrive and are used fresh.
“I don’t like to discuss exact numbers,” Puri said with a knowing twinkle in his eye, “But we get fresh food deliveries every day we’re open,”
Which is Monday-Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. at 48 West 27th Street, incase you want to skip the crowds at Madison Square Eats.
With a name like Bombay Sandwich Company, many patrons in Madison Square may be surprised to only have one sandwich to option to choose. For the event, Bombay Sandwich Company has chosen their most popular dishes to represent them: the chana masala sandwich, the kale and sweet potato wrap, the chana masala platter, and the mango lemonade to help customers stay cool the closer summer comes.
It’s not just the lemonade that has people talking about Bombay Sandwich Company, but also the fact that it is the only booth represented that offers solely vegan meals, a fact that has garnered support from several animals rights groups in the city.
Naomi Davis, 21, a member of the Animal Studies Initiative at New York University and an active volunteer of Cruelty Free NYU, said that she is overjoyed at the inclusion of vegan food in mainstream events.
“Hopefully the Bombay Sandwich Company will expose people to the fact that eating with our values on our plates is not only fulfilling and important for the world, but also can be tasty and exciting!” said Davis.
Animals rights activist, Elena Lutfy, 21, said that she hopes the use of vegan food in popular New York festivals, not only marks a change in the portrayal of vegan options, but also a shift in the awareness of animal cruelty in the food industry.
“The inclusion of Bombay Sandwich Company is most exciting because it’s reflective of a shift in popular conceptions of vegan food as an increasing part of the cultural mainstream,” Lutfy explained, “I know that Morrissey is set to perform at MSG and because of his strict ethical standards the venue will serving only vegan food that night, I suspect these two events are connected.”
Whether the intoxicating aroma or the animal-friendly moral code draws in the crowds, they keep returning for the taste. A belief founded in the mob of people that has surrounded the booth since the opening day of the event.
“Luckily we’re right down the street if we run out of anything, May will be busy but worth it,” Puri said.