Ambala Sweets & Snacks (Los Angeles, June 2022)


Here is a quick look at my solo Father’s Day brunch in Los Angeles in June. Why solo? Well, we’re not really into the Mother’s/Father’s Day stuff in our family in normal times—and when we’re in Los Angeles we’re really not: I’m still outranked by Jebus, you see. I did manage to wiggle out of attending my mother-in-law’s church that Sunday and—in proper Old Testament style—offering up the boys as a sacrifice, I made my way to Artesia for some chhole-bhature. My port of call was Ambala Sweets & Snacks. This was a nostalgic return to one of the OG Indian establishments of Pioneer Boulevard. Of course, like the rest of Pioneer Boulevard, it’s become much shinier than it used to be back when I used to eat there every few months in the 1990s.

Ambala Sweets & Snacks is located in the same large strip as Chennai Dosa Corner. Like quite a few restaurants in the area, it still has tented outdoor seating in the parking lot—or it did in June, at any rate. I arrived very early by desi standards—not too long after they opened—and so it was not busy at all. I took a table outside anyway. Well, first I went in and ordered and they brought it all out when it was ready.

What did I get? Paani puri to start, of course. This is not really breakfast/brunch food but when you live in Babylon you eat your paani puri at whatever time of day you can get it. Especially since Ambala Sweets & Snacks serves pretty decent paani puri by American standards. I can’t remember if I was offered a choice between aata (whole wheat) or sooji (cream of wheat) for the shells but aata is what I got, which is to say less crisp. The paani is less sweet than at Surati Farsan Mart and, on the whole, I enjoyed these more than the ones I ate at Surati Farsan Mart in December.

Having got preliminaries out of the way, I got to work on the chhole-bhature or channa-bhatura as they call it. You get two large bhaturas and a bowl of chhole/channa masala and some perfunctory condiments. I quite liked the chhole/channa masala, especially once topped with onions and lemon squeezed over. The bhature were variable. The first was quite decent—a mix of spongy and crisp. The second bhatura, however, was over-fried and too crisp.

It would have been rude to go to Ambala Sweets & Snacks and not get any sweets. I have to confess here that I have never actually been a fan of most of the sweets at Ambala Sweets & Snacks—or for that matter at most similar establishments in the US—but it’s hard to resist. The “dry” sweets are usually a better bet and the boondi laddus were quite decent. They also gave me the hard sell on jalebis and it seemed rude to resist. I ate one there and took the rest home. It was decent and better than the ones from Surati Farsan Mart in December.

Here’s a quick look at the place and the food. Scroll down to see how much it cost and to see what’s coming next.

Minus the sweets this came to just around $20. Which would be very expensive for a similar meal anywhere in India—and I don’t just mean in terms of direct USD/INR conversion. But I enjoyed it well enough. On the next trip I might bring the boys as well—the missus is not as much into eating this kind of thing first thing in the morning.

On my next trip I am also tempted to make a pilgrimage to one of my old haunts in the Pico-Robertson area: India Sweet House. I lived within walking distance for a couple of years in the early-2000s and ate alu parathas and chhole-bhature there on the regular. I hope it still exists—though I am sure it too has changed a lot and that nobody there is likely to remember me. Places like these continue to occupy a special place in the hearts of first-gen immigrants like myself. Even as Indian restaurants in larger metros in the US have seen their profile rise and have become fancier or hipper it is at places like these that someone like me feels the return to both similar establishments in North India and to the Indian scene in Los Angeles when I first arrived in the early 1990s. Almost 30 years later I am quite out of touch with both. I guess what I am saying is that places like Ambala Sweets & Spices and India Sweet House feed more than one kind of hunger.

By the way, on the way out I took a brief look at their neighbour, Flavors of India. This is a much newer place, I think. Anyone have any intel on them? I was tempted to eat some momos for the road but was already stuffed and had a big Korean dinner coming a few hours after this brunch.

Okay, what’s next from Los Angeles? Probably that Korean dinner. That’ll be next Saturday. Tomorrow I may take a break from my Hawaii reports and instead do a quick look at the Little Africa Festival that we attended in St. Paul last weekend. And on Tuesday I’ll have another Italian meal report from St. Paul.


 

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