Kathiyawadi Kitchen (Sayreville, New Jersey)

I was recently in New York and New Jersey for a few days. I was there primarily for a few academic events connected to South Asian cinema, but also took the opportunity to meet up with some old friends. As half my commitments were in the New Brunswick area, I stayed in a hotel across the street from Newark Penn Station. I took the New Jersey transit train down to New Brunswick on both days in the mornings and then took it back up to New York Penn in the early evenings for my events/meetings there. My lunches therefore were in the vicinity of New Brunswick, and my dinners were in Manhattan. Now, of course, I was looking forward to eating a couple of good meals in New York, but, truth be told, I was more excited about the lunches in New Jersey. This because the friends I was eating with had picked out Indian restaurants for us to go eat thalis in. Here’s an account of that first meal, at Kathiyawadi Kitchen in Sayreville. Spoiler alert: It was rather excellent! And I say this as a confirmed carnivore even though it’s a vegetarian restaurant.

Now you probably know that New Jersey, and particularly a wide radius around Edison, is one of the major centers of South Asian life in the US. There’s a very high concentration of desis there and a wide and deep ecosystem of businesses. I am not particularly knowledgeable about the geography or history of these immigrant communities and so will refrain from holding forth on any of it like an expert. But you don’t need to be good at more than just looking out of the window of a car to get a sense of just how ubiquitous South Asian, and specifically Indian businesses are in the broader area. Driving from Rutgers in seemingly any direction you will pass a plethora of desi restaurants and stores.

The dear friend I met for lunch on the first day had picked out a Gujarati restaurant in Sayreville for us to eat at, specifically a Kathiyawadi restaurant (Kathiawar is one of the major regions of Gujarat). To make sure no one is confused about what their specialty is, they have cleverly named themselves Kathiyawadi Kitchen, and their business takes up almost all of a strip mall named Romeo’s Plaza. Only part of their real estate is occupied by their restaurant, which is not very large. The rest is taken up by their wholesale/retail and catering outlets. As per my friend, catering is a big part of their business. We, however, were there to eat their lunch thalis and that is what we did.

That’s not all they serve, of course—you can see the rest of the menu in the slideshow below—but the thalis are what they are known for. There are three types you can get. The smart money is on the eponymous Kathiyawadi thali but a case could also be made for getting the Gujarati thali (which features some non-Kathiyawadi Gujarati dishes). There is, indeed, some crossover between them. The foolish move is to get the Punjabi thali. Now, maybe it’s very good, but why the hell would you come to a restaurant that specializes in a specific Gujarati cuisine and order Punjabi food? I assume this is on the menu for the occasional American who wanders in and gets nervous or for the hardcore Gujju who only feels comfortable going to Gujarati restaurants but wants to try non-Gujju food from time to time. At any rate, we spurned this option: my friend got the Gujarati thali and I got the Kathiyawadi thali.

The Gujarati thali comprised the following: dal (decent); sev-tamatar (excellent); a bateka/potato sabzi (very good); undhiyu (excellent); kathod, a type of black-eyed bean (very good); khaman (very good); papad (whatever); and gulab jamun (probably out of a can). Rice and a couple of rotis alongside.

The Kathiyawadi thali comprised the following: khichdi (good); kadhi (probably a good example of its type but too sweet for my liking); the same excellent sev-tamatar; dhokli/gatte (an excellent sabzi of besan “dumplings”); ringan-bateka, a potato-eggplant sabzi (very good); bharthu, the Kathiyawadi incarnation of baingan bharta (excellent); and the same gulab jamun, khaman and papad trio. Rounding out this thali were a regular roti and a very good rotlo (or thick bajra/millet roti).

Also on the table were an assortment of relishes, achaars, chutneys and so forth, and a container of unspiced buttermilk (we kicked it up with the green chillies and onions).

The food was all very tasty and, as my friend pointed out, the different dishes actually tasted very different from each other: which is not something you can always count on in a thali in the US. The only knock I’ll give them is with the lazy gulab jamun for dessert. You’re giving us hardcore Gujarati/Kathiyawadi food on the thali; surely you can put a little more effort into the dessert as well.

For a look at the restaurant, the menu, and what we ate, click on a pic to launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for cost, for comments on service and some aspects of the restaurant’s presentation; and also to see what’s coming next on the restaurant report front.

Service was generally good—we were the only people there for lunch at 1 on a weekday and so the server occasionally disappeared into the kitchen for a while; but he was able to answer all our questions about the dishes. We were bemused, however, by the number of warnings pasted to the walls about not sharing thalis and not wasting food. And we were also told when we made the reservation that the table had to be returned in an hour (particularly amusing as there was no one else there). The reason for all this is that the real business happens on the weekends and presumably there have been cases of people taking forever to eat and/or making family meals out of one or two thalis. I can understand their wanting to avoid both phenomena but plastering the walls with ugly admonishments does also detract in a major way from a sense of hospitality. Better to just make these points clear verbally when seating people and taking the orders.

Anyway, if you live within reach, or are also likely to visit in the area, and don’t have food of this kind available near you, I’d strongly advise giving them a go. If you don’t know much about the food, don’t sweat it: just get the Gujarat or Kathiyawadi thalis and go with it. I know that if I lived within easy reach, I would stop by often. Though I suspect that there are other quality Gujarati places a little further north in New Jersey as well. If you know of these, or of places elsewhere in the broader area, please do write in below.

Alright, next on the food front: a report from Seoul. That’ll be on Sunday, probably. I am unlikely to post my last Goa report on Saturday, as I have a bit more on my plate (so to speak) at the end of the week than I’d anticipated.


One thought on “Kathiyawadi Kitchen (Sayreville, New Jersey)

  1. Yay, a restaurant I can actually drive to! I hope there will be many more reviews of the places where you ate in New Jersey. It has been frustrating (though informative) to read all the reviews of restaurants elsewhere.

    And just so you know that there is some overlap between the whisky and food readers: Have you gotten a sample of Laphroaig cask strength Batch 8 yet. I offered once a while back. I am ready to open it if you want a sample.


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