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Khyber Grill Brings East to West in A South Plainfield, NJ strip center restaurant. Honest.

By on November 28, 2011
Chicken Makhani, Most Beloved N. Indian dish

Life is an adventure. Yes?  All you have to do is open yourself to the possibilities and who knows where you’ll end up?

Like the day I went with my friend, Gene, on a junking trip.  We trooped in and out of all sorts of trashy places, hunting for treasure.  We wound up in one of the faceless, endless strip centers that mark the fringe suburbs of the Greater New York area.

You know the kind I mean.  The sort that’s become de rigueur around here, with more than half the store front windows covered in white paper, and the distinct air of defeat in the atmosphere.

Even though we were trooping about on Black Friday, the parking lot was half empty, and the only store front that looked cheerful, was a pop-up store with cheap Chinese Christmas decorations flooding the window. Wait, I don’t mean a Chinese Christmas.  I mean crappy American style ornaments cranked out in Chinese factories.  All I could think of was child labor, deprivation and hunger when I saw the garish windows.

The holidays have come to this? I thought.

But just in my moment of deepest despair, an intoxicating aroma wafted up my nose.  Spices. Strange, romantic spices, wafting into that arid parking lot from a restaurant.  But where?  A closer look revealed a new, bright, clean, well lighted place that went by the name of Khyber Grill.

Good heavens.  How did the Khyber Pass get to this sorry strip mall in Central New Jersey?

But Gene and stepped into a space as much an oasis as it would have been had we tramped there over the forbidding Khyber pass itself.

And mirable dictu, the place was more than half full of diners, even though it was about 3 pm in the afternoon.  Too late for lunch.  Too early for the Early birds.  The majority of the guests were Indian.  Which didn’t surprise, since this is quite close to a large Indian ghetto located in this part of New Jersey.

As I always do,  I looked into every dinner plate on the way to our table.  The food looked bright, interesting and most pointedly, was obsessing every diner.

We were starved, so we opted for the buffet – often a big mistake – but in this case, the food did not disappoint.  And the price was certainly right: about eleven bucks for the works.

We piled our plates with basmati, tandoori grilled vegetable so hot and spicy they made our mouths dance.  Tandoori chicken, yes, and next to that, something I’d never seen before.  Malai Kabab, a boneless chicken breast seasoned with herbs, spices, ginger, garlic, and mace.  Oh my.

I recognized the chicken curry and had to have that, but beside it was Chicken Makhani, chicken roasted in the tandoori and tossed with spicy tomato sauce.  They bill this as “the best loved delicacy in Northern India.”  And all I can say is – no wonder.

When the owner, Akshay Jhanjee, came to our table,  he explained that this frontier food, made from spices he has ground fresh every morning,  and ingredients he buys fresh daily, is what it takes to get the real experience.

Mr. Jhanjee couldn’t be a day over 28 years, and has that eager, go get’em confidence that makes me believe he might be able to bring back this whole area with nothing more than his high standards, good cooking, and good will.

So my conclusion  is this.  The world is getting smaller by the day.  How this Indian restaurateur found his way from the Khyber frontier to South Plainfield, New Jersey, I have no idea.  But I’m glad he’s here, and I hope you’ll find an occasion to try him out.

He’ll bring his good food to your next party at your house,  or you could just take your party to him.

  • Khyber Grill: Frontier Indian Cuisine, 684 Oak Tree Av, South Plainfield, N 07080 908 226 5544

Gawd, the internet is wonderful.  Here’s a backgrounder on the Khyber Pass.  I thought you’d want to know.  No wonder Mr Jhanjee named his New Jersey restaurant for this storied spot that connects East to West.  All I can say is Yes!

According to a site called Afghan-Network.net

“The Khyber, in its chequered history, has seen countless invasions. It witnessed the march of Aryans and victorious advance of Persian and Greek armies. It also saw the Scythians, White Huns, Seljuks, Tartars, Mongols, Sassanians, Turks, Mughals and Durranis making successive inroads into the territories beyond Peshawar Valley and Indus.

 The very sight of the Khyber reminds one of the conquerors who forced their way through its dangerous defiles. It is this Pass through which the subcontinent was invaded time and again by conquerors like Timur, Babar, Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali. Again, it was through this Pass that the Russian invasion of the subcontinent was feared by the British in the 19th century.

 The story of Khyber Pass is composed of such color and romance, such tragedy and glory that fact really looks stranger than fiction in this case. The Khyber Pass has been a silent witness to countless great events in the history of mankind. As one drives through the Pass at a leisurely pace, imagination unfolds pages of history.”

Let’s hear it for the connected world.

If you’re too far from South Plainfield, you can cook this food at home.  We’re lucky enough here to be able to source the spices at one of the endless Indian grocery stores.  If you don’t have those, you can buy the spices online.   http://www.myspicesage.com/

But whatever you do, do NOT deprive yourself of the heady adventure of this food that connects East and West, then and now.  You’ll be glad to have this in your repertory.

 Recipe adapted from http://store.indianfoodsco.com/InfoPage.cfm?PageId=RecChickenMasala001

Khyber Chicken Curry

Serve with basmati rice
Makes  3-4 servings

3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter), or oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 stick cinnamon
2 cardamom pods
4 cloves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 inch piece root ginger, very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1  teaspoon  turmeric powder
1  tablespoon ground coriander
¾  teaspoon  chili powder
1  teaspoon tomato paste
2 skinless chicken breasts or thighs, about 1 pound, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 chopped tomato
1  tablespoon plain yogurt or sour cream
a handful of cilantro leaves, chopped

Heat the ghee in a large heavy stew pot, add the chopped onion and fry until the onion is translucent.

Turn the heat to medium low, add the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and fennel seeds, stir until the flavors are released, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. Then add the turmeric, ground coriander and chili powder and fry gently for a minute. Add the tomato purée and stir in enough hot water (about 2 cups) to make a sauce. Bring to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Season with salt.

Heat a little oil in a large heavy frying pan and stir-fry the chicken pieces until they turn white.

Add to the sauce, the chicken and chopped tomato, sour cream/yogurt  and simmer gently until the meat is soft and succulent, adding water if needed to maintain a gravy-like consistency.

Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and serve with plain basmati rice and yogurt.





Linda Eckhardt

About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”