LOS ANGELES — India is currently in a COVID-19 crisis with over 22 million cases and at least 246,000 deaths reported. Many South Asian Angelenos still have connections to the country and are doing their part to lend a helping hand. The owners of local South Asian pop-up restaurant Jungli are using their platform to shine a light on Indian culture and history, while spreading the word on how to help.
Chef Ali Haji wanted to put jalfrezi, chicken meatballs with peppers and onions on the menu because it is a dish that his grandma would always make.
“[Our cuisine has] huge flavors. To quote a movie, ‘We don’t sprinkle spices, we spoon them in,’” said Haji.
He was born and raised in SoCal with his parents coming from East Africa, which brings its own style of Indian cooking. He blends his high-end, fine-dining training with LA flair and his Indian roots to this new menu.
“I grew up eating street corn. In California, we love cauliflower and kale. Mother Nature did the hard work for me, I just have to treat it with respect,” said Haji.
Owner of Jungli, Rupal Patel, whose family moved from India in the '70s, has her input on the menu as well. Her personal favorite is the oopma, a take on polenta, which her family would eat for lunch every Sunday. She wanted to introduce Angelenos to a home-cooked style of South Asian cuisine. She says it is more than just tikka masala and she doesn’t feel it is widely accessible.
“I think what’s available in the restaurants right now is pretty common and influenced heavily by British cuisine. We wanted to bring the lighter, more nutritious and authentically flavorful items that we know are part of our cuisine,” said Patel.
Normally, when you order pickup and delivery from this pop-up, it will be made in a commercial kitchen. But right now, Chef Haji is testing recipes in Patel's home kitchen for their new lunch special, a thali, that allows diners to pick a base, sides and sauces to experience different parts of South Asia all on one plate.
“I want to showcase how diverse the cuisine of that region of the world is,” said Haji.
From places like Pakistan where the nihari, braised beef shins are a traditional breakfast food. The roasted cauliflower has Sri Lankan influences and the rice with cashews and lemon predominately from Northern India.
This introduction to South Asia through their menu is especially important during a time when India is in the middle of a COVID crisis. Rupal wants to use her food to amplify the Indian experience.
“If you are South Asian anywhere in the world, you are deeply impacted by what’s going on in India right now. This is obviously some of the most traumatic images you have ever seen at a scale that is unprecedented. For us, this is a platform for us to introduce South Asian culture and our history and our background and our influence,” said Patel.
If you would like to donate or learn more, Patel says GiveIndia is a great resource.
Right now Jungli is a pop-up, but Patel and Haji hope to open a full location in downtown LA soon.
“[We are] creating an environment that is accessible to all Angelenos. They can be comfortable, have a great experience, and try some South Asian cuisine they probably haven’t experienced,” said Patel.
From the new lunch special to the rest of their menu, take a trip around South Asia at Jungli through delivery or pickup on most major apps.