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New York Dispatch: Punjabi in Two Parts

“You sat in my taxi,” the subject line read.

In light of the conversation that unfolded from 59th and Lex to Punjabi Grocery & Deli in the East Village, I wasn’t so surprised when I spotted Mian Ayyub’s name in my inbox.

But I was a little surprised at all the details he added to our exchange in the cab:

My name is Mr.Mian Ayyub and I have been driving a yellow cab for about 25 years.I have two daughters,one who is 17 and the other who is 15 and a son who is 14 years old (his picture is attached).All three of my children were born and brought up in New York but left The States about 5 and half years ago.

My eldest daughter was 11 years old when my wife and children had to move to Pakistan.My children are currently persuing [sic] their education at one of the best school in Pakistan.I want them to receive at least their high school education from Pakistan.

Mian Ayyub in the driver's seat.

The living and education expenses are far too much in America which is one of the basic reasons why i can’t keep them here.In Pakistan i have given them everything that they need for a comfortable and happy life;a nice big house,a car etc.

I work hard to keep my family happy.I buy my children all the latest gadgets and electronics and basically whatever they need to keep them happy and moving forward in life.I plan on keeping them there for a little while longer until they are mature enough to come back to New York and persue their education and life in this fast-pace city,until then i will fulfill my duty as a father in New York.

What Mian doesn’t mention here is that he drives a cab 7 days a week. And what may not be so obvious in these lines is the man’s complete acceptance of the sacrifices he’s making.

“When you have children,” he told my co-adventurer and me, “You have to struggle, but it’s OK.”

If I were driving a taxi every single day in New York City with my family in another hemisphere, there’s no way I’d be as cheerful as this guy. Not even after five cappuccinos from Cafe Grumpy.

It was only when the cabbie dropped us off at Punjabi Grocery & Deli (where Mian eats when doesn’t have time to pick up spices and curry fixings from Khyber Grocery – 1812 Coney Island Ave, Brooklyn, 718-382-7676) that he mentioned he’d like to change jobs. Someday he’d like to buy a gas station – but not until the economy picks up.

Punjabi Grocery & Deli wasn’t new to my co-adventurer or to me. Of all the taxi driver-oriented delis in New York, I like the food the best here. The bhangra music is good, too.

So we couldn’t resist rubbing elbows with a few hungry cabbies while we scarfed down curried okra (oversalted), chole (garbanzo bean stew – my favorite thing on the menu), roti (good, but nowhere near as chewy and soft as Roti Boti‘s) and pinni (sesame seed and cardamom balls) for $6 before we ran across the street to Punjabi Food Express.

Punjabi Food Express, Mian told us, was a new Indian place he’d been wanting to try but hadn’t had a chance to check out since it opened nine months ago.

How would Punjabi Food Express survive with another 24/7 Punjabi restaurant (and East Village fixture) on the other side of E. Houston St.?

For one thing, the buffet at Punjabi Food Express is meaty and not all Punjabi: besides kebabs and chicken tikka masala, they make omelettes and bagel sandwiches and wraps.

For another, they have chaat. Vegetable samosas smothered in yogurt, green chili sauce, chopped onions and cilantro were totally worth the advertised $3.50 price tag but not quite worth the $7 the owner decided to charge us. And even though we thought the chicken kebab was forgettable, we agreed that the not-too-sweet mango lassi ($3) tasted just right with our chaat.

I was still trying to figure out which Punjabi I liked better when we finished part II of our lunch. But when I spotted a cop giving a cab driver a parking ticket outside Punjabi Food Express, and when I remembered where Mian’s loyalties lay, it was an easy decision.

Punjabi Food ExpressMap it
203 E. Houston St. – East Village
Tel. 212-254-3292
Open 24/7

Punjabi Grocery & Deli Map it
114 E. 1st St. – East Village
Tel. 212-533-3356
Open: 24/7

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  1. Another reason why I don’t want kids. Too much sacrifice.
    No Dhaba would be complete without Bhangra blaring out at full boom.