A pot is not the only place America's various parts melt together. In Falls Church, it's the oven. Plunked in the middle of a small shopping center at the corners of Annandale Road and Rte. 7 is an only-in-America sort of business, a tripartisan combination of donut shop, French-style pastry shop and Indian snack bar. Or as the Jefferson Bakery describes itself, "The only authentic mild spicy Indian food in the metro area . . . the first restaurant serving typical Indian subcontinental fast food." And it is "open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 365 days a year."
Typical of many American food enterprises, this one grew out of nothing more akin to cuisine than a parking-lot business. Kusam Arora, working with her husband in a local parking lot, decided in March of last year to take her friends' praise of her cooking seriously and to supplement her family's income with a bakery. So she bought one, one that already "specialized" in 24 types of doughnuts, Italian cannolis, French-style pastries and American breads, and added Indian sweets and savories to the mix.
While most of the breads at the Jefferson Bakery remain the traditional American white, wheat, rye and pumpernickel, the variety has expanded to include Afghan nan--a slightly chewy, washboard-shaped bread which uses both yeast and baking soda for its leavening--made by an Afghani baker who works from 6 p.m. to 2 or 3 in the morning. It has caught on to the extent that the Jefferson Bakery now wholesales nan to Magruder's, at the rate of about 200 loaves a day.
Life and baking have changed the Arora family's schedule, as one might expect. Kusam Arora now drives to the bakery early each morning to prepare curries and Indian sweets from her own recipes, perfected, she says, during years of cooking for her family and friends. The Afghan nan is delivered to Magruder's by her husband or son. And on a Saturday, it is not unusual to find the whole family--parents and two children--behind the counter, as well as an occasional friend who has dropped by the shop and stayed to wait on customers during a busy moment.
The shop may smell of goat or lamb curry, beef, chicken or vegetable curries. And while the ovens fill with stuffed nan, the fryers bubble with samosas--fried triangles stuffed with mildly spiced potato and pea filling--and sweets such as gulabjamun. The doughnuts are still there, and some exceptionally good apple fritters, but now there's also space for chapattis, lightly spiced discs of unleavened bread that puff in the cooking to an internal flakiness.
For some reason--certainly not gustatory; perhaps a matter of sentiment or a reluctance to change--the French pastries remain, as do the cannolis that are bought from an Italian bakery. But samosas are overtaking even doughnuts in popularity, with pakoras--deep-fried fritters of potatoes and chicken pea flour--gaining fast, along with the thin, flexible South Indian pancakes, dosas.
Many of the desserts are Bengali in origin and use a sweetened homemade cows' milk cheese as their base. For rasgulla, the cheese is flattened into small discs, then soaked in a milky syrup and topped with a few chopped pistachio nuts. Chumchum are oval balls of this sweetened cheese topped with grated coconut. Both are sweet and bland, grainy in texture. The same cheese is also deep-fried and laced with cardamom syrup and thus called gulabjamun.
An Indian sweet shop is bound to have halwa, the dense and very sweet carrot pudding. And also in the bright-orange mode are jalebis, deep-fried and pretzel-shaped, made by drizzling squiggles of a baking powder batter into hot fat, much like Pennsylvania Dutch funnel cakes, then dipping them in a syrup often flavored with rose water. But most unusual is kulfi with faludi and syrup, a homemade almond ice cream topped with cooked vermicelli-style rice noodles and doused in a syrup flavored with rose water.
The shop's list of potables is as much a potpourri as the rest of the menu, with its three "fresh drinks" being lassi (the traditional Indian yogurt drink, sometimes made with sugar, sometimes with salt), mango shake and orange juice.
By now a snack bar of sorts has developed, with two bar tables on high pedestals, and stools only under one of those tables. If you have grown accustomed to the sanitary appearance of high tech design, or the crisp cleanliness of large bakeries, you may be a little surprised by the hodgepodge appearance of this bakery. But behind the mixtures of steam tables and refrigerators and display cases and warming ovens, a multinational staff guides customers through the me'lange of what they call "mildly flavored spicy Indian subcontinental fast food." And Falls Church bakery bags smell of rose water and cardamom as well as chocolate and cinnamon.