Critic Robert Sietsema offers his first impressions of the flatbread-taco hybrids.
By many accounts the kati (or kathi) roll originated in Calcutta in 1932, but it soon spread to other Indian cities. This urban form of fast food involves rolling a kebab or other filling with chutneys, raita, and sometimes greenery in a paratha. In New York kati rolls began appearing in 2002, and now we have dozens of narrow storefronts and carts that serve them, either as a main focus or a sideline, including Kati Roll Company, Khushboo, and Desi Galli.
The Goa taco is a relatively new phenomenon
By contrast, the Goa taco is a relatively new phenomenon that appeared in New York last July at the Park Slope Flea, and subsequently at a series of pop-ups elsewhere in Brooklyn. The creator is Duvaldi Marneweck, a South African native who worked five years as a cook in Perth, Australia. His invention consists of a paratha stuffed with a variety of fashion-forward fillings, utilizing things like roasted pork belly, organic tofu, and lamb shoulder braised in achiote paste. Significantly, the flatbread is folded over the ingredients like a taco rather than rolled, and the paratha is particularly buttery and flaky.
"Do you make the paratha?" I asked Marneweck a few days after his new stand opened on Delancey just east of Allen. "No," he replied somewhat sheepishly, "Those we get from Malaysia." Why attribute the tacos to Goa, a popular beach resort and former Portuguese colony — where fiery vindaloos were first made — on India’s southwest coast? "That is where the paratha came from," replies Marneweck. Tell that to the Punjabis, who often claim to have originated it.
Goa Taco occupies a narrow storefront lined with white marble that might have been part of a bank lobby. The buildout was accomplished by Marneweck, who constructed the counter and rough benches seating about 10, if the diners sit close together. The place partly feels like a food stall in a third-world market, in a good way, and banks of equipment line the far wall behind the counter, on which "goa taco" is stenciled as one of the few embellishments. "We’re only here for six weeks, then we’ll see," says the proprietor, a note of optimism in his voice.
My companion and I tried four tacos (of six offered) and a dessert. All are priced from $7 to $9. At the upper end is the lamb shoulder braised in achiote, a Yucatecan red spice paste. The taco is further stuffed in quasi-Greek fashion with tzatziki and something called eggplant salsa. This turned out to be our favorite of the evening, with the stuffing ingredients easily matching the flatbread in flavor density. Our second was the more Mexican chicken chorizo with fontina cheese and a brussels sprouts slaw, the crumbly sausage bursting with flavor.
The pork belly taco was good, too, though the richness of the meat matched with the richness of the paratha was a little too much grease for me, and the filling threatened to come sliding out of the flatbread. The only dud among those road-tested was the Vietnamese-leaning turkey banh mi. The peanuts were a welcome addition, crunchwise, but the shredded vegetables lacked vinegary zip, mint had been substituted for cilantro, and who wants to eat turkey breast this soon after Thanksgiving? A vegetarian version of the taco is available with tofu instead of turkey, and a second vegetarian taco features honey-roasted butternut squash and kale.
Our meal ended spectacularly with an oblong fritter made from a paratha that oozes warm chocolate when you cut into it. Priced at $3, it felt like a good deal. We left curious about what directions the menu would take in the future and hoping this congenial joint would remain open beyond its six-weeks initial run. 79 Delancey Street, (347) 218-2918.