The lunch rush made its way to Center City’s Samosa Vegetarian Indian Restaurant where Ravinder Singh, clad in his white apron with matching turban, was short one staffer on May 2.
Despite running back and forth between helping customers at the counter and kneading dough in the kitchen, Singh never lost his cheerful disposition.
People who keep kosher might not have known Singh before, but they’ll surely get a chance to know him now, as the restaurant at 1214 Walnut St. in Center City recently earned kosher certification. It is only open for lunch now, but dinner hours are planned for the future.
Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch of Mekor Habracha/Center City Synagogue helped to certify the restaurant under the Orthodox supervision of the International Kosher Council (IKC). Both Singh and Hirsch said the certification process was fairly straightforward; the biggest change the restaurant had to make was its cheese purveyor.
Singh was born in New Delhi, India, and his family opened up their first Philly restaurant in 1996. But due to Singh experiencing some heart problems, the restaurant closed in 2005 and the space was taken over by another restaurateur who renamed it Saffron Indian Cuisine. Eventually, it started serving nonvegetarian dishes and lost its kosher certification. Saffron recently closed and the space was reclaimed by Singh’s family, reopening under the original name in October.
“I enjoy people, I enjoy cooking, I enjoy cleaning,” Signh said, adding he was glad to be “back in action.”
Hirsch said members of his congregation remembered the restaurant when it was kosher and were sad to see it go. With the new certification, Samosa Vegetarian is now the first Indian restaurant to be included on the congregation’s list of kosher-certified eateries in and around Center City. That list can be found at mekorhabracha.org/eating-out-kosher.html.
“This is the only one; that’s why everyone is excited,” Hirsch said. “There are so many people in our community who are asking me to try to find an Indian restaurant that was kosher. I posted [this news] on Facebook, and we got a tremendously positive response. There’s a lot of buzz and excitement about it. People are very happy.”
One of the first Mekor Habracha congregation members to try the restaurant was Courtney Banks Schley.
She said the homemade naan flatbread tasted fresh and crisp and appreciated the venue’s ambiance and ease of use with the $7.95 self-service lunch buffet. It features samosas (an Indian snack stuffed with spices, potatoes and peas) along with chopped vegetables, rice and chickpea flour fritters called pakoras. Oh, and don’t forget the masala spice pizza.
“I had heard for a while it was in the works, so both my husband and I were really excited,” she said about the kosher certification. “It’s a simple buffet, but the food was exactly what I hoped for.”
Singh said he wanted to become kosher-certified “so everybody can enjoy” their food, such as his Jewish friends like Moriah Levin. She’s known him since 2001, and described Singh as a “wonderful human being.”
“Ravi’s awesome, he’s a great soul,” Levin said. “He’s just a sweetheart and it was such a loss to the community when it closed.”
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