Taxi drivers from the Indian subcontinent collectively form the largest ethnic group in the profession in New York City and they also happen to know of some of the best and cheapest places to go to for a South Asian meal in Manhattan.
Although the city has no shortage of Indian restaurants, it is usually the small, unassuming eateries frequented by cab drivers that serve some of the most authentic South Asian meals in the city.
The highest concentration of yellow taxi drivers came from Bangladesh, with the group representing 23.1 percent of all yellow taxi drivers, according to a 2014 report by the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission. Cabbies from Pakistan represented 13.2 percent of all drivers, while 9.3 percent hailed from India.
Taxi drivers tend to pick up most of their fares downtown. So clusters of restaurants that cater to them have emerged in specific Manhattan neighborhoods. Several are concentrated in Curry Hill, centered on Lexington Avenue and 28th Street, a neighborhood with many South Asian shops and restaurants.
When hunting for eateries, most cab drivers look for cheap food, quick service and most importantly, easily available parking. South Asian food isn't immediately associated with fast food, but some of these eateries have modified their services to cater to this clientele.
"Most drivers come in after 11 p.m. and although we do have seating, they don't use it," said Masud, restaurant supervisor for Curry in a Hurry, a popular stop for cab drivers. To serve this clientele, the restaurant came up with a set meal option for $8 that takes only a few minutes to put together and is only available after 11 p.m. when the drivers typically come in for dinner.
The list of recommended places to eat in the city is usually passed around by word of mouth and cab drivers who have been in the business for a long time, share it with newcomers.
Easy availability of restrooms is also important for cab drivers and most South Asian restaurants in Curry Hill allow them to use their facilities without any charge.
"The restaurants know the cab drivers and so even if we use their facilities without purchasing food, it's not a problem," explained Aminder Pal Singh, from Punjab, India, who has been driving yellow cabs for three years.
Further uptown by 106th Street and Columbus Avenue is a small, unassuming Indian restaurant called Doaba Deli that serves vegetarian food and is frequented by cab drivers and students of the nearby Columbia University.
"Almost all cab-drivers look for home-style cooking that isn't very greasy," said Sardar Jimmy, an Uber driver who had stopped by Doaba Deli for dinner. "Driving cabs is a mainly sedentary job and we don't really get time to exercise. High cholesterol is also a problem, so we try to eat healthy at places like this."
A regular at Doaba Deli, Frederick Dsouza, from Goa, India, has been driving a yellow taxi cab for 15 years. “The food is fresh here but I mainly come because I get to hear people talk in different Indian languages and because we get to discuss issues that cab drivers face in the city,” he said.
Along with regular tables, most of these restaurant have counters lined up against the walls for people who don't have time for a sit-down meal. In one corner of the eatery, a television set might be running an Indian news program or playing Bollywood music while customers flit in and out.
"Sometimes (at the end of the 12-hour shift), all you want is home-cooked food, " said Singh.