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Authentic Indian far from home in Hà Nội

Update: April, 15/2018 - 09:00
Super start: Aloo Tikki Chaat was first on the menu. VNS Photo Việt Thanh
Viet Nam News

by Paul Kennedy

There’s something incredibly British about Indian food. It is, after all, the United Kingdom’s traditional dish.

At the last count, there were more than 10,000 Indian restaurants stretching the length and breadth of Britain bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars to the country’s economy.

An Indian meal is as much a rite of passage for a young Brit as owning their first car, or tasting their first alcoholic drink. A night out and curry go together like poppadoms and chutney.

You start off slow, maybe trying a Korma, but before too long the mild meals are nothing but a distant memory as you become more accustomed to spice.

It’s tikkas and jalfrezis from now on, and before you know it, vindaloo.

As a result of its ubiquity in the UK, Brits fancy themselves Indian food experts. In reality, our barometers for authenticity were honed not in Bombay but probably Bradford.

Are we really eating traditional dishes? Take tikka masala for instance: It’s rumoured to have been invented in Scotland by a chef who wanted to create a dish more suited to the local pallet.

And as for vindaloo, that dish came from Goa when the colony was under Portuguese control.

So what exactly is traditional?

Here in Hà Nội, there’s an easy way to learn, discover and enjoy. Tucked away on Hàng Điếu Street is Zaika.

Its exterior may be slight in appearance, but looks can deceive. Inside the elegant lobby, the decoration is tasteful and oozes class not crass.

The path through this long, tunneled restaurant leads to a windowed partition through which customers can watch the kitchen and its hardworking staff.

After you’ve sat down and if you’re feeling unsure about the menu, undecided about what to have, spoilt for choice or simply unfamiliar with what’s on offer try a little tip I’ve tested the world over and never once been disappointed.

Chicken delight: Murg Seekh Kebab is a firm favourite. VNS Photo Việt Thanh

Just tell the staff to prepare for you whatever they want. They know best. And with a wealth of experience and vast knowledge of all things Indian, owner Suruchi Kumar is the best person to ask.

My guest and I were not fussy, so we left it in her capable hands.

We started with Aloo Tikki Chaat (VNĐ75,000), two potato cakes with cumin seeds, fresh ginger and spices topped with yoghurt and mint sauce—a heady combination that complimented each part well.

As always with the first dish, it was devoured at breakneck speed and didn’t disappoint. The mint was present but far from overpowering.

Next we were in for a real treat: lamb chops (VNĐ220,000).

Lamb is a difficult meat to cook. There’s little leeway and it has to be just right. The chef nailed it.

Save room: Firni was served for dessert. VNS Photo Việt Thanh
Delicious: Lamb chops. VNS Photo Việt Thanh
Naan-tastic: A chef prepares the naan bread. VNS Photo Việt Thanh
Grand designs: Inside Zaika restaurant. VNS Photo Việt Thanh

Just when we thought our starters were done, along came Murg Seekh Kebab (VNĐ140,000), minced chicken marinated with garlic coriander and fresh mint leaves cooked in a clay oven over charcoal.

This has been a regular addition to my Indian food orders since the dawn of time, so it had a lot to live up to. Once again, Zaika delivered.

Starters out the way, it was time for the main course. My earlier instructions of “spicy but not blow my head off spicy” were followed to a T.

Zaika Murg Masala (VNĐ160,000), chicken in a spicy onion and tomato gravy, is, as its name suggests, a chef’s special. The sauce was rich, creamy and full of flavour and the chicken obviously cooked with care.

Now let’s face it, there’s no point in thinking for one minute that when you order your main meal, that’s all you’re going to eat. Indian food is about sharing (or so I told my dinner guest), so her meal of Palak Paneer (VNĐ140,000), cottage cheese cubes in a creamy spinach gravy, was really our meal!

Although it faced tough competition, it was probably the highlight of our culinary offerings.

The usual rice, roti and naans that came with it couldn’t have been cooked any better.

Struggling now to move as our food had been so plentiful, we still had to find a little room for one final addition.

Firni (VNĐ75,000) is a desert made with ground rice, thickened milk and dry fruit. The perfect end to a perfect meal.

Just when we thought we were through, Mrs Kumor had one last trick up her sleeve. Above the restaurant is the Hà Nội Cocktail Club, a new addition to the venue.

The cool and chic bar will be managed by Rory Price, an Irishman. When he told me I needed a painkiller I wasn’t sure where he was going, but he was in fact referring to the name of one of the many cocktails to choose from.

It bills itself the big brother of the pina colada and is made with a blend of contessa, rum, coconut cream, pineapple and orange juice and freshly grated nutmeg. It’s topped off with a straw made from grass instead of plastic, so while it might not be able to alleviate whatever’s hurting you inside it is killing a certain amount of pain typically inflicted on the environment.

It tasted magnificent. Proving beyond all doubt that the best person to prepare you a drink must come from Ireland. — VNS

 

Zaika Restaurant

13 Hàng Điếu Street, Hà Nội,

Phone: 091 322 19 71

Hours: 11am-10pm

Comment: A must visit for lovers of all things Indian. Traditional home-cooked food

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