Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Taste Of India In Cuenca

Once upon a time, there was a furniture store on the corner of Benigno Malo and Calle Larga. Then there was no furniture shop and just a small paper sign announcing that it had moved. And then there was a makeover.

Painters descended like a rabid pack of rainbow-makers. Buzz saws whirred. Purple took over the ceiling. The back wall went bright orange. An electric green surrounded the windows that were already struggling to adapt to their new onion dome frames.

Under the purple ceiling, a tented canopy of beaded and sparkling fabrics pitched itself. Semi-sheer sari scarves ran away from their owners to hang on the walls. A plasma screen TV came to life on the back wall, pumping out the best of Bollywood circa 1982. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Taj Mahal!

I'll confess that my first meal here was an accident. They'd left a door ajar during the last week of construction and like any good neighborhood snoop I poked my nose in to ask when they were going to be open. A nice man came and escorted my friend and I to a booth, insisting, "We are open now! Sit, sit, eat!"

Um, okay. That is a table saw being operated next to the chef, right? Clearly not important.

They bring us menus, but this is apparently just practice for the real opening night, since all they have are shawarma's (the Indian version of a gyro) and Coca-Cola. It's surprisingly delicious, considering the circumstances. The real opening day is going to be Thursday and they promise a full menu.

We make plans to test that promise, because to be perfectly honest, the "ethnic" food in Cuenca kind of stinks. There's no Thai takeout, Italian food means pasta + pizza, and spicy dishes exist only in an alternative universe I've not yet discovered. Thus, we are full prepared to be utterly disappointed by our Thursday night India feast.

Fast-forward to Saturday. I'm scratching out the notes that will become this blog post while waiting for $20 worth of $1.50 & $3.00 Indian snacks and entrees to be prepared. (I think someone is walking to India and back to get the spices. This is the only reasonable explanation for the length of the wait. Well, that and the number of items I've just ordered.) I've been sent by the gods of hungry people to "Get more samosa," "Make sure you pick up some of that bread," and "See if the other Aloo dishes are as good as the first one." The taste report:
  • Veggie samosas were voted to be slightly better than the chicken samosas. Get one of each anyway.
  • The Aloo Palak is richly spiced and delicious, but the Aloo Mutter is better.
  • Chicken Biryani beats Chicken Korma.
  • Real chai tea!!!! (after gallons of te nacional - aka the local swill - my mouth is euphoric)
  • Naan Saada is where it's at for the bread.
When you walk in, be prepared to roll out! The portion sizes were generous, and even the takeout was more than plenty. Frankly, as far as the taste buds are concerned, this is the best transformation that has ever happened to a furniture store!

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