They say that one can obtain a true representation of Indian cuisine only after tasting the mouth-watering paneer on the outskirts of the pyre in the old Benares and after dining at least once in the both luxurious and horrible Delhi, Gypsy Rajasthan, or the Himalayan resorts of Rishikesh and Nainital. However, restaurants of many European metropolises, and Moscow is no exception, try to reproduce it.
The question arises: with climbing so far beyond Southern Asia, can Indian food remain authentic and what is the most Indian and genuine thing about it?
Let me answer as a man who has tasted the original cuisine of this beautiful country: “The elephant has four legs, as Indian food has four pillars. They cannot be replaced, it is useless to forge them. They are paneer (cottage cheese), curry spice, masala tea and a kurd, pure and undefiled.”
On the eve of India’s Independence Day, I decided to go on a gastronomic tour of Moscow’s Indian restaurants in search of basic Indian cuisine that even remotely resembles the original, and perhaps hoped to find something more…
Here’s how it went.
The restaurant is named in honor of one of the cities in India called Puri Jagannath. This city has a custom according to which four times a day in the temple they offer more than 56 different dishes prepared by the efforts of four Brahmins. This food is prepared in the largest kitchen in the world, using seven hundred furnaces. By tradition, the treats are spread around over several hundred kilometers.
Moscow’s Jagannath can be considered to be like a cafeteria, where you ask to warm up the food in a microwave, but despite that it still doesn’t lose the national character, and the Indian taste of the food overall remains quite similar to the original.
A caring staff behind the bar desk will ask what you want and always advise something decent for those lost in the menu’s diversity. The menu fits vegetarians, vegans and adherents of HLS.
The atmosphere of the place is more in the spirit of the new age and esoterica with Indian music in the background. Perhaps this is what real Indians listen to, while all the sons are working hard and all the daughters are married.
From all that’s on Jagannath’s menu, the lentil dal-makni (add some basmati rice to it, you will not regret it) can be considered to be the most original Indian dish, as well as malai-kofta which is basically a rich cheese ball resting in a tasty orange lake of sweetish thick gravy. It leaves a light and pleasant shade of sweetness in your mouth, and its consistency will please even your granny.
As for the pillars, the curry, probably will seem sweet, instead of paneer you have an Adygei cheese, and you better not hope for proper kurd too much too, because it is more similar to a local yogurt. However, if you put a fresh mango in it, you’ll get a quite bearable lassi (a cocktail of whipped kurd). Most of the time the choice is only between two types of lassi–sweet or salty, try both, but on different days.
In Moscow there are five Jagannaths. The largest is located in the Taganka area, and has even a room for live concerts, which (you will not believe!) can be perfectly combined with dinner. Another big (and the very first) Jagannath is located near Kuznetsky Most.
Prices: affordable, from 400 rubles per person for dinner with dessert and a drink.
Address: Str. Kuznetsky Most, 11 | Verhnyaya Radishchevskaya Street, 9A. | Str. Zemlyanoy Val, 24/30 | 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street, 13 | Str. Maroseyka, 4
Darbars arose as a result of quantum transfer—that’s how a piece of Indian reality somehow teleported to Moscow. Even in small details: massive furniture, chandeliers, ceiling upholstery (certainly, silk). This is not a pastiche. They even managed to bring the right smell. Not just the smell of spices and ingredients, but something like the real air of India—it would smell exactly the same in a restaurant of Delhi, Rishikesh or Varanasi.
If you enjoyed yourself in India, this feeling will immediately come back to you in Darbars. Moreover, in a double portion, because there are two Darbars in Moscow. One is on Pokrovka street and looks just like an Embassy of Indian cuisine at the court of Jonah the Terrible, and the other is on the 16th floor of the Hotel Sputnik on Leninsky Avenue, and has a panoramic view of Moscow, which by the way, only very few people know, so let’s keep the secret.
The dishes available in the two “Darbars” restaurants are different, but the people working there are the same–‘real Hindu people’. Make a reservation there so you can enjoy speaking a bit of Hinglish. ‘Namaste’, ‘hallё sir’ and everything that reminds you of your past or future Indian journey.
Enough words! With the conviction of the authenticity of the ingredients and the knowledge that the food is not heated, but served freshly prepared, I make the offer.
Serving sizes here can be called ‘Indian family size’. If you are not a sumo wrestler or bodybuilder gaining weight, then calmly take one portion for two.
Turning directly to the pillars, here I strongly recommend that you taste the paneer. The Paneer Pacorus is a paneer in a crispy batter, which is quite filling, but I would opt for the chili paneer with sweet vegetables, that is more tender and light. The chile can be made less spicy if you ask. In the restaurant on Pokrovka this dish is really airy, and the calf cheese is browned over an open fire in a tandoor oven. Everything that’s cooked in a tandoor oven is juicy, tender and has delicious smells of smoke. If you see that dish’s name has an adding of “tikka” or “tandoori“, this is it.
The simplest thing you can get from the oven is bread. In the Indian case, nan. Take a piece of cheese nan, it can feed at least two people.
Also here they produce a real kurd. Kefir, yogurt, acidophilus… To hell with that, it’s time for some whipped lassi (try each that is offered on the menu) and rajta. Rajta plays the role of a salad, where fresh vegetables lazily float in the thick of the kurd. Rajta can be sweet and serve as a dessert. It is also good if you tried some super spicy pepper and want to lighten it a bit.
In addition, here you will find authentic Indian sweets, those that are inhumanly sweet, but still delicious. Things like rasmalai. When you eat it, think that it was a treat of the Maharajas, meant to eliminate them from the surfeit of stress. The strength of rasmalai is that you get full satisfaction from just one small piece. The wisdom of the Ages in the sense of measures, teaches the Indian dessert.
Drink masala tea after dessert. I can tell you that the Massalha here is just like in the Delhi’s hotel-museum “Imperial”, not like in Delhi’s trains. A good sign.
Prices: adequate, from 1500 rubles for two (without alcohol). There are discount cards up to 15%.
Address: Leninsky Prospect, 38 | Str. Pokrovka, 2/1, page 1
Nowhere but on the Savvinskaya waterfront are places teetering on the brink of causality with such pathos… So Life of Pi does. It begins with the interior. More specifically, the curved steel staircase leading to the second floor of a huge loft. A cute hostess girl reports on the radio to someone upstairs that you’re coming, so you already feel a bit special. You enter the open space with pleasant multi-colored half-light flickers in a Europop-Hindu-lounge-loft psychedelic style. This is what I call eclecticism, baby! Well done though.
The vanity of stuff imperceptibly melts into the shadows between the tables–the light laid out masterfully, so it effectively separates the tables with big companies from tables with couples, creating a proper intimacy. By the way, this is quite a good place for romantic dates, especially for HLS-couples.
The staff is nice made up of kind and smiling people, and it makes the food taste even better.
The restrooms wonderfully smell with noble spices, without any chlorine, for which I would give a separate praise. Pics with scenes from the Kama Sutra gladden the heart and awaken your appetite.
“Life of Pi” would be a hit of glamour in Delhi. But this is us, Muscovites, who got it–everything, including the present Indian chef Radzhandara Singh.
Radzhandar Singh is the Messiah of Indian cuisine. You will come to him many times to try everything he cooks, and a little bit more.
As an expert, I certify that paneer at this place is not Adygei. Though in Darbarse it may be a little softer, that’s not a bad thing for Life of Pi, they’re just different. Compare yourself, because there’s no friends in taste and color, as we know…
Garlic-cheese nan (bread with cheese and garlic) just made to be a part of your photo gallery on Instagram, that’s how good it looks.
However, their lassi is made from Moscow yogurt rather than from Indian kurd, but at least it goes with a cookie. As the culmination of the meal, I would recommend guava sorbet with curry. You’d be surprised 🙂
The dimensions of the dishes are not ‘family-sized’, but enough for a couple of moderate consumers.
Prices: average bill comes to about 1500 rubles per person without alcohol.
Address: Savvinskaya nab., D. 21A, p. 1
Ganga is not just vegetarian (for pampered customers it’s already not enough), here they prepare food in the old traditions of Vedic cooking, which implies the intention of cooking a meal so that it will not pull you to the ground, but to the opposite, will spread your wings.
“Our chefs cook for you in a state of deep meditation of love and care”, says restaurant’s website. And indeed, while eating I thought that the chef truly loves me. Later, from the conversation of people at the next table I’ve learned that probably he loves everyone.
If you are an extreme adept of HLS or raw-foodist, there are some decent positions in the menu for you.
In general, Ganga’s cuisine contains quite simple dishes that you can normally find in any part of India. This is what both poor families in the valleys of Bihar state, and pilgrims in the Himalayas’s foothills, and respectful Delhi citizens eat. Be it a banker, a peasant or a Bollywood star, all of them contain a bit of rice and sabzhi.
So I decided to go for sabzhi too, which to put it short, is simply a mix of stewed vegetables. Juicy, a little sweet, with small pieces of paneer (though it’s more of an Adighei cheese in that case), covered with a creamy sauce and grains of sesame. Can you feel it?
Such a simple food calms you down, feeds you and cleans up your mind. Afternoon reading goes as smoothly as it can, and all troubles are left thirty minutes back.
I bet if I had fallen asleep right there, no one would have disturbed me. The dining hall consists of separated areas with sofas and tables, that are divided with high walls so that you don’t see or hear your neighbors.
Soft spiritual music works as expected: to disperse anxiety, pacify and (I wouldn’t be surprised) maybe even removes the spoilage.
But don’t worry, I didn’t calm down enough to forget the main purpose of my visit, which was samsa.
Probably the best patties in the city. Low calorized, made with the tiniest and softest dough. Far from what you normally get in Moscow. Here 99% of the patty falls on stuffing. Try one with the mango stuffing or poppy. Polish it with a hot ginger drink. A spicy thing won’t let the sweet taste to become too mawkish. A perfect balance.
Ah, and yet, luckily lassi here is made from real kurd, so you can also go for it with no doubts.
The place is fit for a casual and not expensive lunch and snacking during the day. You can also take away.
Prices: moderate, business lunch starts from 300 rubles, the usual order–from 500 rubles.
Address: Str. Novosuschevsky 26A