Most people in Athens have heard of Pak Indian Restaurant, located at 13 Menandrou Street in downtown Athens. It boasts being Athens' first Indian food restaurant. I had never been there until Saturday and have decided to put my thoughts up as a review for you, my readers.
About a year ago I went to another Indian restaurant, Iskandar and the food was good except none of it was spicy and it was way too expensive. To make Indian food that has everything right except the spice and price is like making a Greek salad, leaving out the feta and charging EUR 15 for it. Still, the place is beautiful and the service very good. The staff were great to me, and I don't think it's because I can speak their language.
So I thought I'd try Pak Indian too and see where my quest for authentic Indian food in Athens led me. A few doors away I was buying mangoes and asked the guy if Pak Indian was any good. "Yes it is," he said "because I own it!"
As I approached the establishment, I noticed a sign on the door that said chicken curry EUR 3, chicken biryani EUR 2. Bonus! I was schooled in the Home Country and this sign was written in Home Country, kind of like when you go to a Chinese restaurant with a Chinese friend, they always bring out a special menu that the likes of you would never otherwise have the chance of seeing.
Z2 was with me and we took a table. We ordered vegetable pakora (bhaji), chicken korma, chicken biryani, channa dal (yellow pea curry) and two Lahori paratha which is a type of flat bread. I spoke to the waiter and ordered in Home Country, asking for the food to be properly spiced the way we eat it. Hooray! I thought. All those years of Home Country schooling are finally coming in use for something - reading the discount menu!
The pakoras were pretty good even though they were quite a stingy amount, only four in a portion. Still, they tasted almost as good as what I make at home, ahem, so the meal looked to be starting well.
And then it all went downhill. Next up was the chicken biryani. Biryani is a rice dish that is supposed to be made by layering raw rice with a spicy mixture of either meat or vegetables, sometimes with raisins or apricots, and drizzled with saffron infused milk before cooking to give biryani its distinct half yellow half white rice. The combination is then steamed over a low heat to cook the rice. As it cooks all the ingredients mingle. Eating a good biryani is like unwrapping a present where each layer contains a surprise. I've eaten biryani in the best places for it, including the Indian city of Hyderabad which specialises in this type or rice, and of course my own mother's biryani which is outstanding because that's the city she comes from.
What a biryani should never, ever be is a plate of oily rice dyed - DYED - with yellow food colouring, piled on top of what I knew was just a bit of chicken curry dished out of the cooking pot and microwaved with the rice. Okay, it was still the best biryani I have had in Athens, but for the reputation that Pak Indian has as the best Indian food in Athens, I have to tell you guys, you are being cheated. This was a cut-corner biryani. It shouldn't even have been allowed to call itself biryani.
Next came the channa dal, a curry made with split yellow peas that look a bit similar to fava. Lucky for us channa dal is a dish that needs to be slowly cooked so there was no quick fix way to flog us a fake version. What we ate had been cooked for hours and it tasted that way. The channa dal was delicious eaten with the Lahori paratha. Not nearly as spicy as I would have liked, but still pretty good.
After this brief hiatus came the chicken korma. Chicken korma is a creamy chicken curry cooked with yoghurt and coconut milk. It normally has a pale, golden colour imparted by searing the chicken and frying the onions until they turn brown.
What I was served - oh God it pains me to even talk about it - looked like someone drank a mango milkshake, swallowed some chicken and vomited it onto a plate. It was the ugliest chicken korma I have ever seen. No flecks of spices in the jaundiced sauces which were coloured again with food colouring, not even a sprinkling or fresh coriander leaves. And it tasted appalling. What was it? I wanted to throw it across the room in disgust. I wanted to shout "Take this aborted foetus of a curry away from me and give it a decent burial!"
The meal was over and we waited for the bill. Oh well, I thought, at least we will get the special price on account of me being from the Home Country. But we DID NOT. For the two of us, the above menu, a bottle of water and 3 beers the bill was EUR 50. I laughed, No way, I thought. So I called the waiter back and said that on the door you have curries for EUR 3 and chicken biryani for EUR 2, why are you charging me EUR 10 for the biryani and EUR 9 for the *shudder* korma?
"That's a different type" he lied. "Much less elaborate curry and biryani."
I might have forgiven Pak Indian for the pseudo-biryani. I might even have forgiven them for the vomit-on-a-plate korma and the one solitary Bollywood track playing in a loop. But what I could not and will not forgive is the thieving way they charged me the outsiders' prices because I looked like I could afford them.
They betrayed me, one of their own, their own compatriot who after all these years kept alive the skill to read a language from right to left in the hopes of some perks, some discount, the instant calling card that says We are the Same.
If you were a Greek in a foreign country and you went to a Greek restaurant with a special Greeks Only menu, you would be charged the Fellow Greek price even if you looked like a millionaire. Heck, even I would get the discount simply for being an Asian girl who can read Greek. That's the way it's supposed to work, Pak Indian, do you hear?
The whole meal I was consolling Z2 that at least we'll get the discount price because of me. I have seldom felt so ashamed to be in the presence of my own Home Countriers and be treated this way. Thank God I didn't take my father there and dash his ideal of Home Countriers sticking together and taking care of each other in foreign lands.
Pak Indian, I wish I worked for a newspaper so this review could be made public. Your food was crap, your prices are shameful but most of all, I am never again going to part with a single one of my pennies for you because you committed the worst sin there is - you betrayed me, your own fellow country person and charged her non-compatriot prices.
Shame on you! Readers, whatever you may have heard from Pak Indian, you are being cheated of your money for painfully sub-standard Indian food. Take it from me who was raised on this cuisine and have eaten in many good Indian restaurants - Pak Indian is rubbish and if that's the best they can do and make people believe it's the best Indian food in Athens, then I should open my own restaurant and wipe the floor with them.