Restaurants that don’t know chutney from cheese

When you go to a restaurant that says it is Indian, or Chinese, or Thai, you expect the staff and management to have some knowledge of the cuisine they are selling, but I end up being disappointed by restaurants – in Brazil and in Europe – so often  that I thought I would post a rant.

I was actually kicked out of an Italian restaurant in Spain (Santander) last August. I had complained that the food was terrible and sent back my starter, only to then find that my wife had an inedible starter *and* main course – at least my main course was OK. When we talked to the manager about it, he took great offence when we asked if he – or any of his staff – were Italian. When we asked further about which type of Italian food they were even attempting to cook, the manager got angry and said he was cooking Italian food Spanish-style for the locals.

He then booted us out. We had not eaten much, but had managed to consume a free bottle of wine so it was not a bad deal.

Today I went to an Indian restaurant in São Paulo and it felt the same. I ordered the combo meal in the vegetarian section of the menu, expecting some kind of veggie curry, only to get lettuce leaves with chunks of Minas cheese.

This was more of a fast food Indian restaurant, than a high class place, but I have tried several higher budget places in São Paulo and none of them serve anything that is at all authentic. One place I went to claims how they pride themselves on their Maharashtran cuisine, when everything remotely Indian on the menu looks more like north Indian food – and they even had things like pasta on the menu too.

I know that British restaurants are not perfect either. The bog-standard small-town Indian full of Friday night drinkers is usually run by Bangladeshis with dishes that originated in Birmingham rather than Bombay. But visit London and it is possible to easily find very good and authentic Indian food – especially around Southall (Punjabi, Gujurati) or Harrow (Tamil).

I know restaurants often modify food to suit local palates, but why don’t they offer a blend of the authentic and the modified, rather than trying to pass off nonsense dishes as “authentically Indian.”

I actually feel cheated. I go to a “good” restaurant hoping to learn something from the chef and management, not to find that I know an immeasurable amount more about the food than them.

I sent an email to the restaurant I was just at, asking exactly which part of India serves cheese from Minas Gerais on top of lettuce… if they answer, I’ll post it as a comment here…

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3 responses to “Restaurants that don’t know chutney from cheese

  1. Dear Mark,

    Thank you for writing to us and giving us a chance to explain this idiosyncrasy of serving lettuce with Queijo Minas at our restaurant. We value all comments both positive and negative which helps us serve better our clientele. I am really sorry that I wasn’t there to explain our menu and guide you to choose the right dish.

    Almost all the items on Madhu’s menu was put together from the daily cooking done in my home and in most homes in Kerala. We have also included a few popular items from the other states in South India. Any day if you check with the people who live in Kerala, their food would consist of many dishes which we serve such as cabbage thoran, sambar, avial, vella stew, chicken curry, beef curry etc. Very different from the North, a lot of South Indians do eat beef and it is sold openly in the butcher shops. I grew up in a household where beef, pork, chicken as well as sea food dishes were prepared and served often.

    When we decided to open this restaurant, we wanted to make South Indian food such as dosas, Vella stew, sambar, avial, vada etc to become household names in the same way as sushi, sashimi, tabuli, kebabs are in Brazil.

    One of the main tasks that I had to face was not to change the recipes to suit the Brazilian palette. We wanted the Brazilians to get to know authentic South Indian food. We feel that we have managed to do this.

    We decided to include two types of salad in the menu to accommodate those who do not appreciate food that has many condiments and spices which they are not used to. There would be many families and circles of friends where a few of them would know about Indian food and like it, but would be hesitant to come to our restaurant if there wasn’t be something else for those in the group who want mild and familiar food. To avoid a situation like this and also due the fact the Brazilians are really big on salads, we decided to deviate from the authentic and traditional Indian food and include two salads. So you come across an unauthentic lettuce and Queijo Minas in an authentic South Indian restaurant.

    Pardon me for being long winded. The menu and recipes being my responsibility, I thought an explanation was in order.

    Thanking you and hoping that you would become one of our happy and regular clients,

    Jani

  2. Mark, a base da cozinha é do sul da India, estado de Kerala e uma de minhas sócias, responsável técnica pela comida e que propõe novos pratos além de ter desenvolvido o cardápio em conjunto comigo, é natural de Kerala, de maneira que em quase sua totalidade a comiada é 100% autêntica.

    Para o Brasil fizemos apenas algumas adaptações como a inclusão de mini-saladas como uma das opções em vez dos snacks, pois o brasileiro e o paulistano apreciam a salada como acompanhamento, sendo que 2 das mini-saladas são à base de folhas, como o alface, o que não é comum na India. No entanto as outras duas mini-saladas são bastante comuns na India e que são a Thoran e a Raita.

    Com relação ao queijo minas, utilizamos o mesmo para o malai kofta, que é um snack encontrado na India em diferentes versões, no entanto também neste caso fizemos uma adaptação no que diz respeito ao queijo.

    A outra adaptação que fizemos aqui quando comparamos o sabor dos pratos com o que se come na India foi a questão de tirarmos a pimenta das receitas, deixando a mesma a parte, pois o brasileiro tem muito menos propensão à pimenta que a India.

    Fora isto, a culinária é bastante autêntica e fazemos questão de zelar por isso e pela qualidade da mesma praticando preços acessíveis, e uma prova disso é a grande quantidade de indianos que recebemos no restaurante, quase que diariamente, e com uma taxa bem alta de retorno, fora estrangeiros de outras partes.

    Abraços e à disposição para dúvidas e sugestões,

    Leonardo Menezes
    Sócio-dirigente
    32630130
    Madhu Culinária Indiana
    madhurestaurante.com.br
    facebook.com/madhuculinariaindiana
    twitter.com/madhuculinaria

  3. In a message dated 12/29/2011 5:41:23 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, madhu@madhurestaurante.com.br writes:
    Qual parte da �ndia � a sua comida a partir de? Eu tentei duas vezes
    > agora – nem sequer gosto indian em tudo. Na �ndia, onde serve de
    > alface com queijo minas?
    Dear Mark,

    Thank you for writing to us and giving us a chance to explain this idiosyncrasy of serving lettuce with Queijo Minas at our restaurant. We value all comments both positive and negative which helps us serve better our clientele. I am really sorry that I wasn’t there to explain our menu and guide you to choose the right dish.

    Almost all the items on Madhu’s menu was put together from the daily cooking done in my home and in most homes in Kerala. We have also included a few popular items from the other states in South India. Any day if you check with the people who live in Kerala, their food would consist of many dishes which we serve such as cabbage thoran, sambar, avial, vella stew, chicken curry, beef curry etc. Very different from the North, a lot of South Indians do eat beef and it is sold openly in the butcher shops. I grew up in a household where beef, pork, chicken as well as sea food dishes were prepared and served often.

    When we decided to open this restaurant, we wanted to make South Indian food such as dosas, Vella stew, sambar, avial, vada etc to become household names in the same way as sushi, sashimi, tabuli, kebabs are in Brazil.

    One of the main tasks that I had to face was not to change the recipes to suit the Brazilian palette. We wanted the Brazilians to get to know authentic South Indian food. We feel that we have managed to do this.

    We decided to include two types of salad in the menu to accommodate those who do not appreciate food that has many condiments and spices which they are not used to. There would be many families and circles of friends where a few of them would know about Indian food and like it, but would be hesitant to come to our restaurant if there wasn’t be something else for those in the group who want mild and familiar food. To avoid a situation like this and also due the fact the Brazilians are really big on salads, we decided to deviate from the authentic and traditional Indian food and include two salads. So you come across an unauthentic lettuce and Queijo Minas in an authentic South Indian restaurant.

    Pardon me for being long winded. The menu and recipes being my responsibility, I thought an explanation was in order.

    When you wrote that you tried our food twice, was it because you liked it so you came back or was it because you were giving us a second chance before you wrote us off? I did not understand what you meant in those lines. Can you please explain?

    Thanking you and hoping that you would become one of our happy and regular clients,

    Jani

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