By Markku Sario
For a taste of something different, you must try Namaste India, at Calle Larga 8-81 y Benigno Malo. The entrance is very modest, with typical Cuencano small café signage out front, but the inside is a delightful surprise. A short hallway opens up into a modern dining area with a dozen or so tables, and a TV showing continuous Bollywood dance clips (thankfully at low volume).
The service here was excellent and unobtrusive. Our waitress, Chinnu, was a very warm, accommodating and pleasant woman. Her English was excellent, with an Indian accent. She had been a registered ICU nurse in India. Her etiquette was learned some place better than in the U.S. She called my wife “Mum,” an unexpected and classy touch.
But the food . . . ah, the food. It was excellent! The chef, Abin Plamooti, received his culinary training in Southern India, and cooked Indian cuisine in Singapore for three years before coming to Cuenca. He has been here about 18 months. The cuisine at Namaste is generally traditional southern Indian, modified as necessary to take advantage of local ingredients and spices. There is an extensive menu, much of it vegetarian, featuring chard, cardamom, canela, cloves and coconut milk. They offer all dishes with either no hot spices, low, medium or hot spicy. We had our food “medium spicy”, and HOLY MOTHER OF GOD that was a delicious and entirely sufficient amount of heat. I imagine that “hot spicy” would corrode the silverware. They don’t mess around!
We started with an appetizer, Cauliflower Manchurian. This was actually a Chinese dish, batter fried cauliflower with chopped onions, garlic, ginger, green chili fish with soy sauce. The flavor was strong but very tasty, typical of many appetizers that would be good with beer.
My wife and I love lamb dishes, so I ordered the “Lamb Postho,” lamb cooked in cashew gravy with spices, finished with a cream sauce. Jackie had the “Lamb Nihari,” lamb cooked in a cashew nut and spinach puree, finished with cream sauce. We also shared an order of Karali Paratha, a bread similar to naan, but shredded into bite-sized pieces for dipping; and Green Pea Pulao, rice with — you guessed it — green peas. The lamb pieces were very tender and non-fatty, each order arriving in a bowl swimming in sauce, to spoon over the rice. Both were very, very tasty. The rice was perfectly-cooked (my wife is from Japan and an expert on such things) and buttery. The peas were a good pairing with the rice, adding a bit of color to the dish.
We also had a bottle of Vina Maipo cabernet sauvignon, a satisfactory table wine.
For dessert, we were served a small dish of carrot halvah, an unusual but delicious combination.
Let me interject that all the servings were very generous. We took enough leftovers home to feed us another meal the next day.
The meal was somewhat expensive for Cuenca but not unreasonable. The cost of dinner for four of us was about $50, not including the wine.
Namaste India, Calle Larga 8-81 y Benigno Malo.
Markku Sario, a retired attorney from Oregon, has resided with his wife Jackie in Cuenca for two years. He admits he has had no formal culinary training, but is a decent cook and claims over 70 years of actual eating experience