By Sylvan Hardy
Long-time expats might remember the old Bapu Restaurant on Calle Larga, a couple doors west of today’s Sunrise Café. Before closing its doors in 2010, it offered some of the best food –and the only Indian food– in Cuenca.
Bapu returned in 2016 and has proven to be as good as ever. Located on Calle Larga just east Benigno Malo, Bapu caters primarily to a young crowd of foreign backpackers and Ecuadorians and a handful of expats, attracted not only by its quality but for its low prices.
Bapu has an extensive menu that includes many Indian standards, such as curries, as well as dishes that reflect the Punjabi background of chef and owner Joginder Singh, who was the cook at the old Bapu.
Most chicken and carne dishes are priced from $7 to $8.50 and include pollo masala, pollo vindaloo, polla kashimir, pollo curry, carne korma, carne aloo curry, and carne chili.
All main courses come with a choice of nan or rice. The menu also includes a variety of side orders including shawarmas, paneer tikka, and pollo somosas and pakodas.
The nan is excellent, by the way, and comes in a variety of flavors including basic, garlic, cheese, onion and mixto.
Among the vegetarian main courses are vegetales madras, aloo gobi, mutter saag, curry pakoda, and vegetales korma, all for $5.50.
A dining suggestion: Come with friends and order a variety of dishes to share, as well as plenty of nan and rice.
Although the food at Bapu is plenty good, the the story of Chef Singh may be even more remarkable. He arrived in Ecuador in 1995 intending to continue on the U.S., but after he was ripped off by a “coyote” who promised safe passage north, he never left. “He took my $40,000, which was my life savings at the time, and I never saw him again,” says Singh. “I knew then that I had to go to work immediately,” he added.
After selling food on the sidewalk in Quito for several months, Singh was invited to start one of the city’s first Indian restaurants, Taj Mahal. Because of the restaurant’s success, he was recruited by a Cuenca businessman to open Bapu on Calle Larga in 2006. Bapu thrived but when the owner, who also owned several internet cafes in Cuenca, sold all his businesses in 2010, Singh decided to move on. He operated a restaurant in nearby Azogues for five years before returning to Calle Larga in 2016. “They weren’t too interested in Indian food in Azogues, and I ended up serving a lot of salchipapas,” says. “I was glad to come back to Cuenca where peoples’ tastes are a little more sophisticated.”
Singh suffered a life-changing accident in Azogues when a car ran over his foot, requiring amputation. If you want to give your compliments to the chef at Bapu, your waitress will show you to the kitchen where Singh prepares all meals from a wheelchair.
A major caution: The ambience at Bapu leaves something to be desired and is what locals call “muy rustico.” If you want more upscale digs, Namaste India, across Calle Larga from Bapu, might be more suitable but the food’s not as good.
Bapu has a full bar and the Pilsner grandes are cheap.
If you’re looking for fast food, Singh’s daughter runs the restaurant next door called, appropriately enough, Fast Food. It offers sandwiches, burgers and swharmas as well as local favorites.
Bapu India, Calle Larga 9-34 at Benigno Malo; Tel. 098 407 7879; Hours: Noon to 10 p.m., seven days a week; Facebook
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