When it comes to curry, my standards are pretty high.
Having grown up living next door to a Sikh family of Indian descent, the smell of curry cooking would waft into our house, and we would escape next door for food whenever we could. It tends to be one of the first things I eat when on a visit to the UK, a country whose national dish is Chicken Tikka Masala, a kind of culinary colonisation direct from the Commonwealth.
I can whip up a pretty mean curry myself, but I’m no chef and often crave something that goes beyond my cooking prowess. So the quest began to find a real curry in Argentina; I’m not talking a pub-grub (though very tasty) Bangalore version, but the real deal. And not the kind where copious amounts of curry powder are thrown onto any old dish. No, no, my friends! A real curry is made using a variety of spices to give the dish nuanced layers of flavour – cumin, garam masala, coriander, tumeric, chilli, garlic, ginger…
I heard of a new place in San Telmo, but was left disappointed – a decent casserole it was, a curry it was not. It was the kind of place where they bring you a pot of chilli sauce if you want it hotter, adding one-dimensional heat where a spicy flavour should be. A curry crime, as the owners of Mumbai rightly know.
Manoj Menghani could be considered the godfather of Indian food in Argentina, having been in the country for the best part of three decades, and opened Buenos Aires’ first Indian restaurant nearly 20 years ago. This has now closed, but not before Manoj opened Mumbai, in the heart of Palermo Hollywood, some four years ago. I had heard good things about Mumbai, but was sceptical due to continued disappointment, and went along expecting to criticise. I came away pleasantly surprised.
As soon as you enter you are transported out of trendy Palermo to somewhere altogether more exotic. Beautiful, colourful fabrics and wooden tables with intricate carvings set the tone. The decor seems straight out of the Orient, and as it turns out, most of it is, having been shipped in from India over the years.
Refreshing fresh orange, lemon and ginger cocktails appeared. They were wonderful – if a little too drinkable – and the perfect contrast to what I was hoping would be a spicy experience. Chef Istayaz Mohd, also imported from India, did not disappoint.
We started with a selection on a platter: chapatis and various dips, served with pieces of chicken, lamb, and king prawns cooked in a variety of spices, garlic, ginger and yoghurt. My first bite was like taking a stroll down curry memory lane. This was the real deal.
We followed the starters with Gosht Saagwala, the restaurant’s flagship dish of lamb with spinach, which brought my palate to life: the lamb was perfectly tender and the subtle tones of cardamom and coriander were carried throughout the entire dish. Highly recommended. The classic Chicken Tikka Masala also impressed, as did the Navratan Korma, a mixture of curried vegetables served with Mumbai’s own homemade cheese and yoghurt, all accompanied by basmati rice and garlic naan.
My mouth was left tingling, but not on fire, although Manoj had accommodated the heat for our Argentine photographer. However, when ordering you can request the dishes to different spice levels, and we were assured that “hot means Indian hot, not Argentine hot”.
I noticed there was a group from India on the next table, who seemed very happy with their food, a good indication of how authentic it is. Manoj also confirmed that staff from the Indian embassy regularly visit too.
We finished with a platter of different desserts, of which Ras Malai and Gulab Jamun, two different variants on the same dish – little spongy balls made with a milk-based dough, one with cardamom, the other fried and served with syrup – were my favourites. And the classic pistachio ice cream, a real treat for those after something sweet.
I think my quest may be over, and as long as your wallet can take it, I recommend going now, during winter and enjoying the heat to the max.