By Kevin Cain
It has been quite some time since Pattaya Trader visited our good friends at Alibaba and when they invited us to go along to their iconic Indian restaurant on Central Pattaya Road it was an offer we could not refuse. As going to Alibaba’s is like visiting your favourite uncle, everything is reassuringly the same as the last time you visited. The decor welcomes you as you settle back into your favourite chair and peruse the familiar menu, everything is as it should be and as the proprietor, Grover imparted to us: “Why change a winning recipe ?”
Alibaba’s is one of the oldest restaurants in Pattaya since it opened its doors in 1979 and the current owner’s mother was responsible for establishing what is undoubtedly the finest Indian restaurant in Pattaya where all the dishes are still made to her first recipes from almost forty years ago. Alibaba has even been enjoying healthy trade during the past few low season months - but what is the secret to their success ? They do not market themselves to any particular group, in fact during our lunchtime visit, Expats, Indians, and Koreans were all tucking into to some sublime food, whilst being waited on hand and foot by liveried waiters. “The customer is not King here, he is God!” our host was keen to explain.
Many new “Indian” restaurants in Pattaya fail because they are not authentic, they use off the shelf spice mixtures and follow no particular region’s recipes. Our host was keen to explain that the dishes on the Alibaba menu are still made in accordance with how they were when first conceived back in India.
It was at this point our drinks arrived which were homemade yoghurt Lassis and they were perfectly made, not too sweet. Then a selection of dishes were ordered from our host as he continued to explain the origins of certain dishes in relation to where they came from. For instance, the southern state of Goa utilises coconut milk liberally and Bengal is popular for its fish dishes. Just as our culinary tour was in full flight, a waiter appeared and our table was festooned with an array of highly attractive dishes - the permeating aroma emanating from each and every one bringing saliva to our mouths in anticipation.
Butter Chicken, Lamb Rogan Josh, Prawn Korma, Tandoori Chicken and Chicken Jalfrezi were accompanied by Aloo Kulcha, Garlic Naan, Flat Bread, Paratha, Pilau Rice and an Aloo Gobi.The Aloo Kulcha was a delight and is an Amritsari masterpiece. What was a big surprise was the Prawn Korma, not at all sickly-sweet but cooked exactly as the Moguls used to, the sauce being almost green in colour with a slight tart edge to it. However, the highlight of all was the Lamb Rogan Josh as this Kashmiri dish was served on the bone which imparted a depth to the flavour of the complex sauce, whilst the meat simply fell off the bone as it was cooked so perfectly.
So really there is no secret to Alibaba’s roaring success- it operates as any good restaurant should by keeping to the correct principles. First and foremost the customer is the number one priority, closely followed by the serving of consistently good authentic food, cooked by Indian chefs. And last but by no means least, every dish is composed of top notch produce some of which is directly imported from India. Upon leaving the famous Pattaya Indian Institution, there was a sense of being comfortably full but not to excess, the food indulged upon was quality and not padded out with ladles of boiled rice.
It is reassuring to know that the favourite uncle is still dispensing the same culinary enjoyment as it always has over the past forty years -long may it continue to do so ! .