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Eating Out:Love me tandoor!

Dusty Miller

Yet another (unscheduled) power cut at home.

We were scheduled to be off from 4am until 2pm — just 10 hours out of 24, every day for the foreseeable future , very reasonable, who could argue with that?
But we didn’t go off in the morning. Not that it was any bonus, because I’d planned to be out until lunch and work at home in the afternoon when we were supposedly guaranteed that we will have Zesa! (Famous last words!)
At 2.10pm, ten minutes after it was supposed to be back on, the electricity clicked off. My “deep-throat” at the piss-poor power utility blamed “challenges at Hwange”, when I demanded how the hell were we supposed to work like this? He assured me power would be back by 6pm.
I got home at 7:27pm, to total darkness, so did a “U” turn in the general direction of Newlands for some hot food on a freezing night. Sod’s law: Zesa came on at 7:30pm precisely! By which time I was well on my way to Sitar and a warming “Ruby Murray” (rather dated rhyming slang for curry, giving away my age!)
I can’t make up my mind if I prefer the new Sitar Restaurant, about 700 metres away from the old (formerly much loved) one.
The original Indian restaurant flourished for 30 years in what is now, sadly, an increasingly shabby looking, by-passed for whatever reason, Newlands Shopping Centre. Getting in and out of the place was a constant battle with street kids or even more menacing street adults, offering to guard cars for a pecuniary consideration (tacitly threatening to do something unpleasant and costly to it if palms weren’t crossed with South African silver or American greenbacks.)
At night, the “old” Sitar had considerable charm; in daylight, even its most loyal adherents would admit it was beginning to look on the tatty side of neglect.
You turn away from the shopping complex into Cecil Rhodes Drive, where the “new “ Sitar is, at No 2, owner Kiran Patel’s Bollywood-style extended family home. It’s totally secure in a large manicured garden…and there are no pesky panhandling street people!
A couple of days earlier, I’d heard at the Restaurateurs’ Association lunch that old Mrs Patel (Kiran’s mother) had sadly died on a trip to India last year. She cooked there until fairly recently and was often seen at lunchtimes.
Young, ever-smiling lady chefette, Dhina Megan (Zimbabwean of Indian descent; yet another successful former Meikles Hotel/ Professor Mike Farrell trainee) was initially meeting, greeting, seating and cooking! Kiran looked in later.
The restaurant was pleasantly warm and discreetly lit with middle of the road standards (non-plinky-plonky sub-continental) Occidental music played at an agreeable level. A large, crispy pappadum (free) was soon delivered along with a fragrantly colourful array of dips, including hauntingly flavoursome coriander chutney. Which is the king (or queen!) of culinary herbs: coriander or mint?
Dinha’s back from an extended culinary and gastronomic tour of Italy, where she and friends visited all the provinces and most of the tourist centres. They didn’t like the snow!
I gave her a rough budget for this impromptu meal; said I wasn’t ravenously hungry, wanted warmth, spice and colour rather than macho ring-stinging heat and to cook anything but beef.(Although third-generation Zimbabwean Hindus, the Patels have always served beef dishes.)
After more than half a century of fairly regularly eating Indian food (almost living on it as a penniless student…when it was really cheap!), I’m finally picking up an odd word of the lingo: “murg”, for instance, is chicken and “aloo” spuds! (But, paradoxically, “vindaloo’s” nothing to do with potatoes!)
Starter was a rather meaty chicken kebab. (Three separate smallish bits of tender chicken breast, pressed onto a skewer for cooking in a tandoor, but served off it.) Redolent of coriander in the cooking and dipped in coriander chutney, they were pleasant but not jaw-droppingly so. I thought they’d make a good component in a platter of mixed starters for a group. This is a new item on the menu and, I think, costs US$3.
(I hope the following prices are kosher. They were based on a fairly recent previous visit. I’d handed my receipts in for reimbursement before beginning this story, as I was about to go on longish leave and urgently needed the loot!)
Starters are from US$1 to US$4; rice US$1 or US$2; breads US$1 to US$3 and vegetable dishes (many Indians are vegetarians or vegans) US$7-US$14. Chicken dishes are all US$9 or US$10, except chicken biryani, (which includes saffron-flavoured rice) at US$12; fish and seafood US$11-US$19.
I thoroughly enjoyed meat thali: a large silver platter containing individual helping sized dishes of lean mutton and rich butter chicken curries, dahl (lentils: very good for you and nice eating), raita (cooling natural yoghurt), two rotis (Indian flatbreads), another poppadum and plain white boiled rice, which I didn’t think would be enough to absorb liquids in the curries. (It was, but how much nicer if “saffron” — read turmeric! — rice with a nice rich yellow hue was served?)
Indian puddings, although delightful, can be tooth-achingly sweet. I usually go for a “western” style sharp, tangy, fresh fruit salad and vanilla ice-cream at US$3, but on this occasion went for gulab jamun (deep-fried dough balls soaked in rosewater syrup.)
Chatting to Dhina, she confirmed the Jaipur (ex-Sunrise Sports Club, latterly next to Avondale Police Station) had closed but their Grantiteside takeaway was thriving. The South Indian food joint (aka Purple Dragonfly) in Cork road has also shut. Tandoor, now at Sunrise, re-opened after immigration raided the place and put the chefs back on a plane to the sub-Continent! Delhi Palace, Greystone Park, has reportedly re-opened and slashed prices. (They needed to!)
At Sitar, starters and pre-starters, main course, pudding and three or four lagers (well, the food was spicy and fairly hot!) cost US$29. Dusty Miller’s rating was 3,75 stars as of July 2012.
Sitar, 2, Cecil Rhodes Drive, Newlands. Tel 746215/746368.Clo-sed Tuesdays, otherwise lunch and supper daily.
l dustym@zimind.co.zw

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