Six months ago, there were over 100 Indian restaurants of varying quality in Pattaya. Many of them never looked busy and the majority have now bitten the dust. Some say temporarily because of the coronavirus pandemic and the Thai ban on international tourism. Some say permanently for all sorts of reasons we can’t talk about here. Time will show.
Amid all the drama, the oldest and most successful Indian eatery in town dates back to 1984. The interior decor always was, and still is, colorful and impressive, reminding customers old and new of the original Alibaba cave five hundred years ago when a poor woodcutter from the Arabian Nights gained entrance to a rich treasure trove by speaking the magic words Open Sesame.
Access to the Pattaya Alibaba today is by clambering up a flight of steep stairs and not via a huge stone obligingly moving sideways on command. But the steps are bordered with look-alike jewelry and medieval paintings which make a little breathlessness worth the effort. Indeed, Alibaba is likely one of the very few outlets in the resort which have been busy long-term in spite of having mandatory stairs. Another one might be Pattaya police station.
Of course, it’s the food that matters. The menu at Alibaba is as varied and comprehensive as any Indian restaurant you’d find in the sub-continent, or even in the USA or UK. Many of the choices are unique in Pattaya such as the starter poppadum masala which comprises three crispy poppadums weighed down with semi-spicy diced onions and served with a choice of tangy in-house sauces. Not to mention the near-endless choice of Indian dishes with a knowledgeable manager and staff on hand to brief you as necessary. The idea that all curries are the same except for the heat is a palpable nonsense at this restaurant.
Anyway, it’s a myth that Indian food is always spicy. It seldom is. It was the Portuguese who introduced the fiery chili to India and not the other way round. The British ruled much of India for 200 years and encouraged the early Indian immigrants round the dock areas in London and Liverpool to heat things up. To this day, the hottest curries in the world are to be found in the UK. One of the most famous is Manchester’s “barbed wire special” which is reportedly free – provided, of course, you can eat an overwhelming plateful in under ten minutes. Very nearly, but not quite, impossible. And HP sauce not necessary.
Nothing like that at Alibaba which is renowned for the subtle taste of dozens of spices and recipes. A special point is that the staff and chefs here understand the difference between vegetarian and vegan options which is important as a rising percentage of diners prefer non-meat and non-seafood treats.
To take a simple example: There are six different menu choices of the pulse-vegetable dahl which can be thick or runny, brown or black, hot or bland. And we nearly forgot. There’s a 30 percent discount on all bills across the board. As former Bangkok Post columnist Bernard Trink would say, “Best to mosey on over.” He was an Alibaba regular.