Spice of Life: Tianjin's Indian Restaurants

Spice of Life: Tianjin's Indian Restaurants
By Mike Cormack , eChinacities.com

Indian restaurants in Tianjin remain something of a niche attraction. For those with a hunger for genuine Indian cuisine, it can be hard to find. Only two somewhat under-appreciated restaurants serve a city of ten million people. Cooking Indian food at home isn’t much easier, with only the generic “curry” flavourings available, even in Western import shops. (Of course you can buy the individual spices like turmeric or coriander, but for your fair-to-middling chef this might be more trouble than it’s worth, especially when you can buy cheap tasty Chinese dishes so easily!). As a result, these two restaurants are to be savoured, just like their curries.

Ali Baba 阿里巴巴印度餐厅酒吧

Ali Baba (not to be confused with the ex-pat bar on Tong An Dao, Heping district) is located on the second floor of the Olympic Stadium complex at Weijin Nan Lu. The interior feels like a traditional Indian restaurant, with soft drapes and the familiar rectangular tables of the West. The atmosphere is plush, warm and welcoming: Indian music plays on the TV and a pleasant aroma greets you as you enter. The menu is bilingual, though of course the English words refer to the Indian dishes. If you are not familiar with chats, daals and bhunas, you might be at a disadvantage. However, the Indian staff is very helpful and will explain the dishes to you, and can also make them more or less spicy to suit your preferences. When I dined there once in a group of ten, the waiter let us club together for the meal but order our drinks separately. Most Chinese restaurants would find an insurmountable complication.

The food is very good, coming out rapidly and in a logical order. The range of drinks was not substantial however, with a limited selection of beers and Chinese wines only. That said, there were nice fruit juices on offer for those avoiding alcohol.

Ali Baba also has hookahs, which for a non-smoker like myself are rather fun to try. Apple and strawberry tobaccos are on sale, both of which are very mild and quite tasty. Prices are reasonable for the quality on offer – expect to pay about 100-150 RMB per person. It isn’t generally too busy, so getting a table is unlikely to be a problem.

阿里巴巴印度餐厅酒吧View In Map
Add: 2F, Sports Hotel, 90 Weijin Nan Lu, Nankai District, Tianjin
地址: 天津南开区卫津南路90号体育中心宾馆2楼 
Tel: 022 2391 6368
Hours: 12:00 -22:00

Bawarchi 芭瓦琪印度餐厅

Bawarchi is located in the business complex of Shanggu, on Tianta Road, near the TV Tower. It can be found on the third floor, at the back of the West building, and although it might take a little exploring to find, it is undoubtedly worth it. The interior is less plush than Ali Baba, with white walls and wooden chairs, but what really hits is the aroma. It’s zesty, rich and complex, exemplifying the difference between Indian spices and Chinese chillies. Bawarchi is rather busier than Ali Baba, perhaps because Shanggu is home to many other bars and restaurants.

The range of food is similar, both selling kormas, bhunas, madras’, and bhaltis, cooked with lamb, beef, chicken or king prawns, along with other specific dishes. The food in Bawarchi just has the edge over Ali Baba because similar to the aroma, the spices are richer and more invigorating. The staff is equally prompt and eager to help, and the drinks range extends to beer, wine and soft drinks. Unlike Ali Baba however, there are no hookahs! Expect to pay around 120-150 RMB per person.

Bawarchi 芭瓦琪印度餐厅View In Map
Add: No. 69, Building B, West Section of Shanggu Commercial Street, Tianta Lu, Nankai District, Tianjin
地址: 天津南开区天塔路上谷商业街西区B座3楼69号铺
Tel: 022 2341 2786
Hours: 14:00 -22:00

While Tianjin may be lacking when it comes to Indian food, the quality of the food and service in Bawarchi and Ali Baba more than compensate. Treat yourself to the spice of life.

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