Samui Wining & Dining
THE THINKING MAN’S INDAIN
Noori India doesn’t just make super food; it’s where to go for an entertaining conversation, too

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Let’s just think about this . . . you go out to eat. You choose your restaurant and take your place. You order what you want. You relax. You eat and drink. You spend a pleasant hour chatting to your partner. Then you leave. You’ve enjoyed the food and the laid-back conversation. The ambiance has been pleasant. The service has been good and the cost a nice surprise. All of this is quite normal. It encapsulates the typical, quality-dining experience that’s to be found just about everywhere. But, excellent though it is, there’s something missing. The personal touch.

          

To be fair, this doesn’t really figure so much on the list of items in the dining equation. And, unless you’re a member of some kind of private dining club back home, you probably won’t be looking for it. But here at Wining & Dining we get to meet all sorts. Some we just interview, make notes, then write a story. However, there’s one restaurant that’s been here for a very long time. We’ve all got to know the part-owner and manager. And we’ve watched him in action, at work, mingling with his customers. He’s got the personal touch – and more. He’s gently friendly, openly pleasant and genuinely interested in people, in his unobtrusive way. Plus he’s thoughtful, witty and often extremely funny. His name is DD Pande. And his restaurant is Noori India.

          

DD is not your run-of-the-mill restaurant manager. He was brought up in an academic atmosphere in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, and subsequently went on to gain a Master’s degree in Ancient History and Religion. But he’s also realistic and down-to-earth. Thus, over the course of time, also added further qualifications in hotel management and marketing. And before coming to Samui, not only lectured at the University of Jaipur and became a published author, but also worked in the hospitality industry, setting-up and managing hotels and conventions. The story of his exodus to Samui is a saga in its own right, and too wordy to be outlined here. But suffice it to say he came here temporarily to help his brother. And, as with so many others, ended up staying.

          

Although the name of Noori has been around on Samui for well over a decade, it’s actually passed through several incarnations prior to that which you’ll see today. Today there are three restaurants bearing this name: there’s one in southern Chaweng next to Chaweng Cove, and another in the Central Festival food court. But the longest-running and, some would say, the original Noori, remains in place on Chaweng Beach Road,  Page-52-2in-between McDonald’s and Central Festival. That’s where most of the original and long-serving staff are to be found. And, indeed, where you’ll find DD himself. Often in the morning, he’s taking one of his most-excellent Indian cooking classes, which run from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm. But in the late afternoon, you usually find him here, at the original Noori, gently girding his loins in preparation for the evening session.

 

          

“For many people, even today,” DD observed, “Indian food is simply . . . Indian food. But it’s a big continent and can realistically be split into two. The south is warmer and the staple diet there is rice. But the northern region grows wheat, and this is where the flat cakes of ‘nan’ originate – and there are over 300 different sorts of these. And then there are two smaller regions; the Rajasthan area to the north west, and the ‘Seven Sisters’ area on the opposite side of the country, which includes Bangladesh. Rajasthan is mainly desert and cold for three months of the year, allowing the lengthy preparation of meat dishes. But the Bangladesh region is tropical and borders onto Burma, giving rise to flavours that are similar to our cuisine here in Thailand.”

          

DD paused for a moment and chuckled. “But today it’s all fusion and confusion when it comes to Indian food. Take a favourite dish in England, Chicken Tikka Masala. It’s not a dish from India! After World War 2, there was a big emigration of Indians and Pakistanis to the UK,Page-52-3 and they took their cuisine with them. But Chicken Tikka was too dry for the English. So somehow, it was combined with a curry sauce – masala. And, what about the ‘Balti’? The locals in England didn’t care for chicken cooked on the bone or want to wait for slow cooking. So traditional Pakistani methods became modified, resulting in chopped chicken with the usual sauces, but served fast in the bowl it was cooked in. It’s an evolved immigrant cuisine from the Midlands of England!”

          

Noori has a wide selection of dishes from all over India, including the enigmatic ‘Balti’. But the speciality is the slow-cooking approach that is particular to the Rajasthan region. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that Noori has a reputation for being ‘the Indian’s Indian restaurant’ and why it’s become the first choice for catering for the numerous Indian wedding groups coming to Samui. This, and the fact that unlike some other ‘Indian’ eateries who employ chefs from Burma or Nepal, the chefs at Noori are from the Punjab – something that is immediately obvious to anyone familiar with the cuisine. Noori is able to cater for outside groups of up to 150 people, and has done so on numerous occasions.

          

And for the veggies amongst you, although there are already many vegetarian dishes in Indian cuisine, DD has added a whole new section, in a smart new menu with lots of photos for illustration. Noori is not a big restaurant, although there’s comfortably space for 60 diners. It’s open between the hours of 11.30 am and 11.30 pm – but I’d recommend getting there earlier rather than later. And the reason for this is not on the menu at all, as it’s DD himself. He gets busier later, helping out with orders and in the kitchen. Invite him over. Engage him in some friendly banter. See if you can get him rolling. The meal, you’ll have to pay for. But the little gems of philosophy and wit are free – courtesy of DD Pande at Noori India!

          

 Rob De Wet


 


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