Ciao Milanesa, We’re with Pakora Now: BA’s Gran Dabbang Café
By Rachael Leonie.
It’s not everyday you find an Asian-Indian fusion restaurant in Buenos Aires that’s both delicious and reasonably priced. And yet, smacked center on Scalabrini Ortiz lies The Gran Dabbang; the most delicious thing to happen to Buenos Aires’ ethnic food scene since….well…ever.
Step into the brightly colored café, and escape from the sugared-up, oiled-down Argentine dining world outside. The menu is a one-page, two-columned carta displaying carefully selected dishes, cooked depending on what’s in season and which fresh ingredients have recently reached the restaurant. The décor is simple, with a languid sense of buena onda floating about. As Pip states, “the investment is in the food, so the scenery is casual, but still nice and a bit worldly” –an assuring oath that you’re paying for quality eats, not just plush seats.
Then there’s the food: so colorful with all the sauces dolloped about, containing the maximum amount of flavor you could imagine a liquid could hold. Think curried lentils, pollo tikka (chicken breast prepared with yogurt and spices), and mouth-watering combinations like buffalo mozzarella with eggplant and basil. And then, there are the pakoras de acelga (Indian swiss chard fritters), served with raita (an herbed yogurt condiment) and carrot chutney. I have yet to meet a diner who hasn’t drooled over these.
The couple running the restaurant met on the shores of New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, where both worked in a restaurant. Much like the day-to-day Gran Dabbang roles of the couple today: Mariano cooked, and Pip waitressed along with other odds and ends (cleaning, gardening, washing dishes, etc.). After 3 months working and saving money at the restaurant, the duo took off to travel: first through the New Zealand outback, and then through their desired destination of choice: Southeast Asia.
Mariano found temporary work in each country: cooking in the local restaurants, learning tricks of the trade, and studying the food. Meanwhile, Pip did her own exploring: while Mariano worked, Pip traveled via motorbike to taste her way through each country’s regions. The couple worked their way through Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos; training their taste buds and collecting in-depth knowledge of Asian cuisine.
After a year, the couple moved to England, Pip’s childhood home. But Mariano’s culinary curiosities didn’t stay quelled for long: within a year he was off to India to, once again, work in restaurants and study the country’s cuisine. By the time the duo decided to move south to Mariano’s home country of Argentina, they were more than ready to open their own restaurant.
Within their first month of opening, Gran Dabbang was flocked with curious patrons. By the time of our interview, they had yet to even put a sign above the front door announcing their establishment, and yet customers still waited outside for tables during dinner hour. So what gives? Why is this small, ethnic café so successful? As owner, Mariano, simply puts: “This is the food you want to eat.” And from the restaurant’s heavy hum of licking and chewing during dinner hour; the silence that falls upon each table as their acelga arrives; and the anxious, hungry customers vulturing for a table, I’d say he’s right.