Good Indian restaurants have colonized virtually every major city in the world. Wherever you go, be it Toronto, New York or Sydney, you’ll find trays of tandoori, chicken tikka and a framed picture of the Taj Mahal in eateries with such confident names as Jaipur Jewel or Taj Palace.
And you keep going back to them because the allure of Indian food is as timeless as the country itself. But until Arun Pal opened his India Gourmet near the 93 Park, there were few options for an authentic Indian meal in this city. In fact, you just waited it out, for that next trip stateside. But those days are over now, thanks to Arun and his kitchen.
A very long road to Bogotá
Born in Kolkata during the 1950s, Arun has come along way to being a successful restaurateur and caterer. In fact, it took him tens of thousands of miles riding a bike when he departed his native India in 1972 to catch a glimpse of the Munich Olympics. Peddling his way across Iran, the foothills of Anatolia, the plains of Greece and much of Central Europe, Arun, did make it to Munich and despite suffering an accident in the Bavarian capital, he was determined to see more of the world. After passing through the Nordic states and into France, this “Man of Steel” as he was known to his colleagues at the Durgapur iron factory in Bengal, arrived in London.
And, of course, where else would Arun get his formal training as a cook of Indian food if not at India House restaurant in London?. But the Americas – especially South America – seemed to fulfill Arun’s destiny, and he first arrived in Bogotá in 1974 on his way cycling to Peru.
During his brief stay in the Colombian capital he met his wife Maristella Forero whose own vocation took her to Kolkata to work alongside Mother Teresa. Today, only in his fifties, Arun takes pride that he is the “oldest Indian living in Colombia” and that India Gourmet has become a defacto consulate for Indians residing in the city or passing through in search of a taste from home. An article in a recent travel guide referred to Pal’s restaurant “as the best” of Indian in the Andes.
Introducing India to the Andes
The menu at India Gourmet is typically Indian, but with several regional dishes from Bengal. Customers have a choice when it comes to the level of “hotness” they want in their food, such as the house favorite Tamarind Mutton, Shrimp Masala or the assortment of Biryani (rice) on offer.
The venue is intimate and décor-wise a tapestry of tablecloths and hanging cloth elephants. In one of the corners a flat screen streams videos of Bollywood with superstar Sharuk Khan dancing in the Alps, on the George Washington Bridge or a Mumbai promenade. All this enhances the dining experience at Arun’s India Gourmet.
Start your meal with samosas and a plate of fried papadams. The cheese-filled paneer is also best accompanied by Pal’s lemon and mango pickle – another business venture, which he personally oversees from a farm in Guamo, Tolima.
Besides the curries and many vegetarian dishes in his restaurant, India Gourmet caters wedding receptions and events, which involve the Indian Embassy in Colombia. For Mother’s Day, Pal organizes a special event at the Museo Chicó, which brings together an Indian dance group as well as a Colombian musical group. For the chef these events are part of a greater mission to promote his country in another country he has called home for more than thirty years. “I feel it is my duty to show something of India,” claims Arun. “I do this from the heart.”
Arun is not alone when it comes to India Gourmet – his daughter Zeenat is present at all times making sure the family business runs smoothly. Aldemar, the headwaiter, is attentive and, as much of India Gourmet’s reputation has come from “word of mouth,” knows customers on a first name basis.
Last (but far from least) is India Gourmet’s sweet list. Order a dish of Rasmali, curd balls with cardamom, or the Bengali take on buñelos – Rasgullah. There is also homemade Kulfi (ice cream) and plenty of chai and lassi to quench one’s thirst. But then again, great Indian and cold beer are a perfect match. And I’m not talking cricket. But rather cooking, which Arun does “from the heart.”
Carrera 19B No.92-52