Curry Palace - Indian and Bangladeshi Restaurant
Family-style restaurant brings authentic Indian and Bangladeshi food to Letna
It's not easy to find tasty, authentic Indian dishes for reasonable prices in Prague, and I was curious to see if Curry Palace lived up its reputation and my own expectations. On the afternoon that I visited Curry Palace, the outside temperatures of 25C+ made me wonder whether I could handle the added heat of spicy Indian food. However, once seated in the front room of the cozy, family-style restaurant, I cooled down, paradoxically, by sipping by a steaming mug of Indian tea. While the wait staff cleaned after a 35-person lunch party, I chatted with Ajher Kabir, the restaurant's young, friendly owner.
Better known by his Bangladeshi nickname Babu, which means “precious one,” Kabir came to Prague six years ago when a friend from Bengali, who was studying at Charles University, told him that Prague was a place he should see. Babu's friend moved on, but he stayed. Babu worked a series of different jobs during those initial years, but, by 2012 he had developed a business plan for a neighborhood restaurant. He wanted to serve home style Indian and Bangladeshi food using fresh, authentic ingredients. Letna, with its proximity to the center and its blend of Czech and foreign residents, seemed like an ideal location to make his vision a reality.
From the beginning, Babu wanted his customers to feel as at home in his restaurant as he himself does in Prague. Although there isn't a large Indian or Bangladeshi community in the Czech Republic, Babu told me that he has never felt lonely in Prague. Having learned Czech in order to pass a proficiency exam for his permanent residency, Babu has a wide circle of friends of many different nationalities. During our conversation, Babu spoke Czech with a customer, Bengali with his wait staff and English with me. While we conversed, he ordered a sampling from his menu for me to taste.
When I asked Babu where his recipes come from, he told me that most of them are passed down through his family. Although he never had aspirations of being a chef himself, he has always known how to cook. Curry Palace serves Indian and Bangladeshi food, and Babu went back to his own ethnic roots when he selected his chefs. Babu's two chefs are men whom he'd known from Bangladesh who were originally working at different restaurants in Prague. Together, Babu and his staff give Curry Palace a personal touch that Babu believes is essential to his restaurant's success.
After two years in business, Babu has developed a regular customer base, about 75% Czech and 25% foreigners. The restaurant has a thriving Facebook page where customers post food reviews, share photos from meals in the restaurant and make reservations. I saw one customer had posted a picture of a smiling Babu carrying a tray of food out of the restaurant – the customer's caption read, “Feeding the locals, thank you Curry Palace.” Curry Palace does about one-third of its business with take-outs or deliveries.
I asked Babu how his Czech customers like the traditional Indian spices. In the beginning, he said, his customers who were foreigners were more familiar with the spices and names of the traditional Indian dishes. They ordered based on prior knowledge, while his Czech customers ordered based on taste. He told me that he sold a lot of Butter Chicken, which is a traditional Indian dish of grilled chicken served in a velvety, non-spicy tomato sauce. Now his Czech regulars are starting to branch out and to experiment with spices. Lamb Rezela (medium hot and spicy) is a favorite dish as well as Chicken Tikka Masala and Chicken Jalfrasie (Extra hot!!!). Of course, the Butter Chicken dish is still popular.
Czechs like lamb dishes, and they are crazy about okra, Babu told me. A special okra side dish called Bhindi Bhajee is a top-seller on his menu. Otherwise known as “ladyfingers,” okra is the Indian national vegetable. Babu says his restaurant uses on average 150 pieces per week. The spiced okra is roasted with onion, ginger, tomatoes and herbs for Bhindi Bhajee. Since they get their Indian vegetables and spices from England, they are occasionally sold out before their next delivery. Surprisingly, in a nation famous for its beer, Babu's customers also like the Indian beer Cobra, drinking about 50 bottles per week. The sweet, non-alcoholic Mango Lassi drink is also quite popular.
Curry Palace is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. From Thursday to Saturday, Curry Palace is filled at dinner time and regular customers have gotten used to calling or using Facebook to reserve tables in advance. Although lunch isn’t as busy, Babu says that office parties like the one on the day of my visit are common. Curry Palace also provides catering, take-out and delivery service to Prague and its vicinity. Their regular lunch menu costs 140 CZK. It changes each day, but always includes dall soup and a choice of chicken, beef, shrimp or vegetarian dish.
Although delivery service sounds appealing, I'm a customer who enjoys the atmosphere of eating Indian food in a place that looks authentic. Curry Palace has traditional Bangladeshi decor, deep red-painted walls, framed Bangladeshi woven tapestries, carved elephants above the bar and a stuffed leopard near the host station. There is a party room for private events and a children's corner for families. The atmosphere is relaxed, and I could imagine bringing my family back for a meal here.
My food is brought to me by Russell, a native of India with 19 years of experience in the restaurant service industry in Prague. There is Chicken Madras, Dall Tarka, pulao rice and garlic nan. The portions are generous, and it is enough food to feed me both lunch and dinner. When I tell Babu this, he smiles. “Take your time; eat slowly,” he instructs. He brings me a glass of mango juice and leaves me to eat. The Chicken Madras is just spicy enough for the mango juice to be refreshing, and the Dall Tarka, a slightly spicy sauce of orange lentils, is a perfect complement. I eat slowly, pause and eat again. Still, I have leftovers. Russell packs up the food and tells me to take it home to my husband and my children.
Although Curry Palace has built its reputation on servicing a faithful group of neighborhood customers, they've also had some notable guests. Karel Schwarzenberg, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, has eaten here. Whether or not his customers are famous, Babu tells me that the most important thing he'd like for them to take away from their experience at Curry Palace is the hospitality. “How people like it; that's how we can make it.” Babu tells me.
“If you were to visit Bangladesh, you would receive outstanding hospitality from the Indian people,” he says. Luckily, you don't have to go to Bangladesh to feel genuine Indian hospitality – you can visit Currry Palace in Letna instead.
Curry Palace Prague www.currypalace.cz
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