Pooja: My Favorite Indian Restaurant in Paris
I don’t know what I love more about this place – the faux al fresco dining on the patch of Astroturf or the laughing waiters.
Wait. I’m forgetting the most important thing, aren’t I?
Pooja has a full menu –specializing in northern Indian cuisine, where the owner’s from– but I come here for the dal. For the dal and the naan and the Moe, Larry and Curly of sauces — a hot-sweet curry pickle, a mint chutney that’s so spicy that it’ll make your nose run, and a tamarind chutney that’s perfectly sweet, just as it should be. Like Tex-Mex restaurants back home, where the merits of a particular place can be judged by the bite of that first tortilla chip into the salsa, Indian restaurants, likewise, must have great chutneys and naan – or I’m moving on.
I could eat this stuff all day — and have, actually. When I was travelling through northern India a few years ago, I couldn’t get enough of this seemingly plain Jane staple. Sure, I ate the regional specialties Tandoori chicken, biryani, murgh tikka (Chicken Tikka), and murgh makbani (Butter Chicken), too, but I always came back to the dal.
For two weeks, I ate my way from Delhi to Rishiskesh and back, and never wanted to leave. I loved it all. The monkeys in the trees in the forest leading up to the Himalayas. The tinny music, blaring from taxis driving too fast around the man-powered tuk-tuks. The rickety train ride where tea was served in tin cups. The saffron-colored robes of the monks at the ashram that I visited on the banks of the Ganges, where I practiced yoga on the cold concrete floor. The smell of incense, everywhere. The generosity of the people.
This is what I remember when I take that first bite of naan and dal.
So you see, I’m a bit sentimental.
Pooja is one of a handful of Indian restaurants in Passage Brady, which is like a miniature Indian mall — with lots of restaurants; individual grocers selling hot chiles, okra, and fresh tamarind; hair salons and barber shops; and little stores selling everything from Darjeeling tea and garam masala to colorful plastic boxes to organize your kitchen (I bought eight). It’s not exactly like stepping off the plane in Delhi — I’ve yet to see a cow walking among the cars in the busy streets here — but it’s the closest thing that we’ve got in Paris.
After trying a few Indian restaurants near Barbes-Rochechouart a few years ago – and not being terribly satisfied with any of them (but admittedly, I tend to like the northern Indian cuisine better than the southern), X and I went to Passage Brady, and ended up at Pooja. Now, we don’t want to go anywhere else. (Sentimental and predictable, I guess.) Pooja offers a lunch deal for about 12 euros, every day of the week, but I usually end up there at dinner, and order a la carte. Lately, I’ve been ordering the dal with spinach and sampling whatever X orders, too. The Butter Chicken is marvelous. The Tandoori Lamb is spicy, but not so overwhelming that you can’t taste the tender lamb. Sometimes we get the fried veggies (Mix Pakora) or samosas for appetizers, and I like them just fine, but I’d rather just eat more of that puffy, hot bread from the tandoor oven — without La Vache Qui Rit stuffed inside, s’il vous plait. Isn’t that the craziest thing?
Love to hear more about where y’all love to eat Indian – in Paris and otherwise.
91 Passage Brady
Metro: Chateau d’Eau