Dinner At MiniWok
South East Asian restaurants in Pune are few and far between, and the few that do exist aren’t really South East Asian. By that rather dispiriting measure, MiniWok is a welcome addition to the list.
Nestled in between a couple of non-descript shops in Model Colony, MiniWok is easy to miss. The owner, while giving us directions to the place, described it as a hole-in-the-wall, and that is an accurate description. Speaking of directions, it lies bang opposite Eden Court, and is one shop away from the venerable Sweety Stores.
It isn’t very large at all, and can seat not more than 16 people on four tables at any given point of time. But the ambience, or the lack of it, isn’t really the point here. The point is that it serves pretty good food at about-reasonable rates, and what’s more, serves some dishes that would otherwise be pretty hard to find in Pune.
The menu has got the tried and tested favourites that have become more or less mandatory listings where Chinese restaurants are concerned. Hot and Sour Soup takes its rightful place, along with Triple Schezwan and American Chopsuey.
But the really interesting parts of the menu reflect dishes that we hadn’t come across before in Pune. Pho is available on the menu, as is Bulgogi. We didn’t try either of these dishes this time around, but both will certainly be on the agenda when we return.
What we did try is what I have come to look upon as the acid test of a restaurant that claims to serve South East Asian cooking: Tom Yum. Seemingly simple to make and devilishly difficult to actualize, Tom Yum has been the downfall of many a restaurant outside Thailand. And while this one wasn’t an out-and-out failure, it certainly was nowhere close to authentic. It was missing the punch of the galangal, and the subtlety of the lemongrass, and it was a tad too salty. Not bad as it went, but it wasn’t Tom Yum.
The wife, on the other hand, was fairly happy with her Chicken Clear Soup, which was light and brimming with vegetables. I don’t know about you, but I tend to like my soups hearty and full of vim and vigour, while Boshu tends to go for the light and delicate flavours. To each her own, I suppose. But for the beginning of winter, it was certainly the soup du jour, and I ended up wishing I had ordered it instead of the Tom Yum.
There was a reason we had chosen this restaurant over China Gate today evening: Son-in-law Eggs. Apparently a much-revered delicacy in Thai cuisine, Khai Luuk Khuey or son-in-law eggs looked quite tasty when shown on Masterchef some weeks ago. And now that they are available on a menu in Pune – well, gotta try! And so we did, and boy were we glad about out choice. Light, sour, spicy and fragrant, the dish was an outright winner. There was a hint of sweetness in the background, as there often tends to be with Thai dishes, and the crunchy peanuts provided a nice contrasting texture to the otherwise smooth feel of the dish. Very nice indeed. Pricey, perhaps, at 175 bucks a pop, but I’d recommend trying it out once at least.
On to the main course then, and our choices were at once outlandish and conventional. We ordered the Triple Schezwan, which was as good, or as conventional, as one could hope for. A little spicy, with the obvious red colouring that masquerades as Schezwan cuisine in India, and with a very generous helping of noodles and rice, the dish is exactly what it is supposed to be. An Indian rendition of a dish that no self-respecting Chinese will want to claim as his own. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t taste bad at all. As far as Indian Chinese goes, it was right on the money. But it is Indian Chinese.
The other dish that we ordered was the undoubted star of the show. Khowsuey is a hearty noodle dish with a coconut gravy and literally a dozen accompaniments served on the side. Its supposed to be a soup, really, more than a noodle dish with gravy, and I’d much rather have it out of a bowl than a dish – but the taste was to die for. Thick, hearty, nutritious and bursting with flavour, it was khowsuey at its very best. And the supporting cast of burnt garlic, fried onions, fresh chillies, boiled eggs, chopped coriander and lemon wedges were just what the doctor ordered. In short, if there is one dish that you must have at MiniWok, make it this one. Simply whatay!
Now, in theory, we were far too stuffed to have anything else, but since when has that stopped me? We decided to have desert and the owner recommended Tub Tim Krob, or water chestnuts marinated in rose water,and served with coconut milk. Super light and super tasty, we managed to polish off the entire dish without too much trouble. So tasty, in fact, that I secretly toyed with the idea of ordering another round. But wiser council prevailed and we stopped there.
Our bill came to around a grand, which I suppose would be par for the course for two people. It isn’t cheap by any means, and given the rather rudimentary ambience, some might consider it unreasonably expensive. But as far as I am concerned, the taste, the quality of the produce and the sheer lack of alternatives in terms of cuisine, make it a place worth going to again and again.
At any rate, we certainly intend to do so.