7 decades on, Bangkok's Royal India remains a big draw
Deccan Chronicle.| Lekha Shankar
Oldest Indian restaurant in the capital has survived Covid and is hot among upmarket tourists
Owner of the Royal India restaurant Somkid Sirikumarkul, aka Ramakant Mehra at the restaurant in Bangkok. (Photo By Arrangement)
One has lost count of the number of small-, medium- and large-size Indian takeaway restaurants that have sprung up in Bangkok after the Covid pandemic. That’s why the strong, unrivalled presence of the oldest Indian eatery in the city, the Royal India Restaurant, is a matter of admiration and great pride.
"My father started a small sweet shop in front of the gurdwara at Pahurat, the Indian quarter of Bangkok, 70 years back," said
Somkid Sirikumarkul,aka Ramakant Mehra, about his enterprising father Om Prakash, who was originally from Sialkot, near Lahore,Pakistan. During Partition, he was one of the many who left the country and moved to Bangkok.
"Everyone in Pahurat knows my father’s name," said Somkid about his entrepreneur father who started a small 30-seater eatery, the Royal India Restaurant, next to the sweet shop, in 1967. It was the first Indian restaurant in the city.
The modest restaurant retains its loyal clientele even today, as this writer saw during a visit there recently. It was fascinating to see the largely Thai clientele not only relishing the rotis, biryanis and thalis, but also wearing Indian clothes, and soaking in the totally Indian experience.
It’s not a wonder that the Bangkok governor has named Pahurat the ‘Little India of Bangkok’.
"Our food is homey and our prices low," explained Somkid, when asked the secret of the continued popularity of their modest Pahurat restaurant. He informed that his mother personally supervised the kitchen even today, monitoring the freshness of the ingredients and the hygiene,especially after Covid.
He admitted that pandemic was a bad time for them as the restaurant was shut for two years. He had to close down not only the Pahurat eatery, but also the larger branch of the Royal India Restaurant that he had started in 2005 on the ground floor of the upmarket Siam Paragon Mall.
This restaurant is completely handled by Somkid. He’s grateful to the Siam Paragon Mall for not selling off their restaurant space to other numerous bidders who were keen to rent the prime ground floor location during Covid.
"They kept the space for us, as they had seen the crowds flocking to it," he said.
Thanks to the tourists flocking back to Bangkok post-pandemic, most especially Indians, the Royal India Restaurant in the Siam Paragon Mall, has now become the family’s flagship restaurant. After all, it’s the only Indian restaurant in the large mall. He’s proud that it attracts not only large groups of Indian tourists who shop at the popular mall, but also tourists from Europe,America and the Middle East. The biryanis and halal food are popular with the latter.
The restaurant’s colourful design and décor, including the large mural of Goddess Annapurna, was created by Thanet, and emanated from his architecture background. He did a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering, at NIT, Nagpur, followed by a master’s in the US.
The restaurateur spoke with pride about the many celebrities who have visited his establishment. They include royalty ("no names to be mentioned"), sports stars and, of course, Bollywood actors.
Arbaaz Khan stayed in the glitzy Siam Kempinski Hotel, next door to the Siam Paragon Mall, but had all his meals at the Royal India Restaurant!
"He said our naans are better than those in Mumbai!" exclaimed Somkid with pride.
Anupam Kher is another Indian celebrity who enjoyed the food of the restaurant.
The Royal India Restaurant in Siam Paragon has an extensive menu comprising kababs, parathas, rices and curries, with unique dishes such as saag meat, achari chicken and so on. Which is why it is a one-stop joint for Indian food lovers.
Another small branch of the restaurant is located in the food court of the glitzy Em Quarter Mall, another favourite of upmarket Indian tourists. Somkid manages this outlet, too.
He is not fazed by the large presence of Indian restaurants in the city."We are the oldest Indian restaurant the city, but after seven decades, we are proud that our brand exists on a level of its own," he said.