Over the past couple of years the number of South Asian eateries in Taipei has climbed to an all-time high. Sadly, however, the increase in numbers doesn't mean that good Indian or Pakistan fare is readily available. Some of the joints might boast "the real thing" in their adverts, but the reality is often different.
All too often, regular butter is substituted for ghee, naan breads are fried instead of baked and plain white rice is served as a sad surrogate for pulao rice. The bottom line is that there are still only three or four South Asian joints worth visiting in Taipei if you have a hankering for genuine Indian-Pakistan fare.
One place that is worth a visit is the recently opened Aaleja. Top Pakistani chef, NA Choudry's eatery may have been open less than two months, but Taipei's newest Indian-Pakistan restaurant has already staked its claim to a top spot in the very short list of good South Asian eateries.
Tucked away in an alley adjacent to Yanji Street, Aaleja ("King" in English), serves up a good selection of popular and lesser-known dishes from both Pakistan and India. The interior design is minimalist, with a smattering of Asian themes. Seating is comfortable.
The menu is packed with appetizers, side dishes, mutton, chicken, beef, fish and vegetable curries as well as a good selection of biryani and tandoori platters and, of course, plenty of breads. All the meats served are Halal and while alcoholic beverages are not on the menu patrons are free to bring in their favored tipple.
Price-wise, Aaleja is on a par with Taipei's other three leading South Asian diners. On average it will cost diners between NT$800 and NT$1,000 for a slap-up dinner for two, or about NT$400 for one person. A few recommendations for a sumptuous meal at the Aaleja include aloo tikka (NT$130), mutton bhuna (NT$390), chicken zafrani (NT$450), seekh kabab (NT$290), zeera aloo (NT$210), chana masala (NT$260) and mutton pulao (NT$220). The naan bread is good.
Along with the regular menu the joint also serves up a lunch special in which diners can enjoy a set meal of soup, main course, bread, rice and salad, all for NT$195. It's cheap and there's certainly nothing wrong with the fare, but the special probably won't alleviate the hunger pangs of true curry purists.
In addition to the great chow, service at Aaleja is also worth a mention. When this reviewer hit the joint unannounced earlier this week with a ravenous posse of nine the staff didn't balk.
Orders were promptly taken and we were served an exceptional assortment of dishes. And, more importantly, there wasn't one complaint from any member of our party, which did include a couple of rather outspoken and fastidious diners.