As dinner time approached on Monday, the prospect of heading to Zaika became less and less appealing. After a relaxing National Day holiday weekend, I was exhausted from laying on a beach, in the way we all need just one more day after a holiday to sweat out those extra five beers you didn’t need or to recover from the beating the sun gave your pale Irish skin.
Nevertheless, I made my way to Hanoi’s newest Indian restaurant, with tiredness quickly overtaken by a maddening hunger, having eaten only a sandwich all day.
Instead I ate with a former colleague, who due to an ongoing legal case (never trust a man who says the crossbow he’s selling you is ‘harmless’) can only be referred to as B.I.G. I arrived and upon entering the sparkling clean restaurant was immediately taken aback by the length of the room. Gritting my teeth I prepared for a long walk through the twilight zone to our table.
I took my seat opposite B.IG and saw the menu was a single piece of A4 paper, satisfaction that my hunger would soon be salved filling me from head to sand-encrusted toe. The small menu meant I was able to quickly settle on samosas and chicken biryani, with the waiter explaining that Zaika opened a mere two days before my visit, so a menu expansion is on the cards soon.
After B.I.G explained the nuances of installing trigger safety devices on medieval weaponry, food began arriving, spirited in by enthusiastic and charming, yet somewhat overbearing waiters. While my samosa’s filling was delightful, the thick batter combined with rapid beer consumption slowed me down, threatening to grind the evening to a halt with me passing out face first on the table.
I was fading fast, visions of Hanoi’s rats feasting on my red skin as I lay in an alley overtook me. Sustenance was my only hope of making it through the night.
Biryani to the Rescue
Just as I was about to slip into my recurring nightmare about Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump’s lovechild, my biryani arrived. The aromatic and fresh smell brought me back to reality, with a sense everything was going to be okay.
My senses were right. The subtle spices combined with the mountain of rice and juicy chicken to create an elixir for my lethargy, an elixir I shovelled down my throat. I felt like I could do anything, climb a mountain, rescue a cat from a tree, or march off to war.
If one of the most popular stories about biryani’s origins is to be believed, I could have indeed borrowed B.I.G’s crossbow.
Legend has it that in the 1600s the Mughal (an empire in the Indian sub-continent) emperor Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal saw some of her husband’s soldiers looked malnourished. She ordered chefs to prepare a dish combining meat and rice to keep the warriors going, and biryani was born. The emperor later built a grand final resting place for his wife, the Taj Mahal.
Like the Taj Mahal and Rome, no successful restaurant is built in a day. Luckily Zaika has a firm foundation with solid, nourishing and tasty food, and has a bright future in Hanoi.
As for me, my present had been saved by biryani’s restorative qualities, and B.I.G will soon surely be saved by the top Vietnamese legal minds he has preparing his defence.
Zaika, the Empress and Biryani
Peter is a Northern Irishman who washed up in Hanoi, discovered he couldn't teach and hasn't looked back since. He enjoys long walks through rice paddies and is still learning how to dress himself properly.
Zaika Dining Lounge and Bar
Indian restaurant and bar
Hanoi's newest Indian restaurant brings North Indian cuisine to the Old Quarter.
13 Hang Dieu, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi