Nestled in a quiet corner of East Cambridge near the Lechmere station lies Royal Punjab (RP), an unassuming place that, judging from the seemingly mile-long buffet right inside the door, is quite the hopping lunch establishment. The ambiance was at first a bit jarring, as our subconscious had to acclimatize to a distracting, Indian-language CSI-type TV show blasting loudly in the background. The artwork was simultaneously blasé and disturbing, consisting mainly of poorly strewn Christmas lights and some sort of man-camel optical illusion (‽).
Once we settled in we noticed that the waitstaff, all Indian, seemed somewhat…annoyed?…that we were there. This was consistent with the fact that at exactly 10 p.m. the staff abruptly shut off the TV and turned the lights up in the style of a dank inner-city nightclub. Furthermore, upon careful inspection it became clear that everything, including the silverware, glasses, and even the table itself, was impeccably, impossibly clean. This would normally be a good thing, but everything was so amazingly spotless that it suggested that we very well might have been the first customers ever to cross the threshold. If so, what was the purpose of the buffet? “Is this a mafia front?” we thought. “What’s going on here?” Anyway, regardless of any inexperience that might result from never having waited on a single guest in their lives, the RP waitstaff were exceptionally professional. One of them even reminded us of the hunchback assistant Igor from Young Frankenstein, who was, after all, one of the most loyal servants in all of modern cinema.
We began with naan, which was apparently on the “secret menu,” thus requiring us to guess what types might be available. Chat expertly divined “peshawary,” which arrived in a very, very clean, gilded basket…? Its quality was not befitting of its conveyance, as it was a tad doughy. Things improved dramatically from this point, however: the veggie pakora appetizer ($4) had impressively uniform fryitude, and while the matter was so fried as to leave essentially no veggie on the interior, it was nonetheless (or consequently?) quite good. The papad ($3) was nicely salted, and was even spicy! It was not quite crispy enough, but had a fantastic flavor. As for the mains, the kashmiri goat Madras ($14) was excellent, sporting tender meat. And the aloo gobhi ($11)…oh, the aloo gobhi…it was the spiciest ever! So much so that Yogi was literally left speechless, and experienced such intense face and extremity vibration that it was not only unclear—but irrelevant—whether the food actually tasted like anything. Rounding out the meal (and counteracting the spice!) were a nicely crystallized kulfi bengali ($3), and a mango lassi ($3) with the highest viscosity we have ever experienced, holding up an entire straw with only ~2 inches of its length submerged!
In keeping with the arc of Young Frankenstein, despite an inauspicious beginning and an abrupt end, the overall experience at RP was outstanding, warranting a four-samosa (▲▲▲▲) rating at eminently reasonable two-rupee (₨ ₨) rates. Next time you’re at RP, make sure faithful Igor gives you a hefty dose of your meds. While this may lead to a mood of stoic grimness, it will ensure long life and vitality (Chopan & Littenburg 2017, PLoS One)!
Impression: Yogi Nearing Nervous-system Shutdown. Artist credit: C. Hull