Try Authentic Pakistani Food at Bombay Palace in Waikīkī

New Waikīkī restaurant combines Indian and authentic Pakistani dishes.
The spicy tandoori chicken wings are one of the most popular dishes at Bombay Palace.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox


Mediterranean, Indian, even Ethiopian. We’ve got restaurants for that.


But Pakistani?


Until last week, I had no idea what Pakistani food entails. I couldn’t even name a single dish in this cuisine.


So when we were invited to sample Pakistani dishes at Bombay Palace in the Discovery Bay Center in Waikīkī, my interest was immediately piqued.


The casual, 2,000-square-foot restaurant opened in November in the space that occupied Monsoon India, run by Pakistan-born Imran Khan. He worked at Monsoon India for nearly 10 years, first as a kitchen helper, then cook, then restaurant manager. (He moved to Hawai‘i on a quest to travel the world. And, like many travelers, fell in love with the Islands and stayed far longer than he had originally anticipated.)


Bombay Palace’s menu offers an array of kebabs, Northern Indian halal dishes, coconut curries and vegetarian options. Here and there, you can find authentic Pakistani dishes including chicken malai (cream) and shrimp dhaniya (coriander), all adapted from Khan’s family recipes.


chicken malai is a traditional Pakistani dish. This version is served with onions and bell peppers on a sizzling platter.


I shouldn’t have been surprised—though I admittedly was—to learn how similar Pakistani and Indian food is, since the two countries were once one. The split—or partition, as it’s called in history books—of the Indian subcontinent happened in 1947, when Britain dismantled its Indian empire, creating the sovereign state of the Dominion of Pakistan (which was later split into Pakistan and Bangladesh). Since the split, India and Pakistan have been arch rivals.


But, interestingly enough, they still share foods in common.


“The religion and language are different, but the food is pretty much the same,” Khan says.


Much of Pakistani cuisine resembles North Indian cuisine, with some Southeast Asian touches. Like with every global cuisine, the dishes vary greatly from region to region. You’ll find papadums—thin, crispy crackers made from lentils or chickpeas—tandoori chicken and mint-and-tamarind chutney. Khan says one of the main differences between Pakistani and Indian food is this: Pakistanis loves meat, Indians tend to be vegetarians. So at Bombay Palace, you’ll get a mix of both meaty dishes—like lamb shish kabab—and vegetarian plates—like sookhi sabzi, mixed seasonal vegetables cooked in a tomato-based sauce with light spices.


Our meal started with papadums ($2.95) made from lentils. These crispy discs—which resemble hard taco shells—are accompanied by two dipping sauces: a delightful mint-and-cilantro number and a thin tamarind sauce. It’s the Indian version of the bread course.


Next, we sampled two of the restaurant’s naans: keema naan ($7.95) and the garlic-cheese naan ($5.95). The keema naan is delivered warm and stuffed with flavorful ground lamb that got only better with a dollop of the mint-and-cilantro sauce. The second naan is stuffed with cheddar cheese—Pakistani?—and makes a great utensil to sop up the gravies and sauces from the other dishes.


The juicy, spicy tandoori chicken wings ($9.95) pack some heat but make for a tasty pūpū with a glass of lassi (a yogurt drink flavored with mango or rose).


Our first foray into Pakistani cuisine came with the chicken malai kabab ($18.95). The chunks of chicken breast are marinated in cream to make them tender, cooked in a clay oven and served on a sizzling platter with onions and green peppers. The spices—cardamom, garlic, pepper—are very mild, making this an easy and familiar dish to eat with a bowl of rice pilaf.


Next, we were served the shrimp dhaniya special ($21.95), another Pakistani specialty. The dish is composed of shrimp cooked with fresh cilantro—a very common ingredient in this cuisine—and other spices. The sauce is lighter and oilier than I had expected but still restrained and simple.


The shrimp dhaniya is another Pakistani specialty. The dish is composed of shrimp cooked with fresh cilantro and other spices.


Bombay Palace serves palak paneer, a popular vegetarian Indian dish featuring puréed spinach and cheese.


The house specialty is the lamb rogan josh, a dish of tender pieces of lamb cooked in a creamy, yogurt-based sauce.


I loved the palak paneer ($15.95), a popular vegetarian Indian dish consisting of puréed spinach and paneer cheese seasoned with garlic and other spices in a gooey spread that only tastes sinful. This is my idea of Indian comfort food.


Another highlight was the lamb rogan josh ($18.95), a dish of tender pieces of lamb cooked in a creamy, yogurt-based sauce with a secret blend of spices concocted by head chef Kenny Khan, who has more than 25 years of experience cooking Indian and Pakistani foods. This over a bowl of rice pulao ($5.95) and I’m good to go.


Though the dishes are a bit pricey compared to other Indian restaurant—and we suspect this is because you’re dining in Waikīkī—you won’t find this medley of flavors anywhere else. And with four hours of parking validation for just $1, it’s not a bad deal at all.


Discovery Bay Center, 1178 Ala Moana Blvd. Lunch, 11:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. daily. 941-5111,