Zhin Qing Buk Kake Far East Dictionary: "Gan bei: informal, often derogatory, common meaning 'for you who don't know better'".
If you're into Asian food, you've probably already been to Gan bei, Thali or both. And, like me, chances are that you were quite disappointed. These restaurants have for me always been very pointless, and so I've thought that it would be equally pointless to review them. But just like with Čili Pica, they're so damn popular, for reasons beyond my comprehension and imagination. Therefore I feel that it's my duty as the Guardian of Good Taste to once again sound the alarm.
”so bland it's downright offensive”
Gan bei/Thali is the type of sterile, impersonal restaurant chain where I suspect that half of Riga's 19-year-olds have worked at some point. I get the same factory-like feeling I get at Čili Pica. Loud club/lounge music, TV's on every available space on the walls, and staff pacing back and forth like drones.
So, naturally, you'd expect that the food looks and tastes like it's been produced by machines, right? And yes it does, very much so. Every dish is presented on the plate in the exact same way - with sliced cucumber, tomatoes and a totally confusing orange slice. It's like they're served straight off the assembly line, with some bored process technician making sure that every plate looks exactly the same. But before I start up the chainsaw and let the mutilation commence, let me tell you about the good dish. Yes, the one good dish. The spicy, crispy chicken is actually pretty neat. Of course, it's not particularly spicy, but it's crispy and juicy and has really good flavor. However, this is the only dish I will ever order in the future. Because now we move on to all the other dishes I've had...
”like licking a pokémon”
The chicken in ”piquant” (what does that even mean??) red smoke sauce with chili is so bland it's downright offensive. Easily one of the most pointless dishes I've ever had in an Asian restaurant. But just as I thought that this dish was Gan bei's low-water mark, along came the chicken in Thai peanut sauce with chili. Seriously, Gan bei... is this a joke!? Not only is the chili marking in the menu nothing but a cruel joke, the food had no taste whatsoever. This dish is air with texture! Luckily the Singapore style crispy pork in tomato and honey sauce packed more flavor, but lacked all balance and was just waaaaay too sweet... Two bites in, it was like licking a Pokémon. So, apart from the aforementioned spicy, crispy chicken, stay away from the wok dishes. You could instead go for the sushi, which at least is decent, although you probably won't write amorous poems about it.
Okay, maybe Gan bei has taken enough beating now. Moving on to Thali: being a sister restaurant, it's exactly the same as Gan bei, the difference being that Thali focuses on Indian style food. And just like with Gan bei, Thali's food isn't bad from a technical perspective. It's well prepared, the meat is often tender, the presentation a little bit better than at Gan bei, but... the food is just so damn dull. Thali serves Indian food for people who don't like Indian food.
”you start wondering it this is a modern restaurant or if it's ryanair”
Although this is putting words in their mouths, I feel sorry for the chefs at these restaurants. Judging by their appearance, many of them seem to be from the region around India, and not for a second do I believe that they cook the same bland food at home. To me it's obvious that they have been forced to Latvianize their cooking when at work. Just look at the head chef at Himalaju. He used to work for Gan bei, but ventured out on his own and now cooks what he wants to cook, and just see the kind of great food that man is blessing Riga with now.
To summarize, I just don't see the point of these two restaurants. They are not good enough to be go-to places, they are not fast enough to be fast food, and they are too noisy to offer a pleasant stay. Also, discovering that you've been charged extra for the slice of lemon in your drink (at a restaurant which is hugely overpriced as it is), you start wondering if this is a modern restaurant or if it's Ryanair. This kind of badwill might eventually prove more costly than a lemon.