The NYC Indian Restaurant at the End of the Universe

BY Robert Lamb / POSTED June 13, 2011

Prior to my recent visit to the World Science Festival, I had only heard whispers of the mysterious Panna II Garden Indian Restaurant in New York’s East Village. Now I have experienced it for myself and must dedicate my remaining years to deciphering what I witnessed.

The rumors told of twin Indian restaurants, their doors opposed atop a flight of stairs. Intensifying the strange duality of this spectacle, word also had it that highly aggressive barkers from each restaurant worked the sidewalk, fighting like hyenas over each passing potential customer.

As for the inside of the restaurant, well, the photo speaks for itself.

The mere thought of this place had forced me to write a horror story the year before, so for better or worse this was the first culinary destination of the trip. Imagine our surprise to find not only the two opposing Indian restaurants, but a second pair of Indian restaurants occupying the dungeonous lower floors of the building as well. This has led to several quasi-scientific theories as to what these restaurants really are:

Theory 1: Urban Monsters and Aggressive Mimicry
We’d been told to choose only the restaurant on the right, thus stirring the possibility that the opposing establishment was in fact some manner of enormous, wormlike creature that had nested itself in the adjacent space to devour some of Panna II’s business. In the natural world, we call this aggressive mimicry, by which a predator or parasite gains an advantage through its resemblance to a third party. In this case, the monster resembles the bustling Indian restaurant opposite it and even takes a page from the anglerfish playbook — only instead of using a worm-like organ on the end of an appendage, the tongue issuing from the monster’s door-shaped maw takes the form of a pushy barker. It’s also reminiscent of the alligator snapping turtle and its worm-ended lure tongue. And yes, the loud music inside covers the screams of half-digested customers.

Theory 2: A family of Parasitic Monsters
Where once there were two Indian restaurants, now there are four. Might the street-level eateries be the offspring of the original pair’s unimaginable coupling? Perhaps, but then how did I make it out alive? And why did they switch the music to disco “Happy Birthday” every 15 minutes and give a random person a cake? (Seriously, it was nobody’s birthday in there.) Perhaps their relationship with the customers is more symbiotic. In eating here, we gained an decent meal in a strange environment. Perhaps the restaurant itself dined on our dead skin cells or even tapped our veins with a thirsty tentacle or two.

Theory 3: Parallel Universe
Let’s forget about monsters now. Perhaps my dinner party had wandered into a nexus of worlds,  a corner of the multiverse featuring four versions of the same restaurant from alternate realities. In the one we visited, sure, birthdays occur at random and chili pepper lights are the only form of artificial luminescence. But the other restaurants? Perhaps those represent universes where animals evolved with six digits, Vedic India had nuclear weapons or Carrot Top is considered a national treasure. But why would parallel universes converge? As I explore in this little HowStuffWorks article, some string theorists not only speculate that parallel universes exist, but that they can come into contact with one another.

Theory 3: I’m crazy
Despite the fact that I entered the restaurant with my lovely wife and the graphic artist duo of Teetering Bulb, I have to consider the possibility that it was all in my mind. Especially the random birthday thing. Yes, this would be yet another delusional misidentification syndrome, only instead of seeing a doppelganger of myself or a loved one, it would be a location’s mysterious double. This is called reduplicative paramnesia or Fregoli syndrome for environment. The memory ailment, as described here, was originally described in 1903 when patients maintained they were in both a correct and an incorrect location simultaneously.  I’d say that describes the ambiance of Panna II rather nicely.

So there you have it! You can find the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast on iTunes, Zune and the RSS feed. And don’t forget the free HowStuffWorks App!

Top Photo, interior, by Bonnie J. Heath photography.

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