Monday, 1 August 2016

Idli-ng Away At An Indian Kitchen In Bangsar

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 01 August 2016

I was one of many who skipped the balik kampung exodus during Raya — wisely, as it turned out.

But where to go?

A couple of friends of a friend, Sam and Wendy, volunteered the Idli Only Café in Bangsar. Having recently binged on a series of YouTube cooking videos by a Hyderabadi chef, I was intrigued. And can a café only sell idli to get by?

Not really.

At the Idli Only Café and Indian Kitchen, you'll find much more
than steamed rice cakes.

Turns out the Idli Only Café shares the same space as a restaurant called the Indian Kitchen. Once inside, however, there's no distinction, other than the two sets of menus patrons get when they take a seat.

The idli is a little steamed cake made of fermented black gram and rice; the fermentation, according to online sources, breaks down the starches and makes them easier for the body to process. Idlis look a little like putu piring, sans filling.

Idlis are traditionally eaten in South Indian households for breakfast, though that's not a firm rule. They lack a distinct taste, so they must be eaten with chutneys, sambars, stews or the like.

Sam, who's become a fitness freak after spending a year transforming herself, is naturally wary of carb-heavy meals. She also proclaimed that she's not a fan of idlis.

The marvellous butter podi idlis: good on
their own, even better with chutneys.

Nevertheless, she came along because she'd spied this place while out to lunch at another place and decided to try it.

We had a tough time selecting dishes from the menus. I recognised many of the terms but not what all of them meant (should've paid more attention to the videos). Still, what a joy to behold. Everything you'd want for an introduction to Indian cuisine was available.

For me, the only major blip in the otherwise heavy and luscious lunch was the mutton rogan josh. The sauce for this Kashmiri specialty had a slightly bitter note that discouraged me from taking too much of it.

A pity — the meat was succulent and tender. Wendy had ordered it at the advice of the waiter because she wanted something with sauce. Well, kabhi khushi kabhie gham...

But we loved the butter chicken and the mutter paneer: Indian cottage cheese and peas in a tomato-based gravy. The butter chicken's buttery, silky and mildly spicy gravy was such a hit, I wished there was more of it to eat with the breads.

Garlic naan, tandoori paratha and butter chicken.

Not bad for a dish that was said to have been invented to make use of some leftover chicken tandoori. The tandoori paratha the ladies had ordered had more charring than I'd expected, but nothing an extra dab of gravy couldn't fix.

Wendy had also ordered a three-piece idli set with a spicy red chutney, a sambar and some coconut chutney, so we could each sample one. That was what we came here for, after all. After the first bite, though, we wanted more because the butter podi idlis were butter-fried spice-encrusted marvels that were good enough on their own.

A podi is a spice mix that's also eaten with idlis; one famous type is milaga podi, which is referred to as "gun powder." But, in this case, the idlis were coated with a podi (didn't ask for the name) and fried in butter. Sam loved them, and Wendy even more so.
"I'll come back for this," said Wendy.

So would I.

Then, Sam passed around her glass of lime and mint and everybody wanted seconds of that, too. Sweet, tangy and refreshing, it was just what we needed after a rich and heavy meal. No longer used to feasts of carbs, Sam was the first to slip into a post-meal torpor.

The rest of us joined her not long afterwards.

My gaze wandered from the dining room to the medley of Bollywood song-and-dance numbers on the screen, some of which featured Datuk Shah Rukh Khan. My senses and mind were already worn out by the culinary equivalent of an SRK/Kajol number, which is why this account has to stop here.

Just drop by, and let the food speak for itself.

Idli Only Café & Indian Kitchen
64, Jalan Maarof, Bangsar Baru
59100 Kuala Lumpur

Daily, 8am-8pm



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