By Sol Vanzi
High noon on a payday Friday is not a good time to be on the road in Metro Manila, and one way to escape it is to seek refuge in a cool, quiet, and pleasant café. We did just that last weekend and were rewarded with an unexpected food adventure, which enlightened us about one of the world’s oldest cuisines.
We were at C5 in Ugong, Pasig when we swerved into the driveway of The Grove housing several restaurants that lead to a high end residential complex. Skipping familiar eateries, we parked right in front of the intricately decorated OM Indian Kitchen, which offers both al fresco and air-conditioned comfortable seating.
Inside, everything was cozy and calming, from the marble Hindu gods to the intricate lacey metal frames and tussled fabric lamps, all from the private collection of the artist-restaurateur Suman Gogna. She is also responsible for teaching the kitchen staff what she learned from her own mother, who in turn was mentored by generations before her. OM is her hobby, her passion, her work in progress.
The restaurant emitted flavorful, herby aromas with no hint of curry powder.
“We don’t use what people call curry powder. Each dish is prepared with specific sets of spices toasted or ground each time,” Suman explains.
Typical Indian Meal
In lieu of juices, we had Lemon Ginger Cooler, their version of lemonade, with a hint of macerated fresh ginger, topped with a sprig of mint. Lunch began with popular finger food samosa and pakora.
Samosa, a crisp savory pastry, came stuffed with spiced potatoes and pork. Each piece was large and filling. A large serving of crisp pakora, mixed vegetable fritters, was served with sweet chili sauce.
To eat with the main courses, there were three kinds of flat bread. Papadum are toasted crisp lentil wafers embedded with black pepper and cumin. Roti are unleavened traditional Indian flatbread, freshly made from whole wheat flour. Naan is the familiar tandoor-cooked Indian bread made of white flour.
Instead of plain steamed, we had aromatic Basmati Cumin Rice topped with caramelized onions. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the gravy-rich main courses. Our second bowl of rice was Vegetable Biryani.
Butter chicken, our first course, is one of the best known Indian dishes in modern times and among the most intricate to prepare, with some recipes calling for three marinades and as many as 12 spices. The result is simply spectacular: Tender chicken chunks in nut-thickened sauce enriched with cream, brightened with fresh tomato pulp.
In contrast, Palak Paneer has cubes of cheese simmered in dark green freshly cooked spinach curry, perfect for dunking naan bread in. The sauce and cheese blend in one’s mouth with every bite. The smooth spinach pure felt very healthy and invigorating.
Almost Middle Eastern was the Seekh Kebab, pork keema grilled into tasty kebabs served with homemade mint-yogurt chutney. The meat was deeply flavored with herbs and spices, tamed by the yogurt-mint sauce. It was great with either rice or flatbread.
Pork Keema with potato cubes looked lain, but the flavor was complex. Touched with any of the sauces and chutneys, the dishes brightened up and developed tasteful undertones.
Unique Ice Cream
We ended with a dessert that would be worth the entire trip in terms of rarity and sheer taste. It is actually a combination of two desserts.
Kulfi is OM’s homemade Indian ice cream flavored with saffron and cardamom and liberally sprinkled with pistachio. Gulab Jamun
OM Indian Kitchen, at The Grove along C5 in Ugong, Pasig, is open Monday to Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. For inquiries, call (+639) 17 831 7288.
The original article was first published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.
Photos by Noel Pabalate.