RECESSION OR not, a sale is a sale. As I have said in a previous post, one of the three things that stop me on my tracks is big bold red letters that spell S–A–L–E. So knowing that The Podium was going on sale last Friday, naturally I made a plan. I was just so glad that Batman was in on the adventure.
Oh, no, not really that “in” on the adventure as he had work that day. We just agreed to meet up for lunch. Then, I’d be off to go shopping and see a movie perhaps. Then, we’d meet up again for dinner. It was the most opportune time as we had been meaning to have Indian cuisine, courtesy of The New Bombay Authentic Indian Cuisine! Batman has been harping about this Indian place from when it first opened at the said mall. Finally, a chance to see a dinner plan to fruition. (Though I’ve eaten at this restaurant already at their branch at The Columns… more about that later.).
Unfortunately, I got caught up in last minute issues at work (though I had done my best to prepare and clear up my Friday schedule!). So tried as I could, I ended up losing all my lead time, got inadvertently caught up in traffic, and missed Batman’s drop-dead call time of 12 noon. I would have understood if he had lost his cool. But quite surprisingly, he was very understanding. I think I had never apologized as profusely as I did, starting at the very moment I saw him waiting at the third floor escalator landing. As all seats at our restaurant of choice were already taken, and we would have been third on the wait list, we conceded that we didn’t have time anymore for lunch. So off he went back to his office. As for me, I had about five hours to burn.
I sort of lost my appetite already so I went to the cinema first. I was hoping I could catch a screening of “The International,” starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, but the timings were going to put me off my pace. But I didn’t leave the box office just yet. The mean me lingered for a while as I suspected the mestizo guy next to me was getting so uncomfortable with what he wanted to ask the ticket sales person. As he was clearly on a time crunch, he eventually, albeit sheepishly asked under his breath, “Miss, what time is the first screening of ‘You Changed My Life’?” Hahaha!
I guess being so mean burned too many calories that I finally felt the pangs of hunger. I almost ate at the Indian restaurant but self-control – not to mention respect for Batman – prevailed. So off I went to my other favorite place at The Podium – The Banana Leaf.
As it was quite late already for lunch, they had run out of my favorite Stir-fried Malaysian Noble Leaves with Garlic. But I didn’t fret as I munch on the complimentary prawn crackers. I just settled with my other favorites, starting off with their Tom Yum Kung (Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup, Php 198.00). They make almost-authentic Tom Yum, though all I sensed was lime, lime… and even more lime. They had probably run out of fresh coriander because not even a speck was in my soup. But it was okay. They more than made up for it by being generous with the straw mushrooms. Unfortunately, not the same could be said about the two prawns. But they were really fresh and were of perfect doneness. The flesh burst with each bite, and was naturally sweet.
For my main entrée, I asked for the Hainanese Chicken Rice Set Meal (Php 198.00). This has got to be one of my ultimate comfort food options. I first fell in love with this dish on a trip to Penang in Malaysia and I haven’t looked back since. Once back at home, and before discovering Hainanese at The Banana Leaf, I would ask hotel chefs if they could make the dish for me. The most memorable was the one made for me by the lobby coffee shop chef of the Makati Shagri-La Hotel… at past midnight! He made an authentic rendition of the dish, complete with all the requisite condiments and the perfect rice, that I couldn’t help but write him a very heartfelt note of thanks. That was the very first time I wrote a note of thanks for a chef.
The secrets to the perfect Hainanese Chicken Rice are how the chicken is cooked (definitely NOT overcooked, just boiled ever so lightly, and then left to simmer in the broth for a couple of hours); how the rice is cooked; how the accompanying chicken soup tastes; and of course, the condiments – grated ginger in oil, thick sweet soy sauce, and chili. So far, I will have to say that The Banana Leaf makes the best Hainanese Chicken Rice.
For my drink, I asked and finished (to the last drop) a couple of their Chrysanthemum Iced Tea Shake (Php 68.00). I couldn’t think of any other beverage to perfectly cap a filling lunch.
As I don’t want to rattle off any of the purchases I made (was there another wristwatch thrown in in the bag?!), I’m going to jump off to dinner time and share with you the joys of authentic Indian cuisine. Oh, but before that, there is indeed something from the shopping bag I want to share! You see, if Batman could only go to one store everytime he is in the mall, it would surely be Astrovision (or Astroplus)! We got a lot of DVDs, but mine were only a couple – “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” I had finally seen the movies, and especially in the case of “Breakfast…,” Batman is recommending that I write here what I think about the movie! We’ll see.
So where am I? Oh, dinner! Right on the dot, Batman was back at the mall. And after spending quite a while at Astroplus (again!), off we went to The New Bombay Authentic Indian Cuisine. My initiation to Indian cuisine happened – wherelse?! – but in India! I was fortunate enough to have spent a weekend in Bangalore, a week in Goa, and another weekend in Mumbai as part of a team delivering our company’s top management training program (to Asian participants). Apart from the very spiritual experience I had there – communing with nature, meditating by the shores of the Arabian Sea – it was the cuisine that left the most lasting imprint in my consciousness. It was so good that in my “Rickshaw Diaries,” I accounted for every sensory-gastronomic adventure, extolling even the in-flight cuisine of Air India. It was that good.
But prior to that first-hand experience, my pseudo-initiation to authentic (so clearly the Filipino “yellow” chicken curry doesn’t count) Indian cuisine was when I first saw chef/author Maya Kaimal cook on the FoodNetwork show “From Martha’s Kitchen,” right around the time she was promoting her book “Savoring the Spice Coast of India.” The heady concoction of fresh and dried herbs and spices that she put in to her “masala” filling for her bluefish had defined for me the wild, exciting, and unexpected ride that could only be Indian cuisine. I think she mentioned that the recipe she was using for her masala could vary from the next Indian chef, as the many available spices render themselves to a host of interpretations.
As in any cuisine, while the main ingredient and its freshness – be it meat, fowl, or vegetables – take centerstage, in Indian cuisine, it is the curry that is the cornerstone. This pungent blend of spices serves as the fundamental ingredient from and around which a whole dish is developed. A typical curry powder may contain the redolent smokey-ness of cumin, the parsley-like essence of coriander, the deep aroma and intense color of turmeric, the biting heat of chili powder, and the licorice sweetness of fennel, among many others (cardamom, cinnamon, cloves). Depending on the proportions, and the region where a dish originates from, one may have a “tika,” “tawa,” or “goan” curry.
And those are exactly what Batman and I tried. Though he actually left much of the ordering to me.
But before getting to the good part of the dinner spread (the curries!), we started off with the Butter Naan. Rightfully so, New Bombay couldn’t go wrong with their Naan, one of my favorite Indian flat breads. I have had the experience in Goa to really watch while my naan was being made, right by the beachfront. I didn’t mind the heat as I stood so close to the open-mouthed clay oven they used. The chefs would stretch the leavened dough (imagine pizza crust being tossed) and then they would throw it right smack onto the walls of the clay oven. In minutes, what came out was a bread blistered by the heat (direct fire), and made perfectly chewy. I would dip this in chutney or curry sauce. Yum!
Then, I asked for a number of curry dishes – a triumvirate actually – that I hoped would introduce Indian cuisine to Batman. We first asked for the Vegetable Tawa Masala, a medley of vegetables and tofu, with lots of green peas (you wouldn’t miss them!). It turned out to be the spiciest of the dishes. And I could feel for Batman as he kept wiping the beads of perspiration forming on his brows. He kept assuring me that it didn’t take away from his enjoyment of the meal, but still, I thought we could have really asked for “mild” spiciness instead of “medium.” (But me, I want curries REALLY spicy so I was okay). For meat, we had the Chicken Tikka Masala, which is chunks of boneless, skinless chicken breast and thigh meat marinated in spices to a deep red, matching the intense color of the curry sauce. It was the least spicy, though I really liked the version at the The Podium branch than at The Columns on Ayala Avenue (where I first had this dish). The meat was really flavorful and moist, which was quite an achievement for me because it would almost always be easy to dry out chicken meat – even when doused in generous sauce. But New Bombay did deliver with their chicken tikka masala. For seafood, we had the Shrimp Goan Curry. This one felt like it had endless fresh, plump, sweet shrimps because everytime I dunk my spoon in, there was just some more! Its spiciness was actually just right and I guess this was the one Batman liked the best.
We enjoyed all these curry dishes with a generous serving of Saffron Basmati Rice. The menu said that they make this usually with dried fruits. But since I’m not crazy about that, I asked the chef to tweak the dish a little. I had the dried fruits removed and instead asked for chopped white onions to be thrown in the mix. And the resulting dish was fragrant from the saffron, nutty at times, and bursting with sweetness from the onions! It complimented the curries really well.
Apart from their authentic dishes, what I did like about The New Bombay Authentic Indian Cuisine were the serving dishes they used. They were in all stainless steel, bringing back memories of how things are really done in India. Besides, the curries and the bread on stainless steel provided a stark contrast that was pleasing – and more importantly, appetizing – to the eyes, and then to the palate.
I washed eveything down with a tall glass of Iced Indian Tea, made with Indian tea, milk and cardamom! This one put Starbucks Coffee’s Chai Tea Latte to shame! New Bombay’s drink blended well the goodness of tea and milk, which I would instantly get with every sip, before the strong, unique, distinctly floral goodness of cardamom would explode in the background.
Batman and I wiped off the dishes clean! And that could very well be the best compliment we could pay the chef and the staff. I would definitely keep coming back to The New Bombay Authentic Indian Cuisine. No wonder it was full for lunch that day!