After talking about our traditional culture of eating with our fingers, it dawned on me that we haven’t eaten any South Indian Vegetarian Food for a while. The great thing about Singapore is that if you crave for South Indian Food, it’s less than 30 minutes away in Serangoon Road which is known as Little India. Little India is truly India in Singapore and the food is authentic as the cooks and servers are mostly from India as well. The only thing I have tried in India that trumps what we have here, is the tea which they call chai there (in Hindi). The milk tea in India is just perfect and nothing I have had here reaches that perfection. Maybe it’s how the country treats it’s cows that makes it produce the freshest milk? I am not sure myself. Or maybe it’s the roadside tea hawkers who have been following and tweaking their recipe for generations?
The tea is served in an aluminium cup with a small container below. You’re supposed to pour it from one vessel to another to cool your drink down. I didn’t really feel comfortable doing this, hygiene wise, so I usually just drink from the cup.
Anyway the best place to have South Indian Vegetarian Food is the original Komala Villas which has been here since I was a little kid in the seventies. I will never forget this place because I actually fell and twisted my ankle while crossing the road towards the restaurant. I was 10 years old then and I fell down in the middle of the road as the light turned red. Luckily for me, no one ran me over, but I wasn’t concerned about that because I was too mortified about looking stupid. Later my ankle swelled to the size of a baby elephant’s foot and I experienced sharp pain as I hobbled along.
This experience did not deter me from Little India, because it has a nostalgic place in my heart having come here every week with my parents. At that time I didn’t know how to eat curry and my sister and I just had iddiyappum (string hoppers) with orange sugar and grated coconut. Later I progressed to Paper Masala Thosai (huge crispy fried dough wrapped in curried potatoes). Only recently did I try out the South Indian Vegetarian Thali and found that I love it. It’s steamed rice which come with a whole load of vegetables and vegetarian curries and dhall. There’s also indian style watery yoghurt which is called mooru (pronounced Mow-rr). Ok it’s super hard to pronounce as most words in Tamil are glutteral, plosive, nasal tongue twisters.
There used to be a waiter at the restaurant who was really nice and very attentive, but sadly he wasn’t around today. Today the waiters were not as attentive and you had to call for their attention when you wanted a top up. But once you got their attention, you got your refills quite promptly. The best thing is they don’t ever look at you like you’re greedy or something because at $7 Singapore dollars a plate (South Indian Vegetarian Thali), you’re expected to ask for more of whichever item you want. I asked for more dhal and more dessert. These days they hire men from China who wipe the tables and clear the plates and they are super efficient.
The dessert is my favourite and is called Payasam (a sweet dessert with cashews and sago which my mum can actually make at home but it takes quite a bit of effort and you need the right ingredients). I know the meal looks super messy, but what it lacks in presentation it more than makes up for in flavours. Sweet, sour, spicy – all of the strong flavours combine together so well. The food was extra yummy eaten with our fingers. It was also convenient to wash your hands before an after with a sink, soap dispenser and tissue dispenser within the restaurant. I rarely eat with my hands because the smell of the spices is so strong it lingers on your fingers even after you’ve washed it three or four times. My hands feel super dry now, because I came home and washed them again.
As we finished our meal and walked down the stairs, I was reminded about how steep the steps were. To a child it was like climbing a mountain and I remember taking it one step at a time. At that time, I remember it was easy to slip as the steps were very oily, probably waiters tracking oil from the kitchen. They have since renovated the place with new wallpaper and paint, and I noticed a new Indian wood carving in place at the stairwell.
On the way out of the restaurant, we eyed some yummy Indian sweetmeats, we were too full from the meal even though we didn’t finish all the rice. My favourite one is the Jangiri, with is the swirly orange one on the top of the photo in the middle.
I snapped some parting shots from outside Komala Villas.
This is where Mani the oracle parakeet who has world fame, resides with her owner. I felt so sorry for her, chirping loudly in her cage. Business seems to have some to a standstill since she made the wrong prediction for Holland to win the World Cup 2010 and Spain won instead. Poor birdie. The owner looked sad and forlorn as well. I wanted to have my fortune told, just for fun, but I was feeling shy and introverted as usual. If I was more of an extrovert I would have taken a clearer photo of Mani and her owner.