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5 best Indian restaurants in Singapore
This spice route around Singapore leads to the headiest, and most varied, selection of Indian restaurants in the city
Singapore loves its curries.
And while the Indian ethnic group makes up of about nine percent of Singapore -- a considerably small percentage -- the rich mélange of spices, ingredients and textures has long permeated the island, the country’s multicultural society and rightfully so.
And yes, we’re looking past you Cook-a-Curry day family.
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The Indian signature dishes: the versatile roti prata, hearty biryani and eye-popping fish head curry have all been adopted into the daily and hawker realms. Local families have their own version of a curry recipe, as well as their favorite selection of Indian restaurants.
Here are five of our top establishments, each representing a different copper pot of Indian culture. There are, after all, 90 regions in India.
Ananda Bhavan Restaurant: The oldest vegetarian eatery
Not much has changed, tradition is still going strong at this 1924-established vegetarian restaurant on Selegie Road.
This branch -- located at the entrance to Little India -- has been non-air-conditioned for nearly 80 years and the quality, attention to detail, and creative use of ingredients are still at the forefront.
The friendly, white-haired, pot-bellied older men who man this branch still sit behind a reception desk with metal grilles, and sarongs are common dress.
Pick the thosai sets, which are the easiest to order. There are six to pick from -- from plain to potato to masala (S$2.10 to S$3.80) -- and each comes with sides of two curry sauces and one dhal.
The curries are standard, of medium-thick consistency with bits of vegetables. The light-battered thosais hide within their fold a mound of ingredients, depending on the choice; evenly spiced steaming potatoes are satisfyingly filling.
Other options include oven-smoked naans that are best served with coarsely-torn garlic and Kashmiri nuts, dry vegetarian curries and salt (not sweet) lassi.
The cuisine spans both north and south India, as well as Indian-Chinese. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), preservatives and additives are not used.
While the Ananda Bhavan group now has five outlets serving similar fare, the atmosphere of this original has been difficult to replicate.
221 Selegie Road, +65 63393643; www.anandabhavan.com. Daily 7:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Main courses around $5.
Annalakshimi: Vegetarian with a [social] conscience
A free meal? We hope not.
This international chain is a volunteer-run, buffet-style, not-for-profit vegetarian restaurant that exists as the culinary arts arm of the Temple of Fine Arts (TFA) who believes in serving, loving and giving, hence the "eat-what-you-want, give-what-you-feel" concept of payment.
Housewives, doctors, teachers, technicians and a whole host of other benevolent individuals prepare tray after tray of dhals, soups, curries, yoghurt dips, rotis, papadums and jugs of lassi from cuisines that originate all over India to satisfy a three-hour lunchtime throng -- a congregation that comes mostly from the surrounding CBD.
Pick up a four-compartmented metal tray, fill up as you walk through the assembly-like line and then share a plastic-sheet-covered table with fellow lunchers.
The dish selection depends on who’s cooking that day, but in line with its altruistic intentions, you can always count on the offerings at Annalakshmi to be homely, filling and food-coma-inducing.
Make sure you repay the favor, try not to give anything less than S$5.
104 Amoy St., +65 6223 0809; www.annalakshmi.com. Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Payment by donation.
Gajalee: A true Bombay duck
Fresh seafood is the order of the day at this Malvani-style Mumbai-originated restaurant that former President Nathan used to frequent.
In India, Gajalee is akin to Singapore’s Long Beach, and Jumbo chain of restaurants: fresh seafood caught and cooked to order served in family-friendly air-conditioned surrounds.
Its only overseas branch has subdued, neutral-toned walls, wooden tables and upholstered brown banquettes; a foil to the vibrantly-spiced Maharashtra-style Indian cuisine.
Around half the menu is made up of dishes like fresh clams in coconut and coriander masala; plump New Zealand oysters in curry; chargrilled lobster tandoori; butter pepper kapri pomfret; and of course, the Bombay duck -- a lizardfish native to the waters around Mumbai, which comes either marinated in turmeric and dipped in a masala batter to be fried, or stuffed with plump prawns and green chutney.
For a dish more familiar, stick with the fragrant prawn biryani. And seafood-averse/allergic diners can still pick from mutton, chicken and vegetarian options.
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Desserts, like the options of spice level ("medium spicy" or "spicy"), come only in two forms: caramel custard or kulfi. Fortunately there is solkadi, a refreshing and tangy drink of mangosteen-infused coconut milk.
Unit 17/19, Cuppage Terrace, Cuppage Road; +65 6733 3278; www.gajalee.com. Daily 11:30 a.m.-3:30 .p.m, 6 p.m.-11 p.m.. Main courses S$18-S$120.
Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra: A historically fine dine
One of the newest players in the Indian fine dine market is also one of the most researched, lightest and European-leaning.
Set up by cookery show host and former Times of India food columnist Jiggs Kalra, the revered "Classic Cooking of Punjab" author serves up historically accurate dishes from the region of Punjab.
Quality ingredients and modern presentation delivered at Kalra’s only overseas outpost (this is his sixth outlet) takes diners on a journey through cities from Lahore to Rawalpindi.
Past the wine cellar facade is a modern black-and-pale-yellow-colored crystal-chandeliered space befitting the culinary progressive plates that come out of the glass-fronted kitchen where three large tandoor ovens preside.
The street-food-originated golgappa platter (papadum-like whole wheat shells, S$15) is served resting on shot glasses; the fenugreek-flavoured palak paneer (S$32) is a rich but light combination of spinach and cheese; and Punjab Grill’s signature, the guchichi pulao -– native Indian seasonal jumbo morels stuffed with royal cumin-spiced milk cakes hidden under basmati rice cooked under a layer of puff pastry -– is fragrant, teeming with spices and flavor.
Equally extravagant are the foie gras and lobster which have been given the tandoori treatment (S$45) -- we won't lie, it is an oddity but yummy.
B1-01A The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Ave; +65 6688 7395; www.punjabgrill.in. Daily 11 a.m.-midnight. Main courses from S$30-S$55.
Samy’s Curry Restaurant: Curry on a leaf
Founded in the 1950s, this family-run South-Indian restaurant got its start when M Veerasamy, an immigrant who came to work as a cook for a group of Indian merchants, set up his first restaurant at Tank Road.
The food and the concept has been the same from the beginning: to satisfy homesick Indians with hearty fare that is as close to home-cooked dishes as possible. The dishes were, and still are, served on a banana leaf -- yes, you can wipe it down with a tissue -- laid on the table.
The masala chicken, fish bergedil (fried fish and potato cutlet) and tender mysore mutton are worthy picks, but the headlining dish is the fish head curry. Served in a claypot with chunks of eggplant and plump okra, this piping hot (both in temperature and spiciness) is a lively, tangy dish.
Having garnered a keen following from the beginning, Samy’s eventually moved to this current fan-ventilated, high-ceiling, open-air-hall-space on Dempsey Road in the 1970s to cope with the growing customer base that has now evolved to include most nationalities.
25A Dempsey Road, +65 6472 2080; www.samyscurry.com. Wednesday-Sunday: 11 a.m.–3 p.m., 6 .p.m–10 p.m.. Main courses from S$6.00 to S$20.00