HIPP is confident that this year we’ll have an Indian summer, and what better way to celebrate the good weather than a cuisine that mixes exotic spices, colors, textures and aromas like no other!

One country, numerous cities, over 200 languages, and the majestic Taj Mahal! India is linguistically and culturally diverse to say the least. And it is a diversity that extends to their food. One of the world’s most ancient cuisines, Indian food is unique in its remarkable use of spices. Blessed with a climate that’s perfect for cultivating some of the most colorful and flavorful of spices, each Indian region uses these spices in their own way, resulting in a delightfully distinctive range of local dishes.

It is a puzzle, then, that when Filipinos think about Indian food, most of the time, only the word “curry” springs to mind! Of course, nothing pleases the palette quite like a really (REALLY) good Indian curry, but this is only one among the many marvels of traditional Indian Cuisine. HIPP ate its way into two of the best Indian restaurants in town to show you the other culinary treasures the Indians have to offer.

Princely Feast.

If you want to wine and dine traditional (and luxurious) Indian style, a visit to the Prince of Jaipur at the Fort Bonifacio Strip is a must. Seeing the place is already a treat in itself—traditional Indian tapestries hang across the ceiling, portraits of India’s historically famous Maharajas bring life to the walls, and, if you happen to be there on a Saturday night, the wondrous sight of belly dancing performances will be met with delight by everyone in the family.

But, of course, these are nothing compared to the pleasures their menu brings.

During our visit, our gracious host, Mr. Max Talreja, Prince of Jaipur’s General Manager, prepared for us a feast of Northern Indian cuisine. “Northern Indian cuisine is more popular the world over,” shares Max. “Compared to the south where food is spicier, Northern Indian food is richer and healthier. It features more tandoori (food cooked in a tandoor oven) which is favored by Filipinos.”

We broke our fast with one of their in-house specialties, the Small Kebab Hut, an assortment of different (yet equally appetizing) kebabs— lamb keema, chicken tikka, chicken kebab, and paneer. The bursts of flavor from these kebabs were exactly what we needed to jumpstart our Indian food marathon. I particularly liked the paneer –cottage cheese, in plain English—which has a similar texture to tofu but, unlike the latter, it takes on other flavors well. Prince of Jaipur makes their own paneers as well.

Of course, a traditional Indian meal wouldn’t be complete without at least a hefty serving of curry—and Prince of Jaipur has a wide variety of curry dishes to choose from! We got to try three of their most popular—Prawn Masala, Lamb Curry, and Fish Princess. We highly recommend their Lamb Curry because, well for one, it drove us crazy. It was just sooo good! Tender cubes of lamb cooked in its own gravy of tomatoes and onions—just the right amount of spicy. Their Prawn Masala (prawns cooked with tomato, onion and bell pepper) and Fish Princess (fish cooked with fenugreek leaves and tomato sauce) were quite delectable as well.

Curries are best paired with the roti chanai (tandoori bread) or their Vegetable dum biryani, which is pressured rice that’s so infused with flavor (and color!) because they cook it in a clay pot with an assortment of herbs. Make sure you have a glass of water (or their best-selling Mango Lassi) at hand because things will definitely heat up!

While, according to Max, Filipinos do not usually favor Indian desserts, our party had a helping of the traditional Indian dessert, the Maharaja Style gulab jamun. It is a dessert of cake-like texture, comprised of spheres of paneer, flour and milk powder, fried against sugar syrup with honey flavoring. It is plum-shaped and has a golden color. It was, to say the least, an interesting addition to one’s roster of tasted desserts!

Comfort Food, Indian Style.

Some say the Chinese cook up the best comfort food. But their neighboring India can give them a run for their money. A bite of Vegetable Samosa, like the one they serve at the cozy New Bombay Restaurant in Columns, Makati, can make any tension-fraught individual forget all about his worries. Samosas—spicy potato and green pea filled pastries—are said to be a hit all over India, from Bombay to Rajasthan. The fillings vary among regions and the further north you go, the more pyramid-shaped they tend to become!

A stark contrast from the impressive interiors of Prince of Jaipur, New Bombay opted for a simpler and homier look. It just feels like you’re eating within the comfort of home. The only hint of Indian architecture is seen in their intricately-designed chairs. Other than that, there is less focus on the ambience, making food our main priority. It isn’t really that difficult a feat because their food is incredibly filling.

The vegetable samosas aside, we started our meal with the Chicken tikka masala (chicken marinated in yogurt and spices served in tomato cream sauce)paired with roasted papadum, thinly sliced fried and roasted wheat bread. These are already filling as appetizers, but be sure to leave more room for these entrees—the Palak Paneer, Mutton do Payaza, and their wide assortment of Indian breads—the tandoori roti and plain naan. Of course, let’s not forget the biryani. Although New Bombay’s biryani is a bit dry for my taste, it still adds flavor to the entrees.

The palak paneer was a hit in our table. It is cottage cheese cooked in spinach sauce. Really delicious! Mutton do payaza was like an explosion of flavor inside the mouth—this dish, tender chunks of lamb cooked in pounded masala, is quite tangy and is best with Indian bread. Try it with the tandoori roti, which is made of wheat, if you’re a bit conscious about calories!

To cleanse the palette, have a glass (or two!) of New Bombay’s famous yogurt-based lassis in strawberry, mango and pandan flavors! These refreshing beverages are a great way to beat the summer heat. And, as we know, yogurt has many health-giving properties so this drink is perfect for settling the stomach—particularly after a very spicy Indian meal!

This was published in HIPP Magazine’s April 2009 issue.

Photos are by Erick Lirios.