Have you tried Indian food? I really do, although I must admit I don’t eat it enough here in Southeast Asia. While you may find Indian food or Indian-inspired dishes in places like Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, it’s not popular at all here in the Philippines, where I’m living. Quite possibly, it could be because there isn’t a large Indian immigrant population here. Then again, there ain’t a lot of Italians, but pizza places are on every corner. More likely, Indian food isn’t viable in the Philippines because it’s just too damn healthy (India has the largest number of vegetarians in the world), while the Philippines is extremely averse to anything like vegetables or even brown rice. (If it’s not deep fried, covered in sugar, and soaked in oil, they won’t eat it!)
But I have sampled real authentic Indian cuisine from several places in the world, including, most notably, India. I spent a month there a few years back and loved the super healthy seafood, vegetarian dishes, and abundant fresh fruitin the southern province of Kerala. However, my experience in the northern city of New Delhi wasn’t as enjoyable, as I got insanely sick off of some raita (a yogurt sauce) that probably wasn’t properly refrigerated or handled. Needless to say, on my trip to the Taj Mahal I was only thinking about the nearest commode.
But I’ve had amazing experiences with Indian food in the U.S., too, as my great friend MandipDhami in Sacramento took me to his mother’s Indian restaurant often, and the Dhami fam (some of the nicest and hardest working people in the world!) would often have me over their house for dinner. In fact, his mom knew I was a bachelor and didn’t cook for myself too much, so she’d pack up a huge box of assorted Indian food and give it to me every time I left, as it lasted me most of the week.
So, it was notable when I spotted New Bombay Royale restaurant here in the Venice Grand Canal Mall in the McKinley Hill area of Manila where I’m living. It’s actually hard to miss, as it’s a massive establishment, consuming the space usually taken up by three or even four other restaurants here in the mall. The windows are formed like massive Taj Mahal temple tops, interspersed with ornate lace-like ironwork.
Inside, they have a combination of comfortable modern wooden table and plush booths, intricate traditional lamps hanging overhead to give it true Indian flare, and melodic and mysterious Indian and Arabic music playing. (I think they encompass some Arabic food and motifs here.)
The menu is expansive, and they do offer a wide variety of vegetarian dishes, as well as advertising Halal food.
I opted for the chicken tikka masala, which was reasonably priced at 350 Pesos ($7), but disappointed that it didn’t come with rice or any sides like vegetables, etc. You don’t even get naan bread or any of the nice Indian appetizers that usually always come free at most Indian places. Likewise, when I tried to order rice, their only options were Filipino white rice (very uninspiring) or true Indian saffron rice, but that only came in a double order and ran around $5 – a fortune just for rice. But the sympathetic waitress was nice enough to say she’d include a small side dish of vegetables with my dinner.
The final verdict? The portions are pretty small – coming in a cereal-sized bowl, and the dish of vegetables was just a random bowl of shredded cabbage with four or five raw red onions mixed in – I’m not joking!
Although to be fair, I will say that the chicken dish was good, with rich tomato sauce and just the right amount of spices – enough to bring me back here again (and since it’s so close) to sample more Indian cuisine on their menu.