By Gene Gonzalez
When one is in the Greenhills-San Juan area or its Quezon City fringes, it’s becomes particularly difficult to suddenly have the urge to eat Indian food. Before you can even satisfy your cravings, you would have to take a trip either to Manila or Makati. But there was this place called Naan, which serves Indian street food, which always tickled my curiosity every time I passed along United Street on my way to or from the Kapitolyo area.
On one of my dining visits, I got to meet one of the owners, Aissa Reyes, who with her partner Aldrin Surposa runs the place hands-on, taking orders and serving the diners themselves. What’s fascinating with these two young restaurateurs is that they did their homework well. Their choices of spices and masala blends are wonderfully aromatic and sophisticated.
Normally, in first trying out a place, you would definitely go for the “safe” items in the menu, trying out the basic mettle of the restaurant. So we started with dahl puri or fried and puffed spheres of dough drizzled with yogurt, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, tamarind chutney, and crispy noodles dusted with chat masala. The interplay of sweet and sour in the chutney, plus the fresh diced vegetables, was a good foil to the richness of the fried, crisp dough shells. This is rounded out by the creaminess of yogurt and aromatic flavors of the spice mix.
To try out more flavors, we opted for the meal sets or thali. So, we ordered the grilled chicken tikka masala, which is supposedly a tongue-in-cheek British National dish made by Indian immigrants that found its way back to India. We also ordered the grilled beef short ribs rogan josh and we were quite pleased visually with the two hefty plates that arrived. The grilled chicken came with a bowl of yogurt and a tikka masala curry based on turmeric, rice (tinted, similar to how Indians heavily use tartrazine), freshly cooked naan, which is a type of unleavened bread, and a small ball of gulab jamun. The other thali had tender and rich flavored beef chunks, which came with a tangier reddish curry with pleasing flavors of fenugreek and coriander. Having been filled by our three dishes, we each tried a morsel of the gulab jamun but probably wanted it softer and fragranced with kewra or rosewater. Anyway, we felt our first dinner was already a good experience and decided to come back to try other selections in the menu.
Our second visit got us started with a couple of glasses of lassi, topped with mint leaves and given a light touch of cardamom and freshly fried samosas. We dabbed a little tamarind chutney on the steaming hot interiors as we broke open these fried dumplings and exposed their steaming hot and aromatic interiors. We also tried their wraps, which is popular among their student clientele. We had the beef brisket masala wrap with mint yogurt chutney, herbs, and chopped tomatoes and pickled onions. I could have ordered two more but had to resist the temptation, so we ordered for more naan to go with our palak paneer, deliciously creamy yet with the warmth of the spice mix. Our keema with dried peas was picked up by hand with torn pieces of naan. The pickled onions accented the rich flavor of ground beef—a dish we conquered in no time!
On a next visit I’ll probably satisfy my curiosity with their lamb dishes and more variants of paneer. In fact, I might just succumb to the thought… I’ll go to Naan tonight!
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ERRATUM: The restaurant mentioned in last week’s article is called Ohayo, and it is located near the corner of Ortigas extension and Santolan.