It’s Indian food week for me!
I didn’t intend on it, though. I had read that Mavalli Tiffin Room, or commonly known as MTR – a popular chain restaurant from Bangalore specializing in in the South Indian regional cuisine of Karnataka – had opened its first store in Singapore, and I was eager to try it. Owing to the sparse information on the web about operating hours, it was only when I got there that I realized it closed on Mondays. On weekdays, it opens at 8am till after lunchtime, or whenever the ingredients run out, and reopens for dinner at 5.30pm. Weekend operating timings are variable, too. There I was – hungry, craving for good South Indian food and in Little India. I therefore headed up the road to another place.
Komala Vilas, which isn’t to be confused with similarly named Singapore chain, Komala’s, is a grand instituition. Founded by Murugiah Rajoo in 1947, this is one of the longest operating restaurants on the island. It’s statistics like that which strike me as peculiar. With Singapore being a food paradise, and a fairly diverse and surmountable history, I’m surprised there aren’t many more names with an older history. Only Ya Kun Kaya Toast has a longer heritage. Perhaps, there are – unsung heroes still doing their thing in hawker centres – but it’s clear that entrepreneurship and an aspiration for greatness just wasn’t (and largely still isn’t) present in the local community. And it’s a pity, because we don’t have a place where we can say, “I come here every other day. My father’s father was here, and his father ate here too”. Despite its rich, long history, I only came to hear of Komala Vilas when it was introduced to me by an ex when we were dating back in 2010. I fell in love with it, instantly. Perhaps I was blinded by love, but after the relationship ended, I couldn’t find it. I didn’t know what it was called, and I didn’t know where it was, and after so many months of searching, I gave up. I’ve since rediscovered it, but you know, Indian cuisine, especially beyond the Singapore Indian classics like biryani, mee goreng (with a local Indian twist) and prata, it doesn’t have a large appeal. So, today’s my second ever visit to Komala Vilas.
The duplex is split into “light meals” such as dosai (known locally as thosai, and pronounced the same), idly (steamed rice cakes) and parotta (which is similar to, but isn’t prata) on the ground floor, and heavier, rice, chappati (flat bread) and North Indian classics on the second floor. While the menu’s listings are extensive, it’s short on details and images, while the polite and accommodating staff, are as Indian as they go with their pleasantries. Therefore, it can a little daunting for first-timers, and might therefore stick to the “safer”, more recognizable dishes such as masala dosai. While I was peckish, I was a little apprehensive with the portions, which in typical South Asian fashion, can get a little excessive. With a culture and cuisine built on cherishing every last grain of rice, and every last scrap of food and curry, the last thing I wanted was to leave the table with leftovers. Hence, I ordered a Mysore Dosai.
A dosa is essentially a fermented crepe or pancake from rice batter and black lentils. Usually eaten for breakfast, it’s rich in carbohydrates, and contains no sugar or saturated fats. Plus, it’s gluten-free and contains protein. The dosai is usually stuffed with vegetable fillings and sauces, and depending on Indian regional cuisine, can vary from sambar to wet and dry chutney, as well as Indian yoghurt, sugar and Muddha Pappu (ghee). The Masala dosai elevates the dish with a light filling of cooked potatoes, fried onions and spices, and served alongside an assortment of sauces and curries. This base is the version that most Singaporeans are familiar with, which to me, can sometimes taste bland. Hence, I often order a Mysore Dosai, which is a masala dosa with coconut and onion chutneys spread inside along with the potato stuffing which, in my opinion, gives it a little more flavor, and is often a little more hot and spicier than the tame masala dosai. It complemented, and balanced my palete perfectly with my milk chai.
For “dessert”, I sipped a sweet, rich and creamy Mango Lassi.