[编辑 Editor 吕大人 英译 Translator 刘大人 摄影 Photographer 刘大人]
Being Chinese, we have always enjoyed Indian cuisine but found it a pity that it has never been as heavily featured in our culinary scene. For us, we can never get enough of the array of curries, naans, chaats and more we have here. In fact, one of us lives next to an Indian family that cooks curries all the time, which sometimes seem to seep through the walls into her hallway, not that she minds though.
“Vanakam“, a customary greeting that most Generation X (oops) has become accustomed to when tuning in to the evening TV programmes on Singapore channels, can be loosely translated as “Welcome” in Tamil, but its actual meaning can go very much more profound. According to Tamil culture, Vanakam is said while holding our hands together with the palms touching. Sometimes, a slight head bowing is also paired up with this greeting. In any case, we were made to feel very welcome at Vanakam India by Bala Vignesh and his partner(s).
Nestled in Eco Botanic and with its signature European-style, high-street shop front and pristine white facade, Vanakam India does not feel like our typical Indian restaurant. However, the scent of lingering spices, not to mention the tables laden with slop mounds of aromatic, richly flavoured curries and biryanis, gives the game away.
Located adjacent to EduCity, Iskandar Puteri, Vanakam India’s quality is affirmed by the colourful thank you notes on the wall, as well as its lunchtime regulars filling up the dining hall, even on a weekday!
Besides its distinctive decor and delectable cuisine, Vanakam India also stands out from other Indian eateries and other restaurants in the area with its live music gigs. We can tuck into Indian treats while listening to native and local pop tracks sung by their talented staff on selected evenings.
And if we’re lucky, we may even “feast” on the lovely tunes that make us swoon by Gowri Arumugam, the beautiful singer-songwriter and co-owner of the restaurant as well!
Vasantha Neer + Papadam crisps
On such a warm afternoon, the chilled Vasantha Neer, an exotic mocktail made with fresh coconut juice is very refreshing and apt for cooling down the sultry heat! “Vasantham” means pleasant and “neer” is a drink, so this literally translated to a “pleasant drink”. Sweet as well as slightly tangy, our welcome drink pairs surprisingly well with the light and mildly peppery Papadam crisps. How interesting!
To offer the most authentic flavours from home, the culinary team was handpicked from India. “Our head chef comes from Chennai while two other chefs hail from Kolkata and Delhi respectively,” Bala emphasised. “We also take pride in selecting fresh ingredients, grinding and blending our own spices to prepare the various dishes here, with No MSG used!”, he further assured.
Bindi Kur Kur + Mutton Kola Urundai
Tossed in fragrant curry leaves, the Bindi Kur Kur are actually ladies’ fingers sliced thinly and deep-fried with a light and crispy batter. You can tell this is a winning dish all around because the bowl was passed around and not a scrap was left! Up next is the Mutton Kola Urundai served with a slice of lime to squeeze a drizzle of juice over them with a side of mint sauce available as a dip. Just as we thought, the large meatballs turn out to be yet another winner too.
Dry Fish Salad + Tandoori Chicken
A very popular appetiser in a Goan meal, the Dry Fish Salad is a mixture of roasted anchovies, onion and some spices that are gone in a jiffy as soon as it arrives on our table. On the other hand, the Tandoori Chicken was spicy but not to the point that it masked the flavour of the saffron, which reminds us of our buddy’s mother’s cooking back in India.
Paneer Tikka + Lamb Seekh Kebab
Paneer Tikka, squares of cottage cheese toasted in the tandoor oven, where each serving comes with a small salad of raw onion rings with slivers of carrot and cucumber and a side of mint dip sauce.
Being a sucker for grilled or barbecued meats, we would never miss out on the Lamb Seekh Kebab. Just as expected, the meat was seasoned in such a way that a sweet, aromatic flavour accompanied the gaminess. Every mouthful is so full of character, with a subtle heat from the spices that we had to reach out for more sips of the Vasantha Neer.
Onion Kulcha, Cheese Naan + Garlic Naan
No proper Indian cuisine without the naans. Served piping hot and tasted impeccably flavoursome, we adore the Onion Kulcha, Cheese Naan and Garlic Naan. Not only do they pack a punch with the seasoning, but its crunchiness goes very nicely with the accompanying dip.
Chicken Briyani + Prawn Briyani
We love rice, both in the economical and gastronomical sense and Vanakam India serves two types of Briyani: Chicken Briyani and Prawn Briyani, where each portion comes with a side of curry and raita. The basmati rice was warm and fluffy, and the grains didn’t become mushy or clump together. We would have finished the fragrant rice on its own, only to realise that we haven’t tried both the mutton or prawn yet LOL. We also ordered the Chicken Butter Masala and Palak Paneer (heads up to cheese lovers) to savour with rice.
We also ordered the Malabar Fish Curry and Lamb Rohan Josh to savour with rice and even more Naan. As spicy as they look, both dishes are actually not very hot spicy and are perfectly suitable even for Western taste palate.
Sizzling Lamb Masala + Butter Garlic Prawns + Signature Crab Masaka
As its name suggests, our Sizzling Lamb Masala is served on a hotplate, sizzling in an aromatic cloud of steam. Once the sizzle and steam abated, we help ourselves to the juicy cubes of lamb, dripping in a tasty, creamy sauce.
Vanakam India also serves a menu for Indian-Chinese dishes and recommended items include the whole Butter Garlic Prawns in a mild garlicky gravy. In contrast, their Signature Crab Masala served on a sheet of fresh banana leaf had us rolling up our sleeves and relishing each tasty morsel with our fingers!
Mysore Pak + Ladoo
Time for DESSERT, and guess what’s serving? While simple, Mysore Pak is extremely popular and typically cut into cube shapes before being served and has the consistency of a cookie or shortbread without being too sweet. We also loved biting into the nuts-filled Ladoo if you’re a true nut lover and seeking for a new twist to the classic.
A favourite with many Indians and non-Indians since opening, Vanakam India wins big points for their consistency, quality of its pan-Indian fare and the knowledge of the friendly serving staff. If, like us, you’re into the origins of authentic recipes and travel vicariously through eating, this Indian restaurant by Bala and acclaimed show celeb Gowri will definitely appeal!
📍 No. 39, Jalan Eko Botani 3/4, Taman Eko Botani, 79100 Johor Bahru, Johor
📞 +6011-6377 8015
🕙 Daily from 11am to 10.30pm (last order 10pm)
💻 Vanakam INDIA
🍽️ NO PORK, NO LARD