Love Indian food but overwhelmed by the wide variety of restaurants in Little India and beyond? Our reviewer checks out the new ‘heritage menu’ at one of our fave spots, Muthu’s Curry
The Chettiars—a community of traders and financiers—migrated from a region of Tamil Nadu, 250 miles south of the city of Chennai to Singapore in the 1920s. They operated in communal offices called kittangis, many on Market Street near Raffles Place, where they provided funds to merchants and traders who fueled the port city’s early development. And while Market Street’s kittangis have long been demolished and descendents of the original families do not work in the trade anymore, Chettinad cuisine, spicy and aromatic and heady with black peppercorns, star anise, kalpasi (lichen), cinnamon, has survived and deeply influenced Singapore’s food culture.
In honour of Singapore’s Jubilee year, Muthu’s Curry, world-renowned for its fish head curry, presents a limited-edition, heritage menu that pays homage to this region of South India, the birthplace of the brand’s late founder. The menu is poetically named “Mannuvasanai,” or “fragrance from the land,” and offers diners a sampling of Chettinad delicacies often prepared for sumptuous banquets and special occasions (weddings, etc.).
I particularly enjoyed three vegetarian dishes that were new to me: vazhathandu kootu, a mild banana stem-and-lentil stew seasoned with mustard seeds and curry leaves; vazhakkai varruval, raw bananas marinated in turmeric, chili powder, cumin, fennel, and coriander, lightly battered, and shallow-fried; and vendaikkai mochai mandi, a spicy, tamarind-infused okra and cannellini bean preparation. I was enchanted by the varying textures and flavors of these dishes.
Also included were two Chettinad dishes more familiar to connoisseurs of South Asian cuisine: milagu varutha kozhi – chicken seasoned with black peppercorns, the cuisine’s signature ingredient, and a masala of ginger, garlic and chilies – and vanjaram meen kulambu, tamarindy-y, thick-cut mackerel filets in a onion- and coconut-based curry.
The spread is accompanied by a tumbler of cooling homemade buttermilk, dollops of piquant homemade mango achar and salt to symbolise the bond between host and guest, and sweet payasam, pudding made by boiling rice with milk and sugar and flavored with slivers of young, tender coconut.
I washed my meal down with a cup of traditional, piping hot filter coffee made with frothed and boiled milk.
The Mannuvasanai menu, $32.00++ for two, is available through October 31 at the chain’s Race Course Road flagship restaurant.
Muthu’s Curry, 138 Race Course Road, #01-01, Singapore 218591, Tel: (+65) 6392 1722. Click here for other locations.
Opening hours: 10.30am-10:30pm