MTR1924 offers vegetarian food rich in flavours
It has been a long while since a new South Indian vegetarian restaurant opened. The food at these places can be difficult to make and the work, labour intensive.
Manpower woes are compounded by the perception and expectation that these meals be penny cheap despite Singapore's "most expensive city" tag.
The other gripe I have is that most of these vegetarian meals are quite predictable and dull. Think roti prata, thosai, chapati, idli and gulab jamun - nothing progressive.
Then these MTR1924 folks came in mid-2013 and made a splash.
Location-wise, it is great, right across from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple.
This is its first venture out of its base in Bangalore, and I applaud the local Samanvay folks for bringing it to our shore. Step into the restaurant and a glance at the menu will tell you why.
MTR1924 is Malavalli Tiffin Room, a humble vegetarian restaurant that started in 1924.
And the well-travelled founder Yagnanarayana Maiya learnt the ways of the West when he visited Europe.
He introduced hygiene, sanitary and proper food handling in his eatery. You can tell when you step into the restaurant.
The first item that caught my eye was the bisibele bhath, an Indian risotto of sorts.
It comes nicely spiced and with lentils, vegetables, accented with nutmeg and lifted by tamarind pulp.
The little cup of ghee placed atop is a DIY, depending on how hardcore you are. (It renders a shot of adrenaline to the palate if you tip it over.)
This one beats many risottos I've had in a while - the tang and spiciness was on the nose. The accompanying raitha took it up a notch.
The mini papadum was a nice touch.
The rava idli is the main act here - steamed semolina cake that is soft, fluffy, hot, puffy and mixed with yogurt, coriander, cashew nuts and even curry leaves served with a potato curry and chutney.
I now know why this is its blue plate special.
Next, the ragi dosa (yes, I rave about all things spiced).
It looks like a chocolate pancake but it is a dosa (millet flour pancake or thosai) blended with curry leaves and cumin seeds, and comes with a savoury and tangy chutney. Crispy edges and soft fluffy centres.
What else do you want in a snack like this?
Then came puri, which I've had more times than I care to count in my life, especially in my makan jaunts to India.
Someone, in slow motion act, once detailed just how it felt like when he took the first bite of it, "a soft unexpectedly delightful crispy cruuuuunch, followed by an aaah (to describe the follow-up softness of the sensation)".
Yep, it was true. Although it was a tad oily, I wolfed down two of the three pieces in that set.
But there was one European-inspired dessert that eluded me.
"Not available today, sir," was the reply when I was taken by how the chandrahara was described: A layered, crisp-fried Indian bread sweetened with condensed milk, sugar and spices.
I will be back for this one.
438A, Serangoon Road, 8.30am to 3pm and 5.30pm to 9.30pm. Closed on Mondays. Tel: 6296-5800.