Only 9.2 percent of Singapore’s resident population are Indians. You wouldn’t know this piece of trivia of course if you’re in Little India, a district predominantly peopled by migrants of—yup, you guessed it right!—Indian origins. Here, Indian commerce, culture and traditions thrive with vitality that it almost seems like a self-contained community.
This Indian identity is particularly evident, more than any other time of the year, during the Deepavali or the Festival of Lights which was greeted in this part of Singapore with much fanfare and celebration yesterday, November 13, 2012. The bustling Serangoon Road was agog with festivities (and some folks who have had too much to drink); all dressed up and aglow with arches of colorful lights that can give the Christmas adornments along Orchard Road a run for their money.
The wifey and I thought there was no other auspicious time than this to soak in the local culture and to enjoy the cuisine. After working up our appetite by walking up and down Serangoon Road and exploring some alleys that look like the good ol’ Singapore, we decided to test our untrained palates at The Banana Leaf Apolo (yup, that’s not a typo, Apolo is spelled with a single l).
The place was already starting to get crowded when we arrived (which is usually a good indication if the food is really good).
We immediately grabbed the menu and asked for some recommendation from the head waiter who suggested Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken) after our emphatic “not so spicy lah” protestations. We also ordered Biryani rice (looks like Yang Chow fried rice to my untrained eye but with a distinct Indian flavor) and vegetables. Jut between you and me, I would have ordered a Tiger beer to wash them all down but I don’t want to risk a piercing glare from the missus. And so we settled for the ho-hum lime juice instead.
Another waiter came and gave us large rectangular plates lined with fresh banana leaves. The wifey and I exchanged glances when the Murgh Makhani was served. Priced at SGD13, the small serving was a letdown (we had to scrape the bottom of the small bowl to check how much chicken was there in the dish, lol). Large scoops of the flavorful Biryani rice (which we belatedly realized was “unlimited”, i.e., eat-all-you-can) and some slightly overcooked beans were unceremoniously dumped on our plates by our waiter.
The verdict? I enjoyed the chicken (thank goodness it was not so spicy) but there was very little of it. The rice was also good but some guys at the kitchen must have left the garlic cloves unpeeled so I had to gingerly take out some garlic skin while I was eating. The beans, as mentioned earlier, were a bit overcooked which is a no-no to the wifey who likes her greens crunchy. We tried to salvage the rest of the experience by ordering Naan bread which we dipped in the extra sauce from the chicken dish. Served fresh from the oven, the bread was surprisingly good and at SGD 2.50 was a good buy already. We should have ordered more of this instead of the rice and veggies which cost SGD3.50, I told the wifey.
‘Trivial Matter’ – you have to ask the waiter for your bill and settle it yourself with the cashier located near the entrance of the restaurant. But as soon as the waiter handed us our bill, he ushered in another couple before we were even able to get up and collect our bags. So, this is fast-food, Indian-style, I told myself.