The flavours of Punjab
Dishes from the region come alive at the immensely popular Big Singh Chapati.
WHEN Hardeep Singh Gill was a student in Toronto, he worked part-time as a pizza delivery guy. Even though he was on the periphery of the F&B industry, he discovered a genuine passion for food, one that stuck with him even when he returned to Malaysia to pursue a career in information technology.
Over the years, the embers of his passion for F&B continued to burn. He spoke to three of his friends about it and last year, they decided if they didn’t do anything then, they never would. They put a deposit down on a shoplot in Subang Jaya, gave themselves three months to put together a restaurant, had endless discussions over WhatsApp ... and in September last year, Big Singh Chapati was born.
“There was no concept before we opened, we just knew we wanted to open a Punjabi restaurant, but it had to be more modern, a bit cleaner – not fine dining, but somewhere in the middle,” says Hardeep.
The restaurant has a clean, simple look with a colourful mural of Indian women by local artist Hyacinthe Kaur brightening up the main wall near the entrance. The place is a little snug and only fits about 50, but has been teeming with people since it opened, and is often packed to the rafters over the weekends.
Big Singh Chapati – as its name implies – specialises in hand-crafted, made-to-order chapatis and pronthas or prathas (stuffed breads). The restaurant sells between 500 and 1,000 breads a day, as well as numerous other Punjabi and North Indian offerings.
To maintain authenticity, most of the wait staff have been brought in from Punjab, India, while the cooks are all from Uttarakhand, a region in northern India famed for its cooks. The cooks came up with all the recipes – even though the owners have mums who are very capable in the kitchen, they felt there might be too many squabbles and differences of opinions if they got their families involved in their business too.
To really get into what Big Singh Chapati has to offer, you’d do well to start with a serving of the aloo prontha (RM5), which is essentially flatbread made from wheat flour, which is then stuffed with spicy potatoes and onions. This particular aloo prontha is Big Singh’s best-seller and it’s not hard to see why. The bread is soft and cushiony and satisfactorily stuffed with spicy potatoes – it’s an immensely rewarding meal that is just bursting with flavour.
Other breads you could try include the mooli prontha (RM5) which is stuffed with white radish (but is a smidgen too salty) and the perennial favourite, cheese naan (RM10) which is soft and slightly chewy, with lots of cheese inside.
The breads generally take about five minutes to be served. If you’re particularly curious, you can watch the staff knead and roll out the dough through the clear glass in the front of the eatery, which is quite an intriguing experience.
If you’re after a light appetiser, the vegetarian samosa (RM2 per piece) ticks all the right boxes. The pastry is crisp on the outside but willingly yields to a petal-soft interior rounded out by potatoes and onions. Trust me, this is addictively good.
Big Singh also has loads of curries and other accompaniments on offer. Chief among these is the paneer butter masala (RM19.90). The paneer or cottage cheese is made in-house using fresh cow’s milk, and is crumbly and soft to the touch. The cheese is couched in a thick tomatoey gravy, filled with the sweetness of onions – rich, creamy and so decadently good, you’ll want the whole pot to yourself!
For something a tad different, try the Patiala chicken (RM24.90). This is the chef’s specialty from his region, and is something you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. This opulent dish consists of boneless chicken and omelette topped with a gravy of minced chicken. It’s a sinfully good, slightly spicy concoction buoyed by the rich omelette, tender chicken and hints of fresh coriander leaves. It’s also extremely filling, so be forewarned.
If you’re a big eater, you might want to invest in the Big Singh mix platter (RM49.90) which basically consists of chicken grilled three ways, as well as grilled paneer cubes. This is an immensely satisfying meal, as the meat and paneer have been marinated in an array of spices before being cooked in a tandoor oven, and so you get hints of the marinade juxtaposed against the slight char and smokiness of the grilled food.
Big Singh sources their sweet treats from a Punjabi dessert expert, so you’d do well to try some of them, especially the barfi (RM4 per 100g) and the coconut candy (RM4). The former is soft with lovely milky undertones, while the latter is silky, with hints of grated coconut.
To wrap up your Punjabi meal, have a glass of fresh Punjabi ginger tea (RM4) a light brown mixture with lots of fresh ginger and spices in it. It’s a simple drink to soothe the soul.
Although Big Singh Chapati has only been around for a few months, Hardeep and his pals are enthused by the response they’ve gotten and are now renovating the upstairs area to accommodate an additional 50 people, as they’re constantly besieged by large crowds. Also in the pipeline is the possibility of another outlet.
“We’ve talked about it, but it’s on the back burner at the moment. Staffing is an issue, and anyway, the most important thing for us is to get Big Singh Chapati running as well as it can before we even contemplate another restaurant. There aren’t many Punjabi restaurants in Malaysia, so we want to make sure our restaurant fully reflects everything that the region has to offer,” says Hardeep.
If you’ve got a heartier appetite, the Big Singh mix platter will satisfy all your cravings with a platter filled with tandoor-cooked chicken and paneer.
Hardeep (right) and one of his partners Savin Gill (left) started Big Singh Chapati late last year. Two other friends are also involved in this project.
The cheese naan is soft and chewy, with lots of cheesy goodness inside. — Photos: SAMUEL ONG/The Star
The Patiala chicken, made with boneless chicken, omelette and a minced chicken gravy, is something you should absolutely savour at Big Singh Chapati.
Sweet things galore! From top left: barfi, coconut candy, ladoo and gulab jamun.
The simple, crisp vegetarian samosa is generously stuffed with a tasty, spicy potato filling.