The flavours of Pun­jab

Dishes from the re­gion come alive at the im­mensely pop­u­lar Big Singh Cha­p­ati.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste - By ABIRAMI DURAI star2@thes­tar.com.my

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.

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