In pur­suit of mod­ern In­dian food

GinRikSha im­presses with unique, con­tem­po­rary in­ter­pre­ta­tions of In­dian cui­sine.

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

SOME­TIME last year, Puan Sri Gita Menon found her­self with a lot of spare time on her hands. Her kids had flown the coop, leav­ing the fam­ily home much qui­eter than usual. So Gita sat and thought about what she wanted to do with all this ex­tra time and came to two re­al­i­sa­tions: 1) she loved food, so, 2) why not open a res­tau­rant?

“I sud­denly found that I had noth­ing to do. So I thought – ‘Okay, I like food and a lot of my friends are start­ing restau­rants, so let me try that.’ And that was it,” she says.

A pro­lific home cook, who learnt from both her mother and motherin-law (both of whom live with her), Gita ini­tially opened a res­tau­rant called Mr Tush in July last year, serv­ing tapas plat­ters. But she soon re­alised that there was a niche mar­ket for mod­ern In­dian food served in a funky en­vi­ron­ment. So she did away with Mr Tush, com­pletely re­fur­bished the space and came up with a brand new res­tau­rant called GinRikSha, in Jan­uary.

The name GinRikSha re­fers to the tra­di­tional jin­rik­sha car­riage, although this no­tion also ex­tends to rick­shaws in gen­eral. To Gita, this hum­ble ve­hi­cle rep­re­sents the ul­ti­mate in re­li­a­bil­ity.

“To me, it’s mainly about the rick­shaw driver, the guy who takes you to your des­ti­na­tion, come hell or high wa­ter – through floods and ev­ery­thing. That’s the kind of ethos that I’m try­ing to fol­low here,” she says.

Gita came up with the menu, most of the recipes trawled from her fam­ily’s vast culi­nary repos­i­tory. The chefs she has em­ployed are of­ten de­ployed to her home, where they are taught how to make heir­loom recipes from scratch, un­der the watch­ful eyes of her mother and mother-in-law.

To add a unique spin to clas­sic dishes, she spent (and con­tin­ues to spend) hours on the In­ter­net, search­ing out recipe ideas and vari­a­tions, which she then tries out at home.

“I didn’t want to be called an­other In­dian res­tau­rant. Our food is In­dian food with a mod­ern twist or mod­ern food with an In­dian twist – depend­ing on how you like to think of it,” she says.

As a re­sult of all that ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, the menu is teem­ing with a panoply of unique op­tions. Like the pop­corn tem­pura (RM14), which is ba­si­cally sweet corn fried in a light tem­pura bat­ter.

The con­coc­tion sounds so de­cep­tively sim­ple, but wait till you sink your teeth into these ad­dic­tive lit­tle morsels! The tem­pura bat­ter is crunchy and the corn ker­nels sort of burst in the mouth, of­fer­ing sweet­ness and crispi­ness with each mouth­ful. This is the sort of in­toxi-

cat­ing treat that will have you form­ing an un­healthy ob­ses­sion and des­per­ate yearn­ing for more.

Then there is the mango chicken pap­padams (RM18). Gita and her team orig­i­nally served this mix­ture of grilled chicken, mango, cu­cum­ber, co­rian­der and yoghurt in taco cups, un­til one of the chefs came up with this in­ven­tive idea. The pap­padams make ideal re­cep­ta­cles for the other in­gre­di­ents, adding light crunch and a touch of salti­ness to the fresh-tast­ing fill­ing.

An­other of­fer­ing that suc­cess­fully mar­ries In­dian flavours with a tra­di­tion­ally Western con­cept is the but­ter chicken pou­tine (RM22). Pou­tine is a clas­sic Cana­dian dish that has been given a dis­tinctly South Asian spin; in­stead of the cheese curds and gravy all over the French fries, in this it­er­a­tion, a creamy but­ter chicken is in­cor­po­rated in­stead.

“We thought but­ter chicken is some­thing that every­body loves be­cause it’s com­fort food. So why not make but­ter chicken, use that as our sauce and put it on top of this? So we made it and every­body loved it, it was an in­stant hit!” says Gita.

And Gita isn’t over­selling the dish ei­ther, be­cause as it turns is out, it a win­ner. Although fries and but­ter chicken sound like strange bed­fel­lows, their union proves a meet­ing of kin­dred spir­its – the creami­ness of the but­ter chicken lay­ered atop the salty, crispy French fries is likely to in­spire a huge fan fol­low­ing (and per­haps some copy­cat ver­sions too).

The varu­val que­sadilla (RM34) on the other hand, seems to be a quest for fu­sion that has in­evitably turned into that dreaded con­fu­sion. The dish some­how pales in com­par­i­son with its peers, as the cheese to­tally over­whelms the mut­ton varu­val, sub­du­ing it to such an ex­tent that it is almost in­dis­cernible.

The chicken pot pie (RM20) marked a re­turn to glory. This chicken stew is Gita’s mum’s recipe – a Ker­alan dish full of chicken and pota­toes and lots of onions topped with a flaky, doughy pie crust. The de­li­cious crust yields will­ingly to the in­te­rior filled with rich, creamy stew and is the stuff you’ll dream of on those rainy days, when a hot pie seems like the only thing that could pos­si­bly sat­isfy your cold, weary soul.

If you’re af­ter some­thing spicy, the Ker­ala Shrimp (RM38) ticks all the right boxes. The volup­tuous prawn pieces are coated in an ar­ray of fiery spices, topped with roasted co­conut. The prawns of­fer lots of rich flavours (and the promised spici­ness) in spades.

For dessert, try the chocolate bread and but­ter pud­ding (RM18). The pud­ding is soft and dense, in­ter­spersed with chocolate flavours. If you’re a purist, you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to feel like this isn’t quite as good as a tra­di­tional bread and but­ter pud­ding but let go of those pre­con­ceived no­tions and you’ll dis­cover an in­ter­est­ing of­fer­ing in its own right.

GinRikSha also has a wide drinks menu, in­cor­po­rat­ing spe­cialty cock­tails that make for great af­ter-din­ner night caps. Like the Gin Basil Smash (RM38) which is made up of Hen­dricks gin, lime juice and basil leaves. The drink has strong herba­ceous flavours, and is fresh and re­fresh­ing from the get-go.

Then there is the Mid­night Kiss (RM26), com­posed of Mal­ibu, Blue Cu­ra­cao, grena­dine and pineap­ple juice – a fruity, trop­i­cal drink that brings to mind im­ages of sunny beaches and hot days and is per­fect for those look­ing for a shot of es­capism.

Gita says that GinRikSha has to­tally cured her empty nest syn­drome, and she is so rarely at home these days that her mother and mother-in-law have started com­plain­ing about her ab­sence. It is ev­i­dent that this pas­sion project has turned her love of food into some­thing far more mean­ing­ful.

“I love the fact that peo­ple come here and tell me, ‘Your food is amaz­ing!’” she says. “I think it’s worth it just be­cause of that.”

— SA­MUEL ONG/The Star

Colour­ful and invit­ing, decked out with an as­sort­ment of rick­shaw wheels cus­tom-made in Penang and Me­laka, GinRikSha’s funky, mod­ern vibe is re­flec­tive in its aes­thetic as well as its food.

The pap­padam cups form the per­fect ves­sels for the rest of the in­gre­di­ents in this fresh, zesty mango chicken pap­padam dish.

The but­ter chicken pou­tine is a cre­ative take on the beloved Cana­dian clas­sic pou­tine.

The chicken pot pie is made fol­low­ing an heir­loom recipe, and is de­li­cious from start to fin­ish.

The chocolate bread and but­ter pud­ding is pil­lowy, but the chocolate bits may not please fans of the orig­i­nal.

If you’re af­ter some­thing fiendishly spicy, the Ker­ala Shrimp will pro­vide lots of plush, fat prawns set against a back­drop of rich, spicy flavours.

Although the mut­ton varu­val que­sadilla sounds promis­ing in the­ory, it doesn’t quite live up to ex­pec­ta­tions in re­al­ity.

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