A feast of opportunities

Tandoor's Diwali buffet's dosa Live station. ― TODAY pix
Tandoor's Diwali buffet's dosa Live station. ― TODAY pix

SINGAPORE, Oct 29 — Perhaps because Singaporeans never pass up a reason to feast, the chefs behind some of our favourite destinations for Indian fare say more consumers — Hindus and non-Hindus alike — are lapping up Deepavali (or Diwali, if you are north Indian) menus.

“We in Singapore are a multi-racial society, and the Deepavali (celebration) is all about sharing the happiness of the festival. So it’s natural that Hindus will share it with their non-Hindu friends (and vice versa),” said executive chef Manjunath Mural of Michelin-starred Song Of India, who noted a 20 per cent increase of such diners over the past few years.

He revealed that consumers are asking for discounts for bulk orders, and it is probably a reaction to the slowdown in the economy. “Even though we have attained a Michelin star, we have consciously made the effort to maintain prices — for the a la carte menu and for our popular weekend buffet — and this applies to the Deepavali promotion as well.”

Sous chef Uttam Singh, of Tandoor at Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre, observes that families in Singapore enjoy dining out for Deepavali celebrations, while in India, they tend to cook and dine at home. Add the value of a good buffet spread to that and it is easy to see why the restaurant’s Diwali Mela brunch buffet (priced at S$48, RM144.70) tomorrow has been fully booked for lunch since Wednesday.

Song of India's inspired range of Diwali sweets.
Song of India's inspired range of Diwali sweets.

One diner who looks forward to festive menus such as these is Ramesh Raju, 44, an engineer and father of three. “My family and I love dining out, especially during this festive season because the set menus and buffets are attractively priced. They also feature dishes unique to the season, so it is worth the occasional splurge,” he said.

And it does not have to be a pricey or decidedly upscale affair, either. Shanavas Vijayan, 50, for example, does not dine out very often, but he is looking forward to visiting Madras Woodlands Ganga Restaurant (on Cuff Road) for a festive meal with family and friends. “I like it for its authenticity and the vegetarian meals,” he said.

Others, such as 23-year-old administrator Nikki Maran, would simply head out for something even less fussy. “My friends look forward to coming over for Deepavali. But it gets too crowded at home and I’m often too busy entertaining — so we retreat to Srisun Express,” she said. “There’s something there for everyone, even my non-Indian friends, who love that you can douse the spiciness of prawn tikka and chicken biryani with a tall milkshake!”

This year, she aims to check out its new outlet at Serangoon Gardens.

Rang Mahal’s tandoori Portobello mushrooms.
Rang Mahal’s tandoori Portobello mushrooms.

Flavour filled

Typically, dishes such as palak paneer, gobi matar and paneer tikka are classic features at the festive table, said Rang Mahal’s executive chef Vinod Kumar. He also highlighted a keen focus on “delivering items that are healthy yet wholesome”, which include dishes such as broccoli tikki, goat cheese tikka and tandoori Portobello mushrooms.

What is unique to the festivities, he explained, is the inspired range of sweets. “This is the Festival Of Lights, and sweets-giving is typical during this period,” Kumar said. “As such, only during this festive period do we freshly make our sweets.” And this is also where a change in preferences is noticeable. “Indian sweets are known to be very sweet traditionally, and we have seen an increasing trend of consumers asking for ‘less sweet’ options,” Mural added.

This year, Tandoor has even included in its gift set offerings a selection of spiced pralines, infused with coriander seeds, cumin and other spice mixes, as well as a white chocolate with pink peppercorn and raspberry blend.

In fact, Javed Ahamad, Punjab Grill Singapore’s corporate chef, noted a growing penchant for innovative flavours across savoury and sweet items. “As more Indians are well travelled, they are more open and are looking to try out unique and innovative dishes,” he said, adding that it is, hence, the reason behind new festive dishes such its jackfruit (kathal) dum biryani. Now that is a sweet-savoury dish locals can really get into. ― TODAY

Apple wood smoked sweet potato and star fruit tossed in tangy tamarind, from Punjab Grill Singapore.
Apple wood smoked sweet potato and star fruit tossed in tangy tamarind, from Punjab Grill Singapore.

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