No, this is not a travel article about some secret Mixed Martial Arts arena in Bombay (sorry to disappoint you boys) and I’m not going to talk about the Indian version of Muay Thai either. This is about the Indian food served in Namaste India.
To put it in a nutshell, the dining experience offered in this small establishment in Fort Bonifacio is more or less similar to how a masochist goes through a fight. You know, the fighter goes inside the arena adrenaline rushing through his veins, he charges onto the opponent, gets his face beaten to a pulp and then he goes back in there for more. Here, let me tell you why.
Once I stepped inside, I was pretty sure I heard a huge crowd cheering me on. They were hollering words in some Indian dialect and it got louder as I reached my seat. Then I was served water with moisture trickling down the sides of the glass. The ice-cold liquid numbed my tongue and throat seemingly getting them prepped for some beating. Kind of like how men apply petroleum jelly on the face of a boxer before a fight.
I heard the chinking of the gold coins attached to the waitresses’ skirt as she brought the menu on my table. I ordered some of the basics : Chicken Tandoori (P320 - full); Naan (P60); Mutton Biryani (P240). Plus, some other intriguing ones : Chicken Tikka Masala (P225, boneless); Rose Lassi (P80); and Jeera rice (P180).
Namaste’s interior screams ‘We take Indian cuisine seriously.’ From the wall décor to the Indian guy (I would assume he’s the owner) who was talking to someone in his native dialect, I knew this wasn’t some Indian Pinoy fusion place where your tongue is treated like a baby and every flavor adjusted to your palate. Here, they serve Indian cuisine, period.
I sat glued to my seat, nervously thinking about what I have brought upon myself. I didn’t even know what Tikka or Massala meant and Rose Lassi?— I tried not to think about how it would taste like more so what it would do to my tongue or tummy. But what the heck, this is why people try foreign cuisines—to lace their palates with the unknown.
And so round 1 started. They served the usual fares first, the dishes I was familiar with. It tasted just a bit different from the versions I’ve tried before. Namaste’s chicken tandoori was a bit more crunchy with charred bits attached to the skin. It oozed with bursts of flavor inside my mouth, not enough to take me aback though. It felt like jabs and kicks on the leg. It stung a bit but I just brushed it off.
Then I sampled the Mutton Biryani. The meat was buried in a mountain of yellow, white and orange rice and like the tandoori it oozed with flavors in my mouth. These too, were like light punches just with a bit more force.
I ended round one with tiny sizzling zones in my mouth where the flavor really hit me. Nothing I wasn’t able to wash down with water and a small roll of Naan though.
And then round two came. I stared at the artifact looking cup with the light pink drink in awe. This looked like some of the brass or copper cups that Egyptian Pharaohs were buried with. It looked so special and it made the Rose Lassi look exquisite.
I traced my nose around the cup’s rim and tried to take a quick whiff of the liquid. This one definitely took me aback. It smelled like freshly picked roses smothered in cow’s milk.
Mango Lassi and Rose Lassi
Yogurt drinks have always hit my tongue with a taste that makes it feel numb for a few seconds. This one was no different but the rose element gave yogurt drinking an interesting twist. It was like getting slapped on the face with roses, sweet soft petals, thorns and all. It felt weirdly interesting and I couldn’t stop sipping.
Just when I thought I was done subjecting my tongue to a myriad of blasts, slaps and jabs of flavor I was reminded of my Chicken Tikka Masala.
The third round started with me thinking this was going to be an easy finish, but I was wrong. The realization came as soon as I placed a spoonful of the tikka massala inside my mouth.
Chicken Tikka Masala
After chewing on the tender meat, it exploded with flavors mostly spicy so I grabbed a spoonful of jeera rice and rolled it around my tongue. It was too much for my chocolate trained palate , but maybe just right for some adventure seeking diners or those in search of the real deal. This just might be what some people have long been searching for.
It was definitely the night’s highlight. It woke up all my senses and made me aware of my surroundings and how much more water I need on my table. It was like an uppercut that connected like no other. And yet I kept coming back for more. Just after I finished half of the cup I decided to have my tikka masala wrapped so I could take it home. Maybe, I thought to myself, this fight could best be continued in my turf where my backup’s at –-Pinoy seasonings, condiments and all.
The cheering crowd went silent for awhile, to me it sounded like they were disappointed, but then they started singing, yes singing. I looked back to see an LCD screen playing an Indian music video. So that’s where the noise was coming from. I walked out of Namaste planning for my next visit and how next time nothing will take me by surprise—this, I thought, definitely deserves a rematch.