PICTURES and stories of India portray vibrant cultures and cuisines that reflect their people’s diversity, adventurous spirit and passion for life and flavors. In various corners of the globe where Indians have made their presence felt, this vibrancy is shared with the rest of the world.
In the Philippines, one of the avenues that reflect the Indians’ passion for flavors is the restaurant Legend of India.
Legend of India is an unassuming restaurant on Jupiter Street in Makati between Makati Avenue and N. Garcia (formerly Reposo). Its white (beige? ivory? mother of pearl?) facade and signage with dancing letters have a very friendly appeal. This is matched by the friendliness of the staff (minus a guard who is too protective of parking space) who greet you at the door and the waiters who accommodate customers attentively and immediately.
The austere structure is in stark contrast to the colorful menu that is primarily influenced by Northern Indian cuisine. This is evident in items on the menu such as the rajma (kidney beans), which has Punjabi influences, and the long list of paneer (cottage cheese) variations, which is associated with Bihari cuisine. There is also a long list of mutton variations, characteristic of Kashmir cuisine: Mutton Korma, ground with fresh tomato, butter and cream; Mutton Saag, with spinach and Indian spices; Mutton Vindaloo, hot and spicy with tomatoes and chili pepper, and Mutton Mughlai, which is with a scrambled egg.
All these provincial flavors come together in a one-stop shop for authentic Indian fare. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the flavors of that part of the world, it is a rewarding introduction. Standard Indian fare such as curry and tikka (grilled) are omnipresent, having mutton, chicken, fish and vegetarian variations. It seems that the purpose of showcasing the best of North Indian cuisine is being taken seriously. More importantly, the cooks, whom the owner prefers not to name, definitely treat their cuisine with the respect that one can only expect from a national.
What is most impressive is that the cooks at this restaurant seem to be able to deliver colorful India to your tongue. The Paneer Tikka (grilled cottage cheese) does not shine by the cheese alone but also because of the spice mixture that surrounds it. Whether it’s the Saffron Rice or the Vegetable Biryani, both come alive with seven flavors that pound in your mouth. The mutton soup’s broth alone jolts awake the sleepy eater with its gentle spiciness.
But the cooks are not so traditional as to be unable to poke fun. The traditional Gol Gappas – flaky buns stuffed with potatoes and chickpeas – has a variation that would have the guest pour a mint vodka mix into the bun. You are to stuff the entire bun, the size of a dumpling, into your mouth and enjoy it as the bun cracks and the potatoes and chickpeas, now flavored with vodka, melt in your mouth. It’s fun!
Otherwise they are systematic. The chicken and fish curry, for instance, taste exactly the same. They just dropped a different kind of meat into that one curry sauce. If you liked it the first time, by all means, try the other variations on your next visit.
But don’t be boring. The menu is extensive and you might as well explore all the different flavors and textures. From the light naan to the buttered roti; from the tender meat of the Chicken Malai Tikka, given character by the accompanying mint and tamarind sauces, to the sharp flavors of the kidney beans, you will enjoy every bite.
Be aware though that the Indian cooks have a tendency to peek from the kitchen door—as if to make sure that the customers are enjoying their creations. But after all, if you go through all that hard work to present what is your art, it is but understandable that you would want to know how your creations are received.
At Legend of India, they deserve a round of applause. •
Legend of India. 114B Jupiter Street, Bel Air III, Makati. Tel. 836-4232. Accepts reservations, catering and take-out. Open from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Major credit cards accepted. No reservations required. Parking is limited. Wheelchair accessible. Casual.