I have always wanted to go to India. I am fascinated by its culture, its food, its movies, and even its pop music...and did I mention its food? Indian food was, for me, love at first bite. It just kinda knocked my socks of in terms of flavor. Cumin, cardamom, cayenne, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, pepper, fennel seed...they make me sigh with pleasure and transport me to far-off lands! I like dishes that make their presence felt, that have a taste and aroma that will not be ignored...exotic and strong and full of passion. This is Indian food for me.
There are a number of good Indian restaurants in Manila but one of my favorites is a little place in Legaspi Village called Swagat. I discovered it when I was still working in that area and have returned many times since. They have an extensive menu which includes vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, a good variety of Indian breads, and some great desserts. You've got Biryanis and Pullows (rice dishes), Paneers (dishes made with Paneer, a homemade Indian cheese, kinda like cottage cheese), Dals (lentil dishes), Raitas (yogurt dip-like sidings), Pakoras, Samosas...the list goes on and on. You will see your old favorites (Roghan josh, goat meat cooked with coriander leaves, tomatoes and flavored spices, is mine) as well as things you haven't yet heard of and are yet to be discovered.
During this visit we had (pictured above, clockwise from top left) Paneer Korma, Roti, Sangam Biryani, and Mutter Palak. Paneer Korma is pretty much a standard when I go. It's paneer cooked with onions, tomatoes and different spices. It has just the right amount of creamy-ness, the acid in the tomato acting as a good counter and adding to the taste, and is very flavorful but not too spicy (so good for people who don't eat spicy, although I am not one of those people). Perfect for dipping our Roti, their whole wheat flat bread. If you aren't into spicy food a Korma (they have Chicken Korma too) would be a good bet as it is one of the mildest spice mixes/sauces. It uses grated coconut, coconut milk, or yogurt which is what brings down the spice factor and gives it its creamy-ness. You can also order a raita to counter the spicier dishes. I usually get the Cucumber Raita...cool and refreshing.
The Sangam Biryani and the Mutter Palak were both firsts for me this time. I usually order a pullow (the Kashimiri Pullow is my favorite -- it has currants and nuts and spices) and order my meat dish separately (usually the Roghan Josh), as the biryanis already have the meat mixed in (unless you order a vegetable biryani). But hey, variety is the spice of life, right? Anyhoo, the Sangam Biryani was a very pleasant surprise, rich and tasty and moist, as I find a lot of biryanis I've had before to be a little dry. It has both chicken and lamb in it, and both I found very tender and well blended with the spicy flavors of the rice. The Mutter Palak was the first dish among the vegetarian specialties that I tried (as I don't often wander into the vegatarian portion of menus). It turned out to be a real winner! Peas and spinach cooked with a blend of herbs and spices with gave the dish a good strong character that enhanced rather than overpowered the flavor of the vegetables. I vow to try more of the vegetarian stuff soon.
To complement the spicy nature of the food we had some Sweet Lassi, which is a sweet yogurt and milk drink. I have always liked lassi and try to have it every time I'm at an Indian restaurant. It also acts as an excellent "fire extinguisher" to cool your toungue after an extra spicy spoonful of food.
I never leave Swagat without having some Gulab Jamun for dessert, going as far as to pre-order it before ordering any of our mains. It's described in the menu as a "cheese ball", but it's more like a sponge-y ball of dense cake, with a hint of cheese, soaked in syrup. It is heavenly. And has been a favorite Indian sweet of mine since childhood, when a nice lady in my neighborhood use to make and sell it. To top everything off, a cup of hot Masala Chai, tea brewed with milk and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and ginger. It's my favorite tea...hot and spicy, milky but strong.
Sated, we lean back in our chairs as our waitress brings us our hand written bill. No service charge and a good deal for all we had consumed.
Their food is what I feel is good, authentic, and absolutely delicious Indian cooking. It's run by Mrs. Komal Khanchandani, who moved here from India with her family eight years ago. She cooks all the meals herself. It's a simple place, with none of the trappings of higher-end Indian restaurants, but what it lacks in gold tureens and belly dancers it makes up for in great home cooked Indian food and a TV that plays Bollywood movies all day long (this is a definite bonus in my book!).
Swagat Indian Cuisine
119 FCC Building, Rada St.
Legaspi Village, Makati City