KW’s Indian Cuisine
The blog Table for Maple has a simple mission — find good food in Waterloo Region. It’s author, Maple, is all about positivity, refusing to write bad reviews. This philosophy has brought her a following of devoted foodies and community lovers alike, who stay tuned for her well-written stories of adventure, community events and of course, food.
These past three months have been a hectic swirl. I completed my Masters degree at the University of Waterloo, wrote the professional exams for Accountancy, moved to a new house, started working full-time, and traveled to Southeast Asia for a month. Even though I was born in Kitchener, I lived in Singapore for quite a while. Singapore is widely known as a food heaven, due to the sheer variety of food available. I am excited to share that in another OOTA blog entry.
For years, my favourite Sunday Brunch in Singapore has been the Indian Roti Prata.
Together with Maple syrup in Canada, Singapore’s Roti Prata was voted as one of the world’s 50 best foods on a poll compiled by CNN in 2011.
The truth is curry wouldn’t be curry if it wasn’t for this dough-based pancake. Looks and tastes like Indian naan, roti prata is flipped and turned and flipped again before it’s heated over a grill plate. Its preparation is so theatrical you’ll feel like dancing a jig while you’re eating it.
Contrary to Canada’s Indian cuisine, which is typically served with a larger portion of curry with a side of naan, the star of Singapore’s Indian cuisine is the prata itself. Thin and crispy, there are different varieties of the Prata such as ones embedded with eggs, onions, cheese etc. The prata is usually served with a small side of curry, with minimal amounts of meat.
The locals call Roti Prata with no fillings as “Roti Prata Kosong”. This is most popular version followed by “Roti Prata Telur” which comes with beaten egg filling. Add some varieties by ordering one or two pieces of Roti Prata Kosong and another with the filling you like.
A while ago, I received a request to write about the best naan in the KW Region. Naan is quite different from the usual Indian Prata I am used to in Singapore.
Roti Prata is the Singaporean evolution of the Indian paratha, a pancake made of dough composed of fat, egg, flour and water. Roti means bread in Hindi, Urdu, most other North Indian languages and Malay, while Prata means flat. It is traditionally served with curry or, more rarely, with sugar or condensed milk. In addition, although consumed at any time of the day by some locals, the vast majority tend to consume it as a late night or early morning dish, particularly at 24-hour outlets.
Naan is round flatbread made of white flour and baked in a clay oven known as a tandoor. This is commonly eaten In India, Pakistan, Central Asia, Middle East.
According to The Best of Waterloo Region poll, KW voted Masala Bay to be the best Indian restaurant around. Aiming for a fair comparison, Y & I visited various Indian restaurants in the area and ordered similiar dishes.
On the Table for Maple:
- Papadum (usually complimentary as appetizer)
- Mango Lassi
- Tandoori dish
- Curry dish
Y & I had attempted to dine at Koh-I-Noor a while ago, but cowardly left when we peered into the restaurant and saw no customers on a Friday evening. On our second attempt, it was better – approximately four tables were occupied.
The owner was the only server. Hence, service was very slow and water was only served after we requested for it. However, appetizer was promptly provided.
The papadum was delicious! Extremely crisp and well seasoned.
The mango lassi was way too sweet and tasted slightly artificial.
We attempted to order their Tandoori Platter, but the owner informed us that it will take more than 45 minutes. Therefore, he suggested the Chicken Tikka and said that it will be prepared faster than the Tandoori Platter. Despite that, our order still took over an hour to be served. We tried to request the curry and naan to be served before the tandoori was ready, since Y & I share dishes so it will not matter which dish gets served first. However, the owner refused – I guess he wanted us to enjoy all the dishes at the same time.
Naan was pillowy with great texture, but tasted slightly bland.
Chicken Tikka ($12.95)
Diced boneless chicken, marinated and mildly seasoned with delicate herbs. Served with salad, vegetable rice & mint sauce
The chicken pieces were overly dry, and the rest of the dish was bland.
At this point, I felt rather disappointed with the quality of food. Fortunately, Koh-I-Noor’s curry redeemed itself.
Ragan Josh with lamb ($12.95)
Here the characteristics of the dish are derived from the use of tomatoes, pimientos and onions in a manner which produces a dish of similar strength to the Madras preparation (fairly hot)
It was perfectly spicy with the right kick, with the lamb pieces marinated with layered flavours of the curry. It was so delicious that we had to order another plate. The other curry arrived within five minutes. It just made me wonder why the owner would starve us for an hour just to serve the curry and tandoori together.
A+ for the curry, A+ for the papadum!
Empress of India always have coupons in those KW coupon booklets.
I have always been impressed with Empress of India’s prompt service.
The papadum was a little too salty. I prefer to eat the them plain without the sauces.
They definitely scored for presentation. Though also a little too sweet, the mango lassi was very smooth. A little more tartness from the yoghurt would have been preferred.
The naan looked amazing, but I found them to be overly greased and too bland.
Punjabi Saag Lamb ($14.99)
Boneless chicken/Lamb/Beef and fresh spinach cooked in Indian authentic gravy.
The green spinach curry definitely did not look as appetizing as the usual brown curries. It also lacked the spicy kick we were looking for.
Mixed Tandoori Khajaana ($19.99)
Tandoori chicken, chicken tikka, sheekh kebab, tandoori machi, shrimp and green chicken served with salad.
If I have portrayed horrible image of Empress of India thus far, I do apologize. If you ever visit them, please do order this dish. This plate full of chicken breasts was excellently seasoned and cooked to tender perfection. I rarely eat chicken breast because they dry out so quickly and tastes like rubber when they do. Empress of India did such a fascinating job with this dish that I really think it should be their signature dish. Best of all, it was served promptly with the curry.
A+ for the tandoori!
Vijay’s is the only Indian restaurant with a minimum charge of $8/person after 5pm.
They also provided the classiest vibe amongst the Indian restaurants.
Despite a full house on Friday evening, there was only one server available in the dining room. It took quite a while to get our order, and food only came 45 minutes after. Vijay’s was also the only place that did not provide complimentary papadum for appetizer.
Vijay’s menu surprised us – they did not have many tandoori choices. The closest one will probably be their House Special (Chicken tikka, lamb or beef bhoona, aloo gobi, raita, mango chutney, pulao rice, nan bread and papadum). As my sister, Xenia, joined us, we were able to get more dishes. Hence, we decided on two curry dishes, one rice dish, and naan instead of our usual tandoori + curry + naan combination.
Rogan Josh ($12.95)
Lamb or beef cooked in seasoned curry
Bhoona Gosht ($13.95)
Cubes of lamb or beef cooked in spiced gravy with green peppers, onion and tomatoes
We made a grave mistake by choosing “Mild plus” as our desired spice level. As a result, the curries were extremely underwhelming and tasted more like lamb in gravy than curry. The meats were not as tender as we would have preferred.
Shajahan Biryani with lamb ($13.50)
Saffron rice cooked with almonds exotic spices & raisins.
With a generous portion, I enjoyed this dish very much. The fragrance of the rice, laced with slight sweetness of the raisins and crunch of the almonds, harmoniously complimented the “lamby” meat. I always try to order lamb dishes whenever they are available, as I find this meat hard to cook to perfection. Some might find lamb, for the lack of a better word, too “lamby”. However, I love that “weird” aftertaste, as some might describe it. The tzatziki dip felt out of place on this dish though.
Vijay’s “naan” was strikingly different from the usual naan. It felt more like a random fluffy western flat-bread than naan. Appearance aside, it was very fluffy and light compared to the typical naan. I had 1.5 of these long pieces and did not feel overly stuffed.
The mango lassi – which I had forgotten to take a photo of – barely had any hint of mango. It was just a mouthful of tartness from the yoghurt, which was disappointing.
A+ for the biryani!
Masala Bay is hidden behind Symposium in Uptown Waterloo, which could be harder to find than the other Indian restaurants despite its convenient location. Compared to the others, the interior of the restaurant also seems much smaller and more crowded.
One of my favourite things about Masala Bay is the way they serve their curries.
The candles attempt to keep the curries warm.
Papadum at MB tasted more neutral and herb-y compared to the simple salted ones at the other Indian restaurants.
MB’s mango lassi has undoubtedly the best balance of sweetness from mango and tartness from yoghurt.
MB’s naan were beautifully charred, and gently greased unlike Empress of India’s. They were also more flavorful than Koh-I-Noor’s bland naan, and more substantial unlike Vijay’s light fluffy flatbread.
Y & I were with Friend T, so once again, we had the opportunity to order more dishes. As I had experienced several dry tandoori dishes at MB previously, we opted for three curries instead.
Beautiful presentation and very prompt service. All food arrived within 15 minutes.
Murg Tikka Makhani ($15.99) – a.k.a Butter Chicken
An eye pleasing and colourful delicacy of barbequed chicken cooked in fresh tomato and butter sauce, tossed with rich Indian herbs
One of MB’s signature dishes and a definite crowd pleaser. This butter chicken married sweet with spicy, and was velvety rich.
Gosht Vindaloo ($16.99)
This has to be the spiciest Indian curry I have ever had. It resulted in me chugging 1.5 glasses of mango lassi at dinner and tearing all the way out of the restaurant. Only for the brave.
Bhuna Gosht ($15.99)
Colourful beef curry with diced onions and peppers
This curry was milder and more plain compared to the other two. The vegetables provided a refreshing crunch though, which brought a much appreciated balance to the heavy meal.
A+ for the mango lassi, A+ for the naan!
Holistically, I agree with the votes that Masala Bay is the best Indian restaurant in the KW region. However, the other restaurants also had redeeming qualities which are worth a try. In my humble opinion:
- Best mango lassi – Masala Bay
- Best naan – Masala Bay
- Best papadum – Koh-I-Noor
- Best tandoori – Empress of India
- Best curry – Koh-I-Noor
- Best biryani – Vijay’s (though we did not get a chance to try biryani dishes at other places…)
- Best presentation – Masala Bay
- Best ambiance – Vijay’s
- Best service – Masala Bay
What do you usually order at Indian restaurants?