[Kuala Lumpur] Vegetarian dining at Saravanaa Bhavan

Chennai-based Saravanaa Bhavan is perhaps one of the most recognizable brand-name for Indian vegetarian cuisine around the world. Its branch here in Petaling Jaya is the oldest and perhaps the best among its 6 KL-based outlets.

I couldn’t resist its “pane puri”, little globes of crisp, hollow pastries filled with spiced potatoes-onions-coriander. You’ll be given cups of “pane”, i.e. the water-based, tamarind-spiked liquid which you pour into the hollow pastries before popping them whole into your mouth - the pleasure of crunching into a pane puri’s crisp shell, releasing a torrent of sweet-sour-spicy liquid in your mouth, contrasting the textures with the soft-boiled mushy potatoes, crisp onions is nothing short of orgasmic.

The “pane puri” originated from Northern India and goes by various names: golgappa in Delhi and fuchka in Kolkata and Dhaka (Bangladesh). I’ve had some slathered with yoghurt and sprinkled with sev (deep-fried fine noodles) to add extra crunch in Bangalore, and there were those filled with vodka-cocktail in Delhi’s Indian Accent restaurant. In whatever forms and variations, they are invariably delish!

A more substantial dish I tried there was the tomato-onion uttapam, a thick, soft, spongey pancake studded with chillis, onions and coriander.

Address

Saravanaa Bhavan
7, 52/2 Jalan Sultan
46200 Petaling Jaya
Malaysia
Tel: +603 7954 1755

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I’ve been to two of the branches in London: East Ham and Wembley. The food is always good, especially the poori masala at Wembley, it comes with a great chutney that tastes very much of fennel seeds but may be something else. Neither looks as nice as that KL branch though.

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I should check out London’s Saravanaa Bhavan, just to compare the food. The ones in Chennai are simply amazing - light years ahead of their KL or Singapore counterparts in terms of standards of cooking. But then, the crowds at their Chennai outlets can be pretty maddening.

My obligatory post of this fascinating article of the owner of Saravana Bhavan:

The KL branch looks pretty barebone? How do the London branches look? The one in the SF Bay Area looks pretty much like any other Indian restaurants around- serviceable but not distinguished. Food in my branch was good, though not great.

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The London branches look similar to the KL branch but the Wembley branch especially is not as bright as the picture and the furniture is a bit shabby compared with the picture posted. It’s a very different aesthetic to the standard curry houses I grew up, more canteen like and there’s no flock wallpaper
Though these are increasingly hard to find as most have updated their decor and look like many other restaurants which is a shame.

Also thanks for the link, interesting reading.

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I’ve only been to the Leboh Ampang and PJ branches but found the Leboh Ampang one (which I’ve been to numerous times), in my experience anyway, to be much better.

What is lacking in KL and SG? Pure techniques? Consistency? Others?

I’d say patience in ensuring the proper timings for their preparation and cooking times. Also, for idlis in Chennai are pillowy-soft and feathery-light - like eating an Angel Food cake compared to the heavy, clunky ones in KL, or the Singapore ones which tend to be drier. It could also be because in Chennai, turnover of customers occur pretty fast, so we get really fresh, a la minute preparations.

My local Singaporean-Indian and Malaysian-Indian friends simply think the types of flour or even quality of local water differentiated the end-products we get in Chennai vis-à-vis Singapore or Malaysia.

But when it comes to dhal or sambhar - the difference between what we get in India vs Singapore/Malaysia is like heaven and earth. The former would have thick, piquant, aromatic brews whilst those we get here are watered-down - don’t ask me why they don’t bother.

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Idlis definitely need to be freshly made to order. I stayed at the Oberoi Grand in Calcutta. First morning I got the idlis from the steamer on the buffet. Second morning I ordered from the waiter and got a fresh batch. They were so much better. Even these though couldn’t compare to the ones I had at the homestay in Kerala made by the owner’s wife. They were the fluffiest, lightest idlis I’ve had. Also the coconut chutney was really fiery and not watery like some I’ve had.

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Keralan cuisine is, IMO, the best in South India.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold