November 5, 2004 (STAR) By Bea Ledesma - You are what you eat, so goes the saying. If that were the case, majority of Filipinos living in Metro Manila could easily be labeled western. With many diners going to cheap burger joints or safe homogenized western restaurants that serve regular fried chicken or grilled beef, the local palate isn’t attuned to the variety of local flavors that pepper Asian cuisine – the fiery Thai, spicy Indian, or exotic Malay. Instead, dulled by oil-heavy, deep-fried fare, local consumers are frightened of anything slightly foreign, when in reality, these Asian flavors are as close as they can get to real fresh cooking.

Curry best represents this mélange of cultures and flavors. Originally from India, curry is now popular almost everywhere in Asia – and Britain as well – with varieties unique to each nation. Watch an episode of Cooking with Floyd on the Discovery Travel and Adventure channel and you’ll be surprised at the number of styles and flavors that exist. While certain countries prefer spicy intense mixes, others go for milder, less potent, almost sweet combinations. In Indonesia and Vietnam, variations go from sour and hot to sweet and smooth.

Today, curry is served in many food courts where the meat is usually chicken and the sauce is usually brown and all too often nondescript. Sadly, the sauce often comes from an instant pack of curry seasoning, which means the spices are no longer fresh. And the flavor is… well, let’s not go there.

Curry is the house specialty at the aptly named Banana Leaf Curry House, a restaurant that serves fusion cuisine. Finicky diners wary of clever fusion food schemes shouldn’t be afraid of this one. A mix of Malaysian, Indian, Thai and Singaporean dishes are on the menu. Hearty, flavorful and fresh are key words to Asian cuisine, long forgotten by food court purveyors. Taken very seriously by the people behind Banana Leaf Curry House, the result is staggering, with numerous versions of curry on the menu, along with exotic dishes like tandoori chicken. With so many different kinds of curry to choose from, the diner is left perplexed. How do you decide?

Well, curry works with just about any variety of meat that’s good to eat. Even better, it can be done nicely with different meats, such as lamb, and for vegetarians, seafood and vegetable curry is available.

But don’t be mistaken. Curry isn’t the only thing on the menu. The tandoori chicken consists of chicken fried to a crisp then basted with a sweet fruit sauce, with a fresh vegetable and mango salad on the side. Light and fragrant, it soothes the taste buds but remains a hearty entrée for famished diners. The Hainanese chicken is a must-try. Steamed in a mild soy sauce to lock in the chicken’s flavor, it’s succulent and tender. When paired with steaming rice, it’s an irresistible dish.

When ordering appetizers, take a gander at the vegetable samosas, a traditional Indian dish of ground vegetables fried in a kind of dough-like wrapper. Think empanada and you’re not far from it. Dipped in a tangy yogurt sauce, it tastes like something you’d eat in… well, India.

After a meal at Banana Leaf, your taste buds will be exhausted by the relentless stimulation of tangy, spicy, crisp, hot and herbal flavors. Finally, an exercise you can enjoy.

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Banana Leaf Curry House has just opened a new branch at Alabang Town Center. Other branches are at The Podium and Greenbelt 1.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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