May 3, 2009
Mild but sizzling
Usman shows that Pakistani food can still dazzle with flavour without being spicy
By Wong Ah Yoke
When it comes to the cuisines of North India and its neighbours, non- natives may find it hard to tell them apart because many dishes are very similar.
But Pakistani restaurant Usman's Place in Bussorah Street does it a bit differently.
Many of the dishes on its menu share the names of North Indian ones, such as chicken tikka, rogan josh (lamb curry) and aloo gobi (caulifower with potatoes), but the taste is generally much milder than what one would be used to at North Indian restaurants here.
Not only are they less chilli hot, but you also find fewer spices such as cardamoms and fennel seeds dominating the flavours.
While I find some items too mild for me, there are others that are delicious even without the spices.
One of these is mutton karahi ($15.90), a thick stew cooked with tomatoes and ginger. The meat has been slow-cooked for hours till nice and soft, and the flavours of the sauce are well infused. It goes well with either rice or naan, of which a number of varieties are available.
If there are enough of you, get a basket of assorted naans ($9.50) which include plain as well as podina (topped with mint and coriander leaf) and garlic ones.
The naans will also go well with chicken haleem ($11.90), a distinctive Pakistani dish where the chicken is cooked with lentils into a thick paste.
If you want something stronger-tasting, go for the pepper fish sizzlers ($16.50). The cubes of fish, which are served on a sizzling hot plate, are cooked just right and are smooth and tasty. The black pepper is just enough to give it kick without being overpowering, and a bed of sliced capsicums and onions adds sweetness to the flavours.
The mixed vegetables sizzlers ($11.50) are very similar but without the pepper.
For a different flavour, go for the aloo gobi ($7.50). Cauliflower florets are cooked with chunks of potato in mild spices till soft but without losing their shape. And different mouthfuls yield either the sweetness of the vegetable or the starchy potatoes.
The restaurant also serves an original dish of tandoori chicken fried rice ($7). Small pieces of chicken are fried with basmati rice, and what I like about the dish is that the rice is not oily.
Basmati rice is ideal for frying because the long-grained rice is not starchy, so the grains stay loose and do not stick to one another.
The fried rice is much better than the tandoori chicken ($13.90) on its own, which I find too bland.
The prawn pakora ($10.50) is also a disappointment. This, too, would have benefited with a more generous use of spices.
I tried three desserts: banana split ($6), ras malai ($5) and kheer ($4.50). The ice cream and the ras malai (cheese balls soaked in milk) are run-of-the-mill.
It is the kheer, a rice pudding made with nuts and milk, that stands out. It is creamy and satisfying without being too sweet or heavy. Just the thing to end a meal that is much lighter than most of the North Indian ones I have had.
Mutton karahi ($15.90)
Tender pieces of mutton cooked in a delicious gravy of tomatoes with just a hint of ginger.
67/68 Bussorah Street, tel: 6297-0097
Open: 11am to 11pm daily
Price: About $30 a person