Late Friday afternoon I exit the Chinatown Station and walk down Pagoda Street. The zig-zagging string of outdoor lanterns above add a flair of festivity as usual. It’s another day filled with tourists and souvenirs. I head to the end of the lane, make a sharp left turn and enter Taj Authentic Indian Cuisine.
No one greets me. I search for a waiter. They’re pulling a “Where’s Waldo?,” blending in with the customers. An old man looks at me with firm eyes. He has an air of a boss, but later I learn he is a customer. Perhaps a frequent patron seeing that he sits comfortably in his chair as though he owns the joint. He points in a direction. I look. After trying to match eyes with a potential waiter, I am finally seated by a young gentleman with a warm smile. I feel at home.
Nineteen Indian men and three Asian women, myself included, sit in this Indian eatery. Yes, I counted. As I order my lunch the two other females leave. Am I intimidated by being surrounded by only males? For some reason my testosterone levels rise and I feel stronger. It must be all in my head because I don’t see any sudden growth of six packs and biceps ripping my clothes open.
I ask for the Fish Dum Biryani. While other meats are served daily, fish is only available on Fridays. What is today? Friday. How can one pass on this one-in-seven-chance opportunity? I ask the waiter what type of fish is used. He doesn’t know nor his co-workers. What he does know: one kind of fish is served and changes every week.
The Fish Dum Biryani is served with a side of cucumbers, red onions and tomato. These raw vegetables bring a crispy refreshment to its cooked counterparts. Before mixing the rice with the mystery fish and its salty marinade, pick out the bones. It won’t be too difficult as the bones are few and thick. However your experience will be dependent on which specie of mystery fish is bestowed upon you. As for the texture my fish is medium soft.
The accompanying bowl of gravy–containing bits of eggplant, cauliflower and carrot–tastes like a spicy tomato sauce in the first bite. Every mouthful afterwards is tame. A native Indian tells me that serving biryani and the gravy separately is a Singaporean tradition. In India the biryani and gravy come already mixed for the customer.
Looking out at the street through the glass facade, I watch locals and tourists alike stroll by as I sip on my Lime Juice. It has a processed sugar sweetness that has its seductive diabetic charm. My taste buds are not complaining. The juice provides a welcome detour from the biryani.
On the walk back to Chinatown Station an elderly man sells snacks from his street food stand. I order a durian-flavored ice cream. He pulls out a rectangle box and cuts it directly with his knife. He pulls the exterior paper off the chopped portion, revealing yellow ice cream, and places two thin wafers on the sides, turning it into a sandwich. As he hands me the treat, I smile wide. My inner child takes over.
Taj Authentic Indian Cuisine
214 South Bridge Road
Tel: +65 6226 6020