The best modern Indian restaurants spicing up Southeast Asia’s dining scene
A rising army of chefs are redefining this age-old cuisine, one inspired plate at a time.
- September 2019
For years, Indian food in Southeast Asia was seen as being merely cheap and good. Then Gaggan opens in new window burst into the scene in 2010 and turned the cuisine on its head with refined and playful creations like Yoghurt Explosion — an amuse-bouche of squishy spheres of yoghurt that burst with the intense flavours of mango chutney.
The Bangkok restaurant was considered ahead of its time. That is, until an exciting line-up of restaurants established modern Indian as a culinary genre around two years ago. And we don’t just mean taking classic dishes and making them prettier and pricier — these new players are making their mark through confident and nuanced interpretations of childhood flavours.
Here are some of the best modern Indian restaurants to try.
Designed to make Indian food accessible, Thevar serves elevated street food in an elegant setting.
This is one of the inspired creations on the menu — pork jowl is brined for a full day, slow-cooked for three hours then deep-fried so you get that sublime combination of crunch that gives way to beautifully melt-in-your-mouth gelatinous goodness. Sambal aioli, pickled cucumber and peppery betel leaf add complexity to the dish, and make it a two-bite flavour bomb you’ll remember for a long time.
Rasam (a tomato and tamarind soup spiced with cumin) is frozen and shaved over plump oysters — it’s a clever pairing that doesn’t overpower the natural briny flavours of the mollusc.
Address: 9 Keong Saik Road
Website: thevar.sg opens in new window
Nadodi, Kuala Lumpur
Nadodi showcases South Asian flavours from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka. For the full experience, pick from the nine or 11-course tasting menu. A vegetarian tasting menu is also available.
The presentation might not be what you’d expect of an Indian restaurant but the flavours are a respectful tribute to puliogare, a traditional South Indian rice dish that’s usually served as a temple offering. Rice is swapped for fluffy barley grains and cooked in a tamarind and sesame oil paste, then tossed with compressed chayote and peanuts. To finish, a lightly charcoal-grilled and smoked piece of red snapper.
Nadodi’s progressive menu goes beyond food — the signature cocktail is Rasam, a reimagining of the traditional tangy soup. Vodka is flavoured with seven-day fermented tomato purée and topped with warm rasam foam.
Address: Lot 183, 1st Floor Jalan Mayang, Off, Jalan Yap Kwan Seng, Kampung Baru, 50450
Website: nadodikl.com opens in new window
Chef-owner and also India’s first woman to win a Michelin star, Garima Arora makes cross-cultural references, drawing upon her Indian heritage, a New Nordic influence, and inspiration from Thai produce.
Growing up, her mum used to cook unripe jackfruit whenever she was craving meat because it had a similar bite and texture. In her restaurant, she revisits this childhood memory by chargrilling a slab of unripe jackfruit till it’s golden-brown and all the natural sugars are caramelised. Served with pickles and roti so that you can eat it the same way you would tacos, this signature dish exemplifies Arora’s ability to surprise and educate through her food.
Address: 68/4 Soi Langsuan, Ploenchit Road Lumpini, Phathumwan 10330
Website: gaabkk.com opens in new window
Bangkok’s first urban farm and zero-waste restaurant hardcore approach to sustainable fine dining might take the spotlight but its approach to Indian cuisine is just as groundbreaking. The focus here is on the cuisine before the colonisation of India, a less chartered territory that chef Deepanker Khosla explores and expresses through his unique mix of accessible flavours, great storytelling, playfulness, and produce-centric approach to food.
Address: 231/3 Sukhumvit Rd, Khwaeng Khlong Toei Nuea, Khet Watthana, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10110
Website: haoma.dk opens in new window
Chaiwala, Hong Kong
At this hip and buzzy joint, the food much like the décor, is bold and playful. Eat your way through the whole of India through a menu of small and bigger sharing style plates. If you’re crippled by choice, go with the Dabbawala Menu, which will give you a taste of the signature dishes and the chef’s favourites.
If there’s one thing you need to order, it’s Pani Puri with Jal-Jeera. A golf sized crispy puri shell holds a spicy filling of chickpeas and potatoes. Pour the refreshing cumin water into the shell and pop it into your mouth — the process is a tad messy but the explosion of flavours is worth looking unglamorous for.
This dish that’s good for two to three people is another example of how Chaiwala’s food surprises and delights. Lobster is grilled with South Indian spices and served with lobster claw rice and fried greens — it’s an aromatic and decadent dish presented beautifully.
The cocktail list holds its own next to the impressive menu. The highly instagrammable Magic Lamp is a complex concoction of butter-washed rum, banana puree, sage, allspice and dill.
Address: Basement 43, 55 Wyndham St, Central
Website: chaiwala.hk opens in new window