Posted by Cris on | April 8, 2011 | No Comments
The battle of wills has begun. The Bean, now 16 months, is no longer happy to lunch on ‘safe’ foods brought from home when we eat out.
He’s curious about what we’re eating, eyeing our orders and batting spoonfuls of home-cooked congee on restaurant floors all over Singapore.
Last Thursday, after Gymboree, it became clear who had the stronger will. We went downstairs to the food court at Tanglin Mall for lunch after our mom-and-tot class, as usual. I ordered a vegetarian set meal from Komala’s, and a cup of their highly-addictive masala tea – as usual. Then took out his Tupperware, filled with egg-free stir fry from home – as usual. “NO!” he said, turning his head away. He pointed at my poppadum. “NNNGGHH!” No prizes for guessing what that meant. I pulled out the Backup Banana. One bite: phwaw, splat. Onto the floor.
I turned the poppadum over, wondering what exactly it was made of. The Bean is highly allergic to egg, which rules out a lot of food options.
Even the chicken rice stalls (which you’d think would be a safe bet) are suspect, because there are often century eggs lurking around, sharing pots and spoons with other food. I was pretty sure poppadums are made out of lentil flour, but not so sure I wanted to test out a brand new food, right then and there. I scrambled for biscuits. No go. My badly-needed masala tea was growing cold. We glared at each other over the plate of poppadums. Stalemate. I stuffed him in his stroller and slunk off to Marketplace. He lunched on a raisin bun.
That night, my mother-in-law, who’s Sri Lankan, told me that the South Indian definition of ‘vegetarian’ doesn’t just mean no meat and no seafood: it means no egg, too. How exciting! A whole genre of restaurants where I don’t have to worry about hidden egg, or cross-contamination in the kitchen!
So I met with Rajoo Thanasekaran, co-founder of Komala’s, which has branches all over Singapore, to talk about the ingredients they use. He assured me that Komala’s is vegetarian in the strict South Indian sense: there is no egg, no fish, and no fish oils used in any cooking here. Serving anything made with egg in a vegetarian restaurant is a religious taboo, he adds.
Even Komala’s naan, which often is made with egg in regular Indian restaurants, is egg-free. Not all veg restaurants can guarantee that: in some kitchens, the quest for perfection trumps religious mores. Indian chefs in some veg places sometimes sneak in a bit of egg to make their naan fluffier, says Mr. Thanasekaran. “I told our cooks “no way”. There is absolutely no egg in anything,” he says. “I’m very particular about that.”
So as far as The Bean is concerned, the coast is clear. There’s one catch: some of this food is spicy, and many toddlers can’t handle the heat. (Our family does eat a lot of curry at home, but the kids get a ‘baby’ version, sans the hot stuff. ) There is, however, still plenty of food at Komala’s that little tykes can tuck into.
On Sunday, P. and I took The Bug & The Bean to Komala’s at East Coast Park. We ordered puri, a super-puffy fried bread made from durum wheat flour and fried in oil; idly, a small, round savoury steamed cakes made from lentil and rice flours; and some dosai, a crepe made that’s also made from lentil and rice flours. None of these items are spicy themselves — although the dips and accompaniments that come with them are. The Bean, who is 16 months, enthusiastically ate a few mouthfuls of the dal, then started to cry… poor guy. A few more years before he’s ready for that.
I asked Mr. Thanasekaran what other kid-friendly foods they serve. He recommended their veg burger, which isn’t spicy, and idiyappam, which is also called string hoppers. This is a flat disc made from rice noodles that’s steamed until soft. My mother-in-law makes this when she visits us, and the kids love it. You can pour curries on it, or even just pour a little milk or yogurt on, for a baby. Oh – and then there’s dessert: Komala’s even makes their own egg-free ice cream! (yep, there’s egg in most commercial varieties…).
One thing to note: there are plenty of cashews in Indian food, often ground up and added to curries and gravies — so this chain is not suitable for folks with nut allergies.
The upshot for our family: Komala’s is a safe place to eat – but the side dishes that accompany the breads and pancakes are a tad hot for my two. What I might do in future is pack along some cut-up veg sticks and fruit from home, then order some puri or hoppers for The Bean as well. If all else fails, he can munch on poppadums to his heart’s content.