Musings on Food
By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
I recently explored the nuances of Punjabi cuisine where I discovered its diverse range of dishes. Within the Punjab region which is now divided into Punjab Pakistan and Punjab India, there are different preferences. The main masala in a Punjabi dish consists of onion, garlic and ginger. Tandoori food is a Punjabi specialty especially for non-vegetarian dishes. Indeed, before the 1947 partition, tandoori cooking in India was traditionally associated with the former undivided Punjab. According to Wikipedia, many of the most popular elements of Indian cuisine as it is marketed to non-Indian customers (such as tandoori, naan, pakoras and vegetable dishes with paneer) is derived from Punjab.
I recently had the pleasure of discovering a Punjabi restaurant in Bercham known as Trio Cafe. Established by Major Suwaran Singh Dillon with two partners, the Trio Cafe is keen to showcase Punjabi cuisine to a wider audience. “I’m particularly keen to introduce Punjabi food to the Chinese. Having grown up in Bercham, a lot of my friends are Chinese and I speak fluent Cantonese. I also want to attract the working class and introduce my beloved cuisine at prices which they can afford in a congenial ambiance.”
Indeed, on one of the days when I was there, a group of office girls were celebrating a birthday and having a whale of a time, testimony to the fact that Major Suwaran is achieving his goal. With set lunch prices ranging from RM10-RM15 for a 7-8 item meal, he’s certainly bringing in the working crowd with his reasonable pricing.
But as we all know, just reasonable pricing is not enough to sustain a restaurant. The quality needs to be good enough to bring back repeat customers and this is where Trio Cafe succeeds. All their masalas and pastes, chutneys and spices are hand ground, mixed and produced in their kitchen. Their coriander, mint and yoghurt chutney, which is served with all their tandoori dishes, is tangy and full of flavour and every time I was there I would ask for extra as it would disappear so quickly.
They have a wood-fired tandoor in the kitchen which is the secret to their delectable tandoori dishes, all redolent with the smoky aroma that only wood can impart to baked dishes. The ubiquitous Tandoori Chicken, which in some places can be dry and stringy, arrived juicy and succulent on the bone, the spicing subtle yet with enough bite to entice — RM11 for 3 pieces. The same applies to the Fish Tikka which was tender, with no lingering fishiness — RM12. The Paneer Tikka (homemade cottage cheese) was equally hearty, bite-sized pieces of firm white cheese given the full tandoori treatment — RM12.
The menu at Trio Cafe is extensive with a wide choice of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. No pork or beef is served and to cater to different taste buds, customers may ask for their dishes to be spiced up or toned down. I will list here the dishes that I have enjoyed.
For starters, some unusual items were interesting and delicious. Their special Masala Papad is fried poppadom (made from chickpea flour) topped with chopped tomatoes, onions, chilies and coriander leaves. I laughingly called it the Indian Bruschetta, the Italian appetizer which is served on crusty bread minus the coriander! In fact this appealed even more to my taste buds as the poppadom is thin and crisp and when fried, acts like a small cup which catches the juices of the chopped ingredients. They must be eaten the moment it arrives at the table before the poppadom turns soggy — RM5.
The next appealing appetizer is the Pani Puri, small bite-sized homemade fried breads which are filled with potatoes and served cold with a mint/belacan sauce. [Yes they do use belacan (shrimp paste) in India!] — RM5 for 6 pieces.
Twenty three selections of homemade bread items make for a dazzling selection, ranging from stuffed Naans to Parathas, to Rotis using a mix of different flours. Of the ones I tasted, the Amritsari Kulcha which is a Naan topped with coriander seeds and leaves and whole pepper corns is piquant and hearty — RM5. One of my favourite accompaniment to curries is the Rumali (handkerchief) Roti, an extremely light paper-thin flatbread cooked on an inverted wok over the fire — RM3. With so many breads to choose from, I’ll have to come back many times to sample the whole range.
And now to the ‘wet dishes’ and curries. Again, there is a dazzling array and I shall only mention here the ‘must try’ dishes. These begin with the Mutton Roganjosh, a dish with Persian origins, boneless mutton cooked in a mildly spiced sauce redolent with onions. There is enough sauce here for dipping the various breads — RM19. The Mutton Varuval is the drier, more robust, more fiery sister mutton dish, the spicing very different from the Roganjosh, with hints of cumin, fennel, cinnamon, cloves and star anise lending its exotic flavours to the meat — RM19.
Sixteen chicken dishes tempt the palate and the two I tasted were worth every bite. The Junglee Chicken, chicken pieces cooked in a spicy gravy chock full with ginger and oodles of cracked pepper was a great favourite at the table (RM14) while the Chicken Lababdar, boneless chicken pieces cooked in a mild curry, laced with cream, butter and cashew nuts, was also in the running for favourite chicken dish. This is a curry from the royal kitchens of North India in the days of the Raj and is very rich and satiating — RM16.
I could go on and on with the menu but alas there is only so much space on this page! Do try their Chicken Biryani, Palak Paneer, and their Vegetable Jalfrezi.
22 & 24 Leboh Bercham Selatan 2/1, Bercham East Gate (Behind Bougainvillea Club Ipoh)
GPS: N 04 37’ 31.63” E 101 07’ 53.69”
Tel: Major Suawaran Singh 019 279 2473; Manjit Singh 012 534 6654/05 541 2462
Business Hours: Daily noon to midnight.