Pictures by Gisele Soo
SeeFoon revisits Mahraj’s Kitchen
“The most beautiful moments always seemed to accelerate and slip beyond one’s grasp just when you want to hold onto them for as long as possible.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly
I checked my last review on Mahraj’s Kitchen when it was newly opened and it’s been almost 7 years. The food I had then was exciting, as stimulating to my taste buds as almost a “new” cuisine. Yet, holding on becomes a chore and soon the taste sensations became memories, lost in time.
Recently my taste memories were jogged, a sharp prod into that area of the brain where it resides, the taste cortex, found in a relatively insulated area of the human brain known as the insular cortex.
It was a revisit to Mahraj’s Kitchen, the home of Hyderabadi cuisine, a blend of Telugu and Nizami cuisines that brought this sudden realisation of “Why haven’t I been back before? This taste is unbelievable”.
Telugu cuisine is a cuisine of South India, native to the Telugu people from the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Generally known for its tangy, hot and spicy taste, the cooking is very diverse due to the vast spread of the people. Andhra cuisine is largely vegetarian, yet has a huge range of non-vegetarian options, and is perhaps the most fiery of all Indian food.
Srinivas and Premila are the owners, a pair of unlikely restaurateurs if we look at their backgrounds. Sinu, as he is fondly called, used to be in the graphic design business and Premila a lecturer. Yet Mahraj has been thriving for 7 years. And chef Vailankanni Pushparaj from India has stayed with them from the beginning, dishing out delectable Hyderabadi dishes.
The most amazing part of eating at Mahraj is their not using MSG in their cooking. I usually have allergic reactions to MSG and not only do I not have them after a big meal here, but I also don’t get the uncomfortable reflux that comes from a big meal at other Indian restaurants.
Perhaps this comes from their fastidious insistence on importing all their spices from Hyderabad, grinding and mixing their own masalas for all the different preparations. It also lends each dish its own unique aromatic dimensions, shimmering on the tongue, darting between bracing and bold, mellow and buttery.
Now let’s get to the dishes.
One of my favourites was the Fried Tullagadda, Kerala style stir-fried potato with coconut oil and mustard seeds, cumin seeds, grated coconut, onion and black pepper. I could just eat this and die happy! How can a simple potato taste this good! RM8.90 (S); RM11.90 (M).
Another dish that I feel that I could die happy about was the Fresh Lemon Garlic Fish, boneless morsels of Dory, first battered, then fried and tossed in a separate pan with slices of lemon, chunks of lemon rind, fried onion, garlic and curry leaves. Tart, umami, and a wake-up call to one’s taste buds. RM8 (S); RM13.90 (M).
Crab Soup using flower crab is always available and does not need to be ordered in advance. There is always a distinctive taste to Indian fish soup that is quite addictive to my palate. Whether it’s the combination of mint leaves, coriander, curry leaves and of course, onion, garlic and the flavour of the crab itself—I find myself craving for more. RM10.
A wonderful starter was the Pani Puri, a typical Hyderabadi street food of little fried dough balls which puff up to become hollow inside, filled with a potato masala filling and served with mint water fragranced with mint, coriander, green chilli, masala and a pinch of black salt which helps to develop the taste. RM5 for 6 pieces.
There were so many dishes on the table for our tasting that while I sampled every single dish (about 25 in all including breads and snacks) and found them delectable, I will only describe the unusual and the spectacular ones.
There were two new dishes that were spectacular. The first was their Octopus Varuval, thumb-thick chunks of octopus tentacles cooked tender in a dry masala paste, looking dark and ominous on the plate but in the mouth, a burst of robust flavours, fiery, buoyant, and scintillating on the tongue. A joy and delight for anyone who enjoys seafood tastes and textures. Wrap it in a piece of garlic butter naan, and you have heaven in a mouthful.
They also make a Black Pepper Octopus Biryani using baby octopus, the basmati rice light and fluffy and the fire coming from peppercorns.
The Pomfret Biryani is the piece de resistance to soon make an appearance on Mahraj’s menu. An impressive platter with a large black pomfret sitting on a bed of fluffy Dum biryani (cooked in a pot sealed with dough), the fish is smothered with a robust blend of freshly roasted spices for the masala, cooked separately, then placed on the rice. This one dish is enough to serve four to five people, and with a thick curry sauce and a thin raita (yoghurt with chopped onions and cucumber) served with it, is a delectable meal in itself. RM84.90.
But greedy foodie me just had to try everything else so the dishes kept on coming.
The Palak Paneer, creamed spinach with homemade cottage cheese, was one of the tastiest I have eaten, RM9.00 (S); RM13.90 (M). Equally delectable was the Mushroom Palak, RM9 (S); RM13 (M). Because both were saucy, they were the perfect “dips” for the Butter Kulcha (RM4.90), a Naan bread dotted with sesame seeds and topped with coriander leaves which lent its fragrance to the bread.
The Mutton Chukka was a dry recipe, masterfully tenderised in the cooking with the spices well permeated into the meat. It was fiery but absolutely to my palate. RM11.90 (S); RM16.90 (M).
Hyderabadi cuisine is famous for its Biryanis, coming in many guises. The Chicken Dum Biryani came with a boiled egg, the chicken pieces well buried inside the rice, its masala permeating the rice as it cooks. RM11.90.
Fried Pepper Mushrooms were delectable, fresh Shiitake mushrooms with their inimitable earthy flavour and meat-like texture, fried with a generous helping of black pepper and spices. RM8.90 (S); RM12.90 (M). Eaten with the Garlic Naan (RM3.90) was my idea of heaven.
And more was to come.
Kadai Chicken was fiery, tender on-the-bone chicken chunks, cooked in its own special masala, RM9.90 (S); RM14.90 (M). That, along with Fish Masala, a dish with chunks of Ikan Siakap cooked in their own masala sauce (RM8.90 (S); RM15.90 (M)) and Paneer in Butter Masala (RM9 (S); RM14.90 (M)), with all heady aromas wafting from their serving platters, made the perfect marriage with the fragrant Jeera Palavu (RM7), a rice cooked with fennel seeds.
Diners who wish to splurge can indulge in the Lobster Biryani set which comes complete with drinks at RM129.90. Or if its a simple meal you’re looking for, try the Mutton Keema Spaghetti, aromatic minced lamb cooked in its own secret masala and used like a Bolognese sauce which you ladle on over al dente spaghetti. RM13.50.
A Vegetarian Thali is available for RM7.90, and while all other dishes are available for delivery, this is not. Also, do check out their Dosas, idlis and other snack dishes available from 4pm onwards.
Mahraj’s Kitchen is pork-free, with all their ingredients sourced from Halal sources.
They also have a banquet hall upstairs that can seat 75 people, equipped with all necessary sound systems. It is recommended for reservations to be made 2-3 days prior to an event.
14, Jalan Sultan Yussuf, 30000 Ipoh, Perak
10am-10pm, opens daily
Deliveries available through GrabFood and foodpanda
05-242 6973 | 016-287 9492 | 016-427 6973