Excellent Indian food enshrined in backpacker land!

(No.10, Vol.2, Oct 2012 Vietnam Heritage Magazine, Advertorial)

Indians have been part of the Saigon scene right from its beginnings in the expansion of the Kinh majority to the south and in French colonial times. Witness the Indian temples dotted around town which have
become popular retreats for all sections of
the population. Indian cooking has influenced
main stream Vietnamese cuisine in that mild curries have been incorporated into it. Should you wish to enjoy Indian food in its pure form, there is no shortage of good restaurants. Several of them have plush decor and are in the heart of town near the main luxury hotels. But to some it is no secret that the most delicious Indian food can be sampled in humble surroundings in the budget traveller’s area of town.

Vegetable samasas at Mumtaz. Photo: Ba Han

Bui Vien Street in Pham Ngu Lao Ward of District 1 is a rambling ramshackle lane packed with cheap hotels and eateries. It is not without its charms and it is not without a first class Indian restaurant. That is to say, first class in the sense of the deliciousness of its dishes and friendliness of service. In keeping with the area the decor is very simple. This is the place for those who believe the proof of the pudding is in the eating. There is an eclectic range of Indian food available. Mumtaz caters equally to the vegetarian and the omnivore and it encompasses the better of the two very different styles of Indian cuisine-Northern. All this comes at very reasonable prices-as I learned from an American restaurateur friend who has his own place a few doors down-rents here are typically a third of those in the more opulent parts of the same district.
I turned up at lunch time. The place has only eight tables and gets so packed in the evenings that you are advised to make a reservation. At lunchtime there was time to have a chat with the chef Mr Jaiprakash, a native of Deera Dum near the capital Delhi in the North. He explained the menu to me and enquired as to how spicy I would like my lunch. I decided to play safe and opted for a mild curry. As we talked over a yoghurt based drink called mango lassi (priced at VND35,000; bottled beer, which I do not touch until the sun goes down, costs VND22,000-VND25,000) in walked the officer in charge and brother of the owner, Anthony Fernandez. He hails from Kerala State in the south and had come from a nearby church. Anthony said the parishioners were friendly and he liked the music. Conversation revolved around the word on the menu ‘mutton’. In India, this usually does not mean the meat of a sheep of more than two years and Anthony confirmed that anything called mutton or lamb here is actually goat. He affirmed that the Vietnamese do not raise sheep. I was able to point out that this was not the case, and that in the very arid province of Ninh Thuan they are major livestock. I further informed him there was a market my Vietnamese wife has discovered out in the suburbs where Vietnamese Indian butchers sell it.
The starters I ordered arrived at the table-a plate of vegetable samosas, which are triangular, spicy pies (VND38,000). They came with a tomato and cucumber salad and pickled onions. They were rather puffed up in shape resembling mini Cornish Pasties, and not flat as I am accustomed to seeing them. Anthony explained that this was to suit the local market, and whatever the shape, they were scrumptious and I was off to a flying start.
Taking the chef’s advice, all I needed now was the mutton thali. This is cross between the western style of serving courses for the individual and the East Asian style of serving yourself from a number of dishes placed on the table.
Here everything is served
on a stainless steel tray
with compartments for the individual dishes.
Accompanying it all came
with a pappadum (pepper cracker) and flat garlic naan bread. Traditionally you eat by scooping up the food by hand with pieces of this bread but a knife and fork is of course available.
My tray consisted of steamed Vietnamese rice, ‘mutton’ curry, fried daal (lentils), paneer butter masala (cottage cheese in a creamy curry) and pickles. With generous portions, I found the meal filling for the stomach whilst at a price of around six USD or VND120,000 not enough to empty out the pocket. Congratulations to chef Jaiprakesh! Everything was ‘Mumtaz’ which is Arabic for excellent. The restaurant’s name also refers to name of the Queen to whom the shrine the Taj Mahal is dedicated and may also reflect the same devotion in serving you the best tastes of India.
Next time I shall go in the heat and excitement of night and I shall risk a higher level of spiciness.

Mumtaz Indian Restaurant
226 Bui Vien Street,
Pham Ngu Lao Ward, D1, HCMC.
Take away and complimentary delivery service within a radius of three kilometres.
Tel (08) 3837-1767, 0978 800823,
e-mail: mumtazvn @gmail.com
Danang branch at 231 Tran Phu Street, behind ‘Green Plaza Hotel’. Tel (0511) 3839 881

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