Baba’s Heaven

That’s Mejo. 

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His life is dedicated to the Indian Cuisine and showing the best of it in Saigon, Vietnam, thousands of kilometers away from Kerala, his home, and his family. More than proudly and with a huge smile on his face he welcomed me into his little kitchen, where he creates happiness for about 80 guests (+delivery) per day. Seeing and feeling his pride about his culture and passing it on threw food made me enjoy the short time I spent in the kitchen even more. How could something not taste good if it is done by people who do value and treasure it to such amount themselves? I loved  how everything is arranged in this small place, the spices, the different dough’s for all the different breads, the masalas and the way the chefs make use of everything.

As the kitchen is only a few square meters but the place busy everyday, the two curious researchers (the owner’s brother and me) only had about 1 to 2 hours in the kitchen on a Tuesday around noon, so we wouldn’t disturb their work. It was a rather calm “chef-experience” I would believe, but we were sweating I tell you. I am dying to experience the kitchen madness during peak time, sitting on the fridge and just watching would be something I would acutally be interested in! For now it wasn’t much more than an insight on what’s behind the dishes that we love to eat.

Which ones are the important spices?

How are the curries composed?

How long does it take them to cook one?

What about the preparation of Samosas and the different kinds of bread?

So this post will hardly enrich you with any real recipes to do yourself afterwards. Furthermore it is about learning something about this delicious food and using this knowledge to add on to recipes you can find on google a thousand times. So I hope this is interesting enough for you to read and follow.

The spices, just beside the stove, always ready to be reached and added with one fast, but certain movement. 

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Everything is done with the hands and with passion. Fast and not fussy. That was one of the most appealing things to me during my short insight into the Indian Cuisine. Fuck measuring spoons in 15 different sizes, just get your hand in that bowl and grab some of the good stuff! 

Here are all the spices again:

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These are the ones that always need to be right on place. They include black pepper, chili powder & tumeric, cumin & coriander (grounded), Garam Masala, a hot chili mixture & salt. And two bowls filled up with garlic and ginger on the side. Oh yes. I also appreciate the (ab)use of garlic. HIGHLY. Did you know how important Cumin is for curries? 

Let’s move on to the other prepared ground ingredients that are sitting in the kitchen waiting to be enchanted.

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So this one would be a huge huge pan of cooked Masala composition, spicy and used to add to curries spoon by spoon.
Together with some ground curry bases that are sitting over here:

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One of my absolute favorites are the lamb curries. Together with Meju I prepared a Spinach Lamb Curry in about 5 minutes by the following steps:

Roast cumin in some oil, then add garlic. Add the lamb (which has of course been cooked for hours of heavenly tenderness previously). You add all of the spices that I listed above, and the also precooked liquid spinach paste (simply cooked spinach that get’s mashed afterwards), add water, heat heat heat you wanna see flames, butter, cream, and that’s it. DELICIOUS!

Before we get to the dough and bread area, 2 more wonderful things we prepared together.

An ‘Onion Paraka‘ is probably one of the best simple things ever. You chop up some onions roughly and salt them. Add coriander, chili leaves and red food coloring to it, mix mix mix, followed by rice flour and lentil powder. Mix mix mix. With your hands. Get everything everywhere and deep fry it for 5-6 minutes. BOOM.

Besides regular steamed rice you can get a lot of different rice variations to eat aside with your curries, breads, etc. My favorite one is the one suggested by the chefs and it is an ‘Apple Rice‘, sounds weird at first, tastes wonderful in fact (and I am not a big fan of fried rice). All you need is fresh apples, chopped up into small pieces, cashews, raisins and fried onions. You fry all of these ingredients in some oil, add salt and yellow food coloring if you feel like you need it, add your cooked rice in the end, mix it well and enjoy!

From a few facts about dishes and preparation, I want to tell you some things about the most fascinating facts of the Indian Cuisine: Breads & Dough.

The famous plane Naan bread that most of you might know is made in a Tandoor Oven. A huge round oven that get’s extremely hot (more than 450° Celsius). The chef rolls the dough out and get’s a very thin round form that he, with the help of a stick, sticks to the side of the tandoor oven for a few minutes. You can spread garlic in oil on your Naan bread, that’s how I love it.

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My favorite bread though is Parata. It comes from South-India and is the one that looks a bit like a rose, like a flower, it is super soft and fluffy. You might wonder most about the fluffyness, how do you get it to look like that? That was also my funniest and most surprising moment. Mejo took a bowl from the Parata dough out of the back and also rolled it out super thinly. It needs to be bigger than for the Naan though. He adds oil on both sides and shakes it around, coolest thing ever, don’t know if I will ever be able to do that! You have to be born for it, maybe. After that he makes strings and simply tears them around each other to get that flowery look. This bread is baked on a flat pan until it’s nice and golden. It’s still kinda flat and I wondered what happened to the fluffyness. Easiest thing, Mejo just pushed it together from the sides, squeezed it, and voilà, it looks all pretty and fluffy!

The secret about the dough for the famous Samosas is that you have to keep it cold, so that it is tight enough to hold all of the delicious filling.

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Thank you BABA’S, thank you Steve and Jon, for this experience and see you this weekend, I think!

To everybody living in Saigon or planning on a visit. Definitely don’t miss Baba’s.

164 Bui Vien Street, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, HCMC

You can find lots of more than just positive reviews on Tripadvisor as well, if all the pictures weren’t enough to convince you yet.

And I am of course not the first blogger writing about it. (http://www.saigonnezumi.com/2011/09/03/babas-kitchen-new-indian-restaurant-in-saigon/)

A huge thank you goes out to Brice Godard, the man behind the camera. If you’re interested in working with him, here is his email: brice.godard@gmail.com

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