Given the cultural melting pot that is Malaysia, it is surprising that there has been a limited amount of culinary leakage into the various ethnic cuisines. What little there is tends to be adoptions and adaptations rather than infusions. Pork satay, halal dim sum and char siew pau, and Chinese nasi lemak spring to mind. Is this because people prefer their traditional cuisines undiluted or simply because of a lack of experimentation?
Indian cuisine, with its rich and distinctive heritage, seems to have been particularly resistant. But there are outliers.
Gin Rik Sha has a base of Indian cooking, layered over liberally with mainly Western influence as well as doses of Japanese and Mexican. In terms of décor, the restaurant is chaotically cheerful and colourful with gaily painted bicycle wheels on the ceiling, round mirrors, a vertical garden (plastic plants), a green-blue wall and a bar thrown in there somewhere (and it is relevant) — the drinks menu is extensive and includes cocktails and speciality beers.
Indian dishes with varied influences mix with Western desserts. Thus, the breezily irreverent Pop Corn Tempura (RM14) is quite the thing for bar food or pre-dinner nibbles — sweet and crunchy.
Straight-up Indian dishes do quite well. The Mutton Varuval’s (RM32) tender and spicy pieces of meat served with a side of cut-up roti and the Kerala Shrimp’s (RM38) fresh, juicy prawns doused in deep-seated spicy flavours and garnished with cut onion rings and green chili won me over.
A spicy Vegetable Lasagna (RM25) was super cheesy, although the addition of spices did not hurt it taste-wise. The breads were disappointing though, being hard, brittle and devoid of fluffiness and fragrance. Even the beetroot raita with the cheese-vegetable stuffed paneer (RM20) could not redeem the weakness of the roti.
Borrowing from other cuisines to create something that is both familiar and exotic at the same time is certainly interesting and in this case, some of the dishes work but others feel like works in progress.
Billing itself as Asia’s first porky Indian restaurant, Meat the Porkers has the usual biryanis, naans, tandooris, tikkas and masalas on its menu. It also offers lamb, mutton, chicken, fish and vegetarian choices, so you could have a traditional Indian meal here as in any other restaurant, but that would be missing the main attraction.
A number of the restaurant’s traditional Indian meat dishes feature pork, thus Tandoori Pork Ribs, Pork Rogan Josh, Palak Pork, Pork Varuval, Pork Masala and so on. Meat the Porkers was formerly Fiercer Curry House and part of the established Fierce Curry House restaurant chain.
We ordered the best-selling Siew Yoke (Roast Pork) Biryani (RM28) and the spicy Pork Tenderloin Biryani (RM28), done Dum Biryani style, with the meat sealed and cooked with the rice. The biryanis were served in metal pots with a rim of dough sealing the metal covers and opened by breaking the dough seal.
As biryani rice is already fragrant, the pork did not make a huge difference. Pork is milder than lamb, which imparts a distinctive flavour to biryani. The pork did add some flavour compared with chicken biryani, with the fat from the siew yoke working its way into the rice and giving it a fullness of texture.
The pork pieces buried in the rice were tender with bits of crackling and fat from the siew yoke. Because of the cooking process with the meat sealed in, the siew yoke was not as crunchy and crusty as that served in Chinese restaurants. Of the two, the pork tenderloin biryani was spicier and less fatty than the siew yoke, which is made from belly pork.
The raita and gravy accompaniments added fullness to the biryani and were enjoyable while the Eggplant and Bhindi Masala (RM20 each) were rich with spices and onion, and not significantly different from what you would get in other such Indian restaurants.
The restaurant has given Indian food an interesting twist but at the end of the day, it is more about the Indian food than the pork.
This article first appeared on Feb 26, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.