A tempting place to satiate your Indian food cravings whether at home or dining out.
Baba’s Kitchen (164 Bui Vien, D1, tel: 3838 6661), one of the city’s most popular Indian restaurants, has shed the shackles of District 1, opening a modern takeaway and delivery service facility in District 2. Backpackers in transit through the city are often disappointed not to get a seat at Baba’s Kitchen because the restaurant is so well frequented by local residents who know its secret: they’ll travel from several districts afield for their fix of mutton korma, onion pakora or chicken tandoori, and garlic naan bread.
But such is the constraint of your atypical Bui Vien retail space, the kitchen was until recently struggling to keep pace with the fast turning tables of diners and the ever-growing demand for home deliveries. So in District 2, the team has opened a giant stand alone kitchen and takeaway outlet on Tran Nao in the shadow of the new Thao Dien Pearl twin tower apartments and adjacent to the new metro railway line under construction.
The face of Baba’s Kitchen is Robin, a strikingly tall, soft spoken native Indian, who greeted us with a beaming smile and urged us to try an eye-popping array of dishes. One of the best things about Baba’s Kitchen is that its food has no predetermined levels of spiciness. If you crave a tear-fuelling mouth-burning experience, just ask. But if your taste buds are overly sensitive to hot spice, then say the word and you, too, can enjoy the delicately blended spices of India without downing spoonfuls of yogurt after every bite to cool the pain.
Indian food is best enjoyed by a group (of four or more) because there are so many dishes to choose from that ordering many and sharing them (provided you can all agree on the heat rating) is the best way to experience the taste of India, not to mention a great social experience. Our group numbered just two, so the feast before us seemed like a painting of the Last Supper. Roasted papadam (VND12,000 each), with their crunchy texture and delicately flavored grains, are an essential start to any Indian meal. Then followed starters of onion pakora (VND50,000) and chicken samosa (VND50,000). The onion pakora was delicious. Deep fried in a thin, light batter coating, you can dip them in mango chutney or mint or just savor the sweet onion flavor on its own. The samosas were soft with a delicate hint of spice and perfect mix of potato, chicken and vegetables; a half dozen of these would make a meal in itself.
And then the main dishes started to come. Another hallmark of the restaurant is the generous servings. All too often in my experience with other Indian restaurants (outside Vietnam) starters have been of generous proportions and when the curries arrive they’re served in tiny bowls with as few as three chunks of meat or fish swimming in a watery sauce. By default, the rice becomes the actual meal. But Baba’s Kitchen’s mains are more generous. The curries have just the right balance of meat and sauce. The tandoor oven cooked meats and fish are large chunky morsels ready to dip in sauces.
Robin chose a Mutton Korma (VND105,000) rich and meaty and not too spicy (exactly as requested) and Butter Chicken (VND90,000), an Indian staple which he told us is very popular with his Vietnamese customers. Mutton gets a bad rap in many parts of the world, especially in New Zealand and Australia, where sheep meat is spurned unless labeled lamb (meaning the beast is less than one year old when killed). The difference of a few days makes little difference to the flavor or texture when cooked with the sort of array of herbs and spices the Indians use, so Antipodeans should not be shy to try it.
Then came a fish garlic Tikka (VND95,000) from the tandoor oven, not too dry or oily – just right – the flesh flakey and light, and no irritating bones getting in the way. Cheese naan (VND40,000) – rich and full of flavor helped soak up the curry sauce – but having a hint of sweetness, this can easily be enjoyed on its own so long as consumed while hot as it tends to get a little dry on the edges when cooled.
And then of course, there was rice (starting from VND30,000) – lightly fried with finely chopped vegetables and egg, light tasty and fragrant and somehow more moist than Chinese stir-fried rice, for sure.
No review of Baba’s Kitchen would be complete without a reference to the cute little tin mugs in which water is served (yes, water is free. Other HCMC restaurateurs take note). We can’t explain why, but they leave a lasting impression – but not as much as the delicious flavor of the food.
Now, if the crowds of Bui Vien discourage you from visiting Baba’s Kitchen, you can rest assured wherever you live in Ho Chi Minh City’s main districts, you can experience Baba’s Kitchen at home fresh and hot.
Images by Adam Robert Young