Ganges offers Indian food dressed up brightly, with attention to fresh ingredients and flavors
If I were stuck on an island with only one option for food to eat for the remainder of my life, that choice would undoubtedly be Indian. The complex combination of spices, curries, masala, yogurt, chili, garlic, ginger and more all intertwining to produce astonishingly rich flavors that few other cuisines even come close to achieving. Ganges (74A2 Hai Ba Trung, D1) rises to the occasion beautifully, recreating classic staples such as chicken masala, butter chicken, roti as well as dishes that are rarely seen on menus outside of India. Ganges opened last year and, true to its vibrant Indian culture, is decorated in radiant colors of oranges, greens, deep reds and yellows all laced into different elements of the interior, from the floor and tables to the cushions and walls.
The owner of the establishment, Padam, is an experienced chef from the famous tea growing Darjeeling province of India, having lived in Vietnam for the last 15 years cheffing at resorts in Muine and fine dining restaurants in Saigon, bringing with him the culinary treasures and knowledge of his homeland. He also knows the perfect balance to keep different palates—expats, locals and visiting Indians—happy in terms of spice levels. Our meals were kept at just the right heat levels, preserving the sweetness of the curries, the flavors of the garlic and ginger while giving it just enough of a kick to remind you that this is Indian food.
The menu at Ganges is extraordinarily diverse, ranging from North Indian, which focuses on breads such as naan and roti as well as South Indian, which is famous for rice and tandoor, with some fantastic stops along the way giving you the full spectrum of what India has to offer.
After ordering my all-time favorite Indian drink, a Mango lassi, a yogurt-based smoothie that complements fiery dishes, we asked Padam for his recommendations and started with another favourite—a large fluffy and buttery garlic naan (VND45,000)—it was grilled to perfection in a tandoori oven. The naan was delicious dipped in the gravies and curries from our main dishes, I could have gone on eating it for days.
This was followed by the Chelo kebab mixed grill platter (VND195,000)—shrimp, chicken, lamb and fish seasoned the previous day with a healthy dose of ginger, garlic and a yogurt-based marinade before being grilled in a tandoori oven. The result was a tender array of succulent meats I could’ve ever hoped for in Saigon, and don’t forget to dip them all in the bowls of delicious spicy and sweet chutneys that accompany the platter. When you think of Indian food, grilled meats don’t readily come to mind, curries being more popular, but in my experience the tandoori ovens produce some of the world’s most tender and succulent meats which, combined with the Indian mastery of layering spices to bring out the juiciness of the meat, it should not be passed up.
We continued down the Ganges River with the Coconut fish curry (VND120,000), a sweet and slightly spicy take on the South Indian dish. Ginger and garlic marinated fillets of fish cooked in a spicy coconut milk based curry served with a plate of basmati rice. The fish flaked off beautifully as I pull it out of the pot, the seasoning is phenomenal, and my God you don’t want the dish to finish! After the fish is done, wipe down the bowl with any leftover garlic naan.
With a solid start to our lunch we moved on quite excitedly to what would be my favorite dish of the day as well as a first for me, thanks to Padam’s recommendation—the glorious Lamb Rojan Josh (VND160,000). A most tender slow-cooked lamb swimming in a rich gravy-like curry that reminded me of a homecooked stew during a hard winter’s month, but much better. The tenderness of the lamb combined with the spice and butter loaded sauce is a testament to the mastery of Indian cuisine.
Hungry for more despite our stuffed bellies we ordered dessert, the Gulab Jamun (VND45,000) is a ball of cottage cheese and maize mixed, deep fried and served in a sugary syrup producing a spongy, sweet and delightful grand finale to a fantastic meal.