Explore the wonderful world of Indian curries at Manam

One of our favourite Indian restaurants in Singapore is Nalan, a vegetarian place located in the basement of Capitol Piazza. A few months back, we found out that they decided to go to the other end of the spectrum and open a sister restaurant called Manam, serving mainly meats and seafood.

They chose a location nearby at Upper Circular Road, in a three storey building just down the road from the famous Song Fa Bak Kut Teh. Currently, only the first floor dining room is open but they’re planning to open up the second floor soon.

The white building with brown windows is quite prominent and you can’t miss it as you’re walking down the street. The main glass door has a protective film which has a golden tint and is almost fully reflective. I had to really get close to it before I could peek inside.

The white/brown/gold theme carries through into the interior, with an entire wall tiled in gold. Unfortunately, it was not the actual precious metal itself (I checked). It may seem a bit extra on first glance, but the overall colour scheme does make the small space of less than 20 seats feel quite cosy and welcoming.

We were there for a belated birthday lunch with our friend ML, and had bought two Chope 1-for-1 vouchers that would effectively allow us to order four curries at half price. Manam was quite sincere in offering the vouchers because we could choose from all the curries on their menu without any restrictions or top-ups.

Unlike Nalan, which has a very extensive menu, the one at Manam is compact and focused. It was also decidedly non-vegetarian, with only four items sporting a leaf logo. We were hoping that one of them would be Nalan’s fantastic smoked brinjal dish, Baingan ka Bharta, but no joy and we went with the Crispy Okra Fry instead as our starter.

Crispy Okra Fry

Okra, or Lady’s Fingers as it’s commonly known in Singapore, is an acquired taste because of its sliminess. But when it’s cut into thin strips, coated with spice batter and deep-fried, none of the slime survives and it makes a super crispy and flavourful snack. It would have gone really well with some ice-cold Kingfisher beer, but alas, Manam didn’t carry that either.

You can’t have curry without carbs and we ordered a Plain Biryani and a basket of Garlic Naan and Tandoori Paratha to share. It would probably have been better to go with steamed white Basmati rice, but I can’t resist a good Biryani.

It’s a good thing that I ordered the Biryani, because it was one of the best that I’ve had in Singapore. The rice was fluffy yet firm and each grain was infused with the flavour of a thousand spices. Ok, that’s clearly an exaggeration, but reality is not that far away. I would gladly have just the Biryani for lunch or dinner, any day of the week.

The Garlic Naan was thinner and less chewy that what you’d normally get at other restaurants, and the Tandoori Paratha was like a multi-layered Chapati and was different from the usual pan-fried in ghee variety. Both were good but not fantastic; or maybe they were just over-shadowed by the fantastic Biryani.

There were 13 different curries listed on the menu, including the familiar Butter Chicken and Mutton Rogan Josh. But there were also many that looked totally unfamiliar to us, with equally exotic (and long) names like Varutharaicha Kari Kuzhambu that I had never seen before. It was then that I realised that we were in for a treat.

We asked our waiter to recommend four curries, with the request that he choose those that were not commonly found in other restaurants. His first two choices were the Kongunadu Kozhi Kuzhambu (chicken) and Maangai Meen Kuzhambu (fish).

In the menu, the Kongunadu was described as a “rich aromatic chicken curry with freshly roasted spices”. The curry was light, herbal with a slightly grainy texture. It was rich in flavour without being too heavy and overpowering, and the chicken pieces still managed to retain their juiciness. It was totally different from any chicken curry I’ve had before.

The Maangai was a “village style fish curry cooked with raw mango and aromatic spices”. It was tart and light with fish that was cooked just right. The pieces of raw mango gave an exciting burst of pleasant sourness. If you’re more used to the robust flavour of fish head curry, this will taste refreshingly different.

His next two suggestions were the Malabar Chemmeen Curry (prawn) and the Varutharaicha Kari Kuzhambu (mutton).

The Malabar “tangy, rich, spice infused prawn curry” was the richest and heaviest of the four curries we had, and was closest in taste and texture to the familiar butter chicken. It didn’t pair well with the equally rich and heavy Biryani, and would probably have paired better with white Basmati rice. The prawns though, were fresh and succulent.

The Varutharaicha was billed as an “aromatic mutton curry with freshly roasted spices and coconut” and there was no mistaking the fact that it contained mutton. The gamey taste was too strong for ML but I thought that it had just the right amount of mutton-iness. It is mutton after all.

Since there were four curries, The Wife approached the spread like a mini-buffet and composed a plate with all of them. She sampled each one and then repeated the buffet technique several times.

I took a different approach and attacked each curry sequentially, starting with the chicken and ending with the mutton. Regardless of eating strategy, the end result was the same. We tried to mop up every single drop of curry (they were that good!) but we were simply too full to succeed.

It was interesting that we each had different favourites. The Wife’s was the Maangai Meen Kuzhambu (fish), ML’s was the Kongunadu Kozhi Kuzhambu (chicken) while mine was the Varutharaicha Kari Kuzhambu (mutton).

Well actually, my favourite dish overall was the Biryani, with the mutton curry coming in second. I would gladly have just the Biryani for lunch or dinner, any day of the week. Oh wait, I already said that. And yes, it was that good.

I was hoping that they would have a Masala Tea to help me digest but the closest thing on the menu was a Three Ginger Tea, which turned out to be some fancy blend of organic ginger, galangal and turmeric in a teabag. Which was too polite and courteous to stand up to the heavy lunch we just consumed.

We had high expectations going in to Manam, given that it was Nalan’s sister restaurant, and I’m glad to say that we were not disappointed. The curries were all very good and the four that were recommended by our waiter were truly special.

He opened our eyes to how unique different types of Indian curries could taste, and I can’t wait to head back again to sample the remaining items. Since we only managed to try 4 out of the 13 choices, looks like we’ll need several more return visits to fully accomplish our mission.

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