Summer is upon us; and while the prospect of the sweltering heat sucking all the energy out of you may not seem very appealing, Pune has a few culinary experiences in the offing, that would cheer you right up. Case in point: the brand new summer menu of Malaka Spice — the city’s popular South – East Asian specialty restaurant – to be launched very soon.
Malaka Spice has always tried to push the envelope in terms of gastronomic creativity, not just with its ever-evolving regular menu, but also the seasonal one, which undergoes a complete overhaul three times a year. The essence of the food here is that they use locally-sourced, sustainably farmed/fished ingredients – a practice owner Praful Chandawarkar is a keen follower of. This time too, going by the 34 dishes sampled in the meticulous panel tasting session, conducted last week, the establishment has outdone itself with refreshing, fruity flavours that are ideal for the sultry weather.
The chilled and hot watermelon soup created an interesting temperature play on the palate – the warmth in the gently spiced broth contrasted beautifully with the cold watermelon cubes. Another cool broth I am hoping, makes it to the menu is the Naengmyeon – a spicy Korean noodle soup laden with crunchy greens and sprouts – refreshing! The Filipino miso tamarind broth is nice and tangy, with cherry tomatoes floating atop and tender pieces of red snapper ensconced in the bowl. Of the salads, the best is the fruity-sour Indonesian mango, pineapple and carambola salad. The duck watermelon and red pumpkin salad is delectable, with crispy, savoury shreds of duck meat intermingling with the cool, sweet fruit. The yum woon sen – a Thai shrimp salad tossed in Thai herbs and served with chewy glass noodles, and the warm napa cabbage salad – fresh vegetables with a peanut dressing and liberal sprinkles of finely crushed peanuts – paled in significance. Then again, this is nitpicking.
Moving on to the stir-fries, the pimento and valor beans one is fresh and crisp, the greens one with fenugreek and spinach in garlic and soy is perfectly bitter and wholesome, and the ones with melons and bottle gourd is a pleasant surprise for the taste buds. Of the starters, you can try lobster butter garlic with drumstick leaves and Thai chilly, the Korean honey chilli potato – generic but what is not to like, the shrimp-stuffed calamari with peppery tamarind sauce – absolutely ingenious, the prawns mangorita featuring the fruits de mer, blending with slices of watermelon and raw mango, creating a lovely flavour fusion, and loh bak – vegetarian Nonya Chinese five spice rolls fried to a crisp golden brown. Among the mains, the best were bak kut teh (juicy mutton spare ribs), served with Chinese cruller (crusty bread sticks), Macau curried tiger prawns with bottle gourd and fenugreek cooked in peanut oil, curry powder and coconut milk – creamy and bursting with a multitude of flavours, another intriguing prawn dish cooked with pineapple juice and star fruit, grilled fish in mint sauce, Filipino beef tapas, and bun cha, which is succulent Vietnamese grilled chicken.
After all this, there was little room for dessert. But, if they plan to include the vodka lava with chocolate sauce, the banana and coconut roll, the sticky date pudding or the sago one with palm sugar in the new menu, foodies are in for a very sinful treat.