There aren’t many more comforting indulgences in life than popping by one of your favourite mamak stalls and grabbing some hearty dishes to fill up your tummy late at night. The kind of comfort one can derive from their favourite maggi goreng at their go-to mamak stall is unbeatable. That said, there comes a time when one goes in search of a different taste, to jolt some excitement into their palate. That’s what I did, looking to experiment outside of my Al-Azhar comfort zone and I chanced upon Maraj Indian Restaurant & Caterers at Farrer Park.
At first glance, it was just like any other mamak stall—simple and without any unneeded glamour. It’s just as homely and cosy as you can expect from a place like this.
But what attracted me to cheat on my beloved Al-Azhar was a special item on their menu—the Satti Soru. It’s not the most common of dishes around these parts and Maraj Indian Restaurant apparently does a great rendition of it.
Being a lover of strong, punchy Indian spice flavours and the smouldering intensity of claypot rice, I was instantly attracted to the prospect of the Indian counterpart of claypot rice and the rich depth of flavour it must contain.
What I tried
First, you have to choose a protein to go with the Satti Soru, while filtering through the multiple permutations they have on their menu, which Maraj Indian Restaurant has no shortage of. Everything from normal chicken to fish, you’d be racking your brain on what to get.
In the end, I decided on an order of Mutton Kicap Satti Soru (S$9) as a huge fan of mutton in Indian cuisine. If you’re curious how it compares to Chinese claypot rice, then you should know—they are completely, distinctly different dishes.
You won’t find any crackling charred rice bits no matter how deep you dig into the claypot. What you’d find instead, however, is a motherlode of richer, more indulgent flavours born from cooking the rice together with the curry in the claypot.
While Chinese claypot rice is earnest and almost blunt in its expression of smoky flavours, this boasted of a more nuanced and multi-layered expression of flavour, bearing the complexity of luxurious curry, a charming puff of smoke, laced with the slightly gamey touch of lamb. It’s then rounded off with a gentle heat.
It’s also a star in terms of its texture. Unlike certain Indian rice dishes like briyani, Satti Soru uses short grain rice instead of the common basmati. While I’m not well-versed in the science, I believe the increased starch concentration creates clumps of moist and fluffy rice, which are quite while ignoring my normal preference for nicely separated grains.
Moving past the Satti Soru though, I actually struggled to find anything else of note. One of the dishes they recommended was their Chicken Tikka (S$7 for three pieces), which didn’t leave much of an impression at all.
I found the flavour lacking, if not almost absent, and would have been a huge miss if not for the decently tender meat. Well, maybe it’s just this one dish. After all, with the extensive menu, it’s hard for every dish to be a star right?
That’s what I’d like to believe but this following dish, Butter Chicken (S$9.50)—a barometer for me to gauge different Indian restaurants against one another—was so far off the mark, it crash-landed far from where the bullseye should be.
Butter chicken is one of my favourite dishes of Indian origin. A generic choice I know, but I can’t resist the silky sauce and irresistible sauce that’s both rich and sweet. Maraj Indian Restaurant’s rendition was markedly mellow in its spice profile and the sauce felt warily thin. Not to mention the regrettable lack of moisture on the insides which created a jarring juxtaposition of dry, tough meat and saucy skin.
“That’s fine, I can salvage it with some naan,” I thought to myself. When the basket of Garlic Naan (S$3.50) arrived, I couldn’t notice any flaws. But upon closer inspection—in my mouth, that is—it was yet another terrible miss.
I could scarcely detect a hint of garlic but it was hardly noticeable. Compounded with the uncanny hardness of the naan, it was a tough one to swallow. It had crunch, but it couldn’t work within the context of the hard dough.
To make things even worse, the subpar flavour and texture of both the naan and the Butter Chicken only amplified their individual problems. Sure, maybe Butter Chicken isn’t their forte, but I would be pleased with average—this was a few notches below that.
Thankfully, the Mango Lassi (S$4.40) was a pretty enjoyable cup of creamy and refreshing mango goodness. It might not be cheap but the yoghurt is a god-send for soothing the tongue from the spice-forward dishes on the menu.
Let’s set aside all the criticisms I’ve thrown out. Sure, the food was lacklustre but with how massive the menus at mamak stalls like Maraj Indian Restaurant are, sometimes it’s almost like throwing darts blindly and hoping it sticks.
What I do know is that their hearty Indian claypot rice gives a compelling reason to visit, even if the rest of the menu could be a game of Russian roulette—especially if you’re looking for something your neighbourhood equivalent might not have.
Expected damage: S$10 – S$15 per pax
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