Written by Mugilaa Selvaraja
Welcome to our monthly Echo Eats, a series where we explore the endless possibilities of food around campus! Don’t we all love a plate of good banana leaf rice? Being proud Asians, we always venerate rice over bread or pasta – so this month, we’re finding the best of this heavy dosage meal around Sunway City!
Banana leaf rice is a common South Indian dish, true to its name as it is served on a banana leaf, consisting of rice and three to four different vegetables served alongside a choice of curry. It often also comprises papadum (a fried snack), pickle, rasam (spiced Indian soup) and buttermilk (to wash it all down). Non-vegetarian food is also served separately upon your choice, for example, fried squid, fish, chicken or a gravy dish.
Eating on a banana leaf has been a practice in India for centuries, mainly because of its numerous health benefits and environmentally friendly way of serving meals. This meal has become a typical favourite pick for lunch among Malaysians, besides classics like chicken rice and nasi lemak.
We don’t have access to good banana leaf restaurants around Sunway College and University, but I’ve found some top picks nearby for you to explore with your friends. Let’s take a look!
Raj Banana Leaf Restaurant (SS15)
Located in SS15, this restaurant is just a five-minute drive from campus but parking would definitely be a concern as the area around the restaurant is always busy. The restaurant itself is clean and hygienic – a mandatory first impression for any food outlet.
The banana leaf set meal excluding the external dishes cost me RM8.00 – within the typical range of standard pricing for banana leaf rice in Klang Valley. Having said that, I only find this price worth it if it comes with a good meal, which brings us to the next category!
At first sight the meal looked appealing but a few mouthfuls in, I had to change my mind. The curry was bland and diluted, and the vegetables were nothing special. However, the fried fish was crispy and well-marinated, and the rasam served definitely tasted a lot better than many other shops, with strong hints of pepper and spice.
The overall experience was pretty average, even considering some of their stronger points. All in all, I don’t think I’d take the trouble to make a second trip.
Sri Nirwana Maju (USJ9)
The price of the banana leaf set is RM8.50. It’s slightly pricier, but since the vegetables and side dishes were served abundantly I think it was worth the extra charge.
The vegetables served here usually consist of a fried vegetable dish and two gravy-based or stir-fried vegetables. As aforementioned, they were all served generously, with a good helping of spices. I particularly recommend the fried bitter gourd or snake gourd – it was crunchy with a rich taste, and unlike most fried food it was hardly oily and didn’t leave an unpleasant aftertaste.
The food overall tastes pretty good due to the combination of vegetables and papadum. The curry was also thick and richly flavoured, unlike the diluted curries in many mamak or Indian shops. I would definitely give this shop a shot.
Sri Ammachie Indian Cuisine (Bandar Sunway)
The price of the banana leaf set was RM 8.50, which is hardly a surprise as it is located in Sunway City. All in all, I’d say it’s a pretty standard price relative to other meals in the area.
The meal was everything you want from banana leaf rice – rich, hearty and wholly satisfying. It earned five stars from me. The curry of my choice was moringa leaf curry, which is cooked with creamy soft lentils, and I chose a fish cutlet to go with my meal. It tasted exquisite to say the least – even the vegetables were flavourful and surprisingly fresh.
I found the meal to be completely worth the RM8.50 paid as I was served with four types of well-flavoured vegetables, chutney and papadum. The fish cutlet was RM4.00, and they sell a coconut milkshake here for RM 9.90 which was soothing and refreshing after such a grand meal.
Sri Ganapathi Mess (Petaling Jaya)
Located in the heart of Petaling Jaya, this shop is run in the owner’s house itself. The owners are particularly known for their extremely delicious fried squid and seafood, which is displayed at the entrance of the shop for customers to choose from.
The meal cost RM6.00, which I found extremely cheap and reasonable for a banana leaf thali meal in Klang Valley. It also puts this restaurant among the top of this list for price-worthiness.
The shop is known for their crab rasam (spiced crab soup), the magnet that attracts many locals and tourists. I personally enjoyed every mouthful of the crab soup and the crispy squid fried with onions. The food was served rather abundantly for the price as well. A few different curries were served, all thick in texture and rich in flavour, contributing to an overall delicious meal.
The experience, in a nutshell, was great and I’d personally rate this shop as above average. It’s pretty famous in Klang Valley – some may even call it overrated, but I found that it still delivers some bang for its buck.
Acha Curry House (Bukit Gasing, PJ)
This banana leaf set meal cost RM6.00, which is once again a very reasonable price for such a meal around Klang Valley. It’s also quite cheap relative to standard pricing in PJ.
This shop’s signature dish is fried anchovies with sambal, the spotlight dish that has customers lining up. Although the curry was as bland as the curry at Raj Banana Leaf Restaurant, the anchovies gave the much needed power-packed punch of strong flavours and turned the meal into an enjoyable one. Topping that was the perfectly fried crispy fish, which made up for the less dazzling curry.
If you don’t enjoy anchovies or are vegetarian, I don’t recommend this shop – taking away the anchovies dish and the fish, this banana leaf meal was way below average. Personally, I am not a great fan of anchovies either, but the extra dishes brought the experience up a few points.
Sri Ammachie Indian Cuisine and Sri Ganapathi Mess have tied in this battle of banana leaf shops! Both have won the title of the best banana leaf restaurants around Sunway as they serve a variety of vegetables and delicious fried seafood. The price of these meals varies upon the side orders but the overall price paid are approximately the same and definitely worth a stomach-filling meal!
Additional Fun Facts:
These dishes (pictured above) are the possible combinations that go into a purely vegetarian banana leaf meal. These dishes are rich in nutrition and flavour providing all the protein, carbohydrates and minerals needed in a vegetarian meal. An authentic banana leaf meal should consist of four main flavours for an exquisite taste – spice, sour, bitter and sweet.
Rasam (pepper soup) and banana are served for enhanced digestion and bowel movements. The sweet pudding served at the end of the meal is the dessert meant to calm your digestive system after the surge of spices. Yoghurt or yoghurt drinks are often served along the banana leaf meal to cool down the body in the heaty weather and wash the food down. People in India practice this as well due to their extremely hot weather!
In fact, the banana leaf meal was considered part of the daily routine in India, especially among manual labourers. However, the practice of consuming this meal has reduced greatly in frequency over time due to the increase of desk jobs, leading to a more sedentary lifestyle. Even so, I have never come across anyone who doesn’t enjoy a good hearty banana leaf meal!