PJ is rife with banana leaf rice restaurants. But among all, there are three that stands out above the others when it comes to being the most talked about. One of them is Sri Paandi at Seksyen 11. This place is pretty much an institution for KL-ites and PJ-folk. The Friedchillies team was there and came back with tummies almost bursting!
37 Jalan Dato Mahmud 11/4,
46200 Petaling Jaya
Excellent food, pretty okay value for money
Service can be a bit erratic
Banana leaf rice is as 'up there' as nasi lemak or char kuey teow when it comes to favourite makan-makan choices amongst Malaysians. It's easy to see why too: a heaping pile of rice, customary selection of vegetables and gravies and if you want, great side dishes of the fried or curried kind. Sri Paandi in Section 11, PJ is no different. This restaurant has been here for more than a decade and was even involved in a 'Curry War' some years back!
Google it. It's quite interesting reading. But anyway that feud has settled and the Sri Paandi that won is the one that we're checking out. It's a simple restaurant that could easily be mistaken for your regular neighbourhood mamak. That is until you see an ice box filled with delicious things ready for the deep fryer and waiters carrying stacks of banana leaves and tins of curries.
Now deservedly a landmark institution in PJ
Sit down and order drinks. We recommend their lassi. It comes in both sweet and salted versions. We like the sweet. The salted one is, er, a bit of an acquired taste. Lassi is supposed to help with digestion. Then prepare to be served by a tag team of waiters carrying different things.
First comes the banana leaves. We've seen some places use imitation plastic 'leaves', which we frown upon. Thankfully Sri Paandi still uses the real deal. That banana leaf fragrance really adds to the eating experience, you know? Next another waiter will pile on rice on your leaf. And we really do mean pile it on, so pay attention if you don't want to finish off a mountain!
Then come the vegetables. It varies by day, but expect to see these: a spicy okra and broad bean curry, an almost mushy rendition of curried long beans, a sweetish potato and cabbage 'dhal', and a refreshing salad of cucumber dressed in yogurt. These vegetables are pretty well balanced in the sense that their flavours complement each other well. Two spicy ones and two milder, sweeter ones that go perfect with the rice and curries.
"Kuah kasi lebih boss."
Speaking of which, the next thing to arrive would be curries. Normally it's three choices: a tangy fish curry, a rich and hearty chicken curry and again a milder dhal. Undecided? Just ask for 'kuah campur' and they'll pour all three of it onto your rice. That way, you get a wonderful, deeply delicious mix spiciness, sweetness and savouriness.
But wait! We should tell you that the first thing you should do is to actually go that icebox in front of the restaurant and check out what they have to deep fry. Fresh fish such as bulus (whiting), kerisi (red mullet), tenggiri (Spanish mackerel) and even small barracuda are all prime for selection. We chose kerisi. Here, the fish is dipped in a thin spiced batter and deep fried in oil so hot that it takes no time to cook.
Fried on the spot for maximum taste!
The result is kerisi that is crispy and salty on the outside but with perfectly moist, sweet flesh within. Stunning! Don't forget the fried chicken too. The generously sized pieces are given the same treatment as the fish and emerge piping hot, crispy and juicy.
Now make sure they serve you with papadoms and those addictive salted fried chillies (hey, friedchillies! Yay!). Now eat! Mix in the curries and rice with your fingers because really, that's the best way to enjoy banana leaf rice. Crush some papadoms and chillies into it. Take turns with the vegetables and then the fish and chicken. Savour every bite as the aroma of the spices go up your nostrils and cause you to go into a state of curry induced nirvana.
The next thing you know, that mound of rice piled high before? It's gone. All that will be left are some scraps. If you're wearing a belt you might notice it's gotten tighter, too. Now fold in the banana leaf towards you. That signifies that the food was delicious and you'd come back. We did exactly that.