Friday, November 5, 2010

Celebrating Diwali at Assad Cafe

Today is the start of Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, a 5-day Hindu holiday in India. Coincidentally, my friends and I visited Little India in Paco, Manila, where I got to see all the preparations of the Indians living here.

We had a nice meal at Assad Cafe, a cozy little Indian restaurant along UN Ave., Manila. It's right across Unilever, so there were a lot of office workers having their lunch as well. They have two menus: one featuring regular cafeteria fare, and the other with authentic Indian cuisine. Of course, I'm here today to talk about the Indian food.
Inside Assad Cafe

The restaurant is clean and air-conditioned, with a few tables available for customers and a counter at the far end. Customers go in, take a seat, and wait for the staff to come take your orders. The staff are generally friendly and welcoming, but if you come at lunch time, the place is crowded and so the staff might not be able to immediately accommodate you. It's best to come here if you have the luxury of time to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the delicious food.

And of course, the food. Assad Cafe serves a lot of the usual Indian dishes but in true Indian style, seeing as the store is owned by a Pakistani immigrant (who owns Assad Mini-mart nearby, as well). We ordered mutton biryani, Kashmiri fish curry, and mutton quorma. The order taker will ask how spicy you would like your food as well so if you can't handle spicy food, you don't have to shy away from the curries.

Unfortunately, while we were there, they ran out of chapati and naan, as well as chicken and beef, perhaps because of the holiday. (This never happened during my previous visits so I'm pretty sure it's not a common occurrence.) Despite this, we still had a good time because we liked their other dishes anyway.

Biryani is a type of curry rice made with basmati rice, a fragrant long grained rice grown in India and Pakistan. It is cooked with various spices and meat; in our case, mutton which is goat/sheep meat. You can also order it with chicken or beef. I especially love Assad's version of this as the rice is light and flavorful without being too oily and heavy on the stomach. The meat is tender and doesn't give off the usual distinct aroma of mutton that may be discouraging for some.

Mutton biryani
Kashmiri fish curry is a tangy curry dish made with battered fried fish fillet and pineapples, which provide an interesting sweet and sour contrast to the curry spices. It's delicious, of course, and really good with rice, chapati or naan.

(According to our resident Indian culture expert Gilbert, Kashmir is a place in Northwestern India so this dish is cooked in their style.)

Kashmiri fish curry
Quorma is another curry dish which you can order with beef or mutton. The sauce is thicker and creamier as well, with the addition of yogurt or coconut milk. Some versions of quorma even contain ground cashew nuts but my taste buds aren't refined enough to notice it in this dish. It was too bad that they didn't have any chapati or naan because those would go really well with the sauce.

Mutton korma
Mango lassi is a yogurt shake, which is nice and refreshing especially as a complement to the spicy curry. You can also order it plain (without the mango) in sweet or salty. While I have never tried salty lassi, I would really love to taste it sometime!

Mango lassi
All in all, it was a great and affordable meal, with the three of us spending only a total of P649, inclusive of the biryani, fish curry, korma, plus 2 mango lassi. The servings are pretty big, and the korma even came with rice. We would have ordered chapati or naan if they had it, but I guess we would have to reserve that for next time.

If you happen to be craving for authentic Indian food, then I highly recommend this place. I'm sure you won't leave unsatisfied.

I've also included Assad Cafe's menu so you can see the various dishes they offer.

Assad Cafe's Indian menu
We also went next door to Assad Mini-Mart to purchase Vimto, a blackcurrant-raspberry soda that's popular in Arab countries, as well as some Indian sweets.

Ladoos are soft balls made of flour, lentils and sugar, and are similar in taste to peanut balls but with a disctinctive Indian flavor. Black jamuns are deep fried flour balls as well, but they are covered in desiccated coconut and filled with a sweet syrup that makes biting into them a nice surprise. For beginners to Indian cuisine, I would suggest the black jamuns over the ladoos because ladoos contain strong Indian spices that may be overpowering for people who aren't used to it. (An order of ladoos costs P50 for 1/4 kilo, around 6 pieces, while black jamuns cost P60 for the same amount.)

Ladoo (the yellow ones) and Black Jamun (the brown ones with coconut)
Indian food is not really popular in Manila unlike in other Southeast Asian countries, but I'm glad that there are places like Assad Cafe where people can discover the unique taste of Indian cuisine. Happy Diwali!

Assad Cafe
Midtown Executive Homes
1268-D U.N Ave., Paco
Manila, Metro Manila, Philippines
Phone Number: (63 2) 521-4996


  1. Asad Cafe cooks with pre-packed ingredients from their grocery. Its like cooking Filipino food with Maggi instant mixes--good, but not really very good. Not healthy, too.

    1. Oh interesting! I didn't know this! In that case, any recommendations on good Indian food around the city? :)

  2. They cook the best mutton masala. I made my own version afterwards, it was good too but I have no idea where to get fresh curry leaves. - Lulu