For simple yet satisfying banana leaf rice, head to this under-the-radar shop in Semenyih

SEMENYIH, June 27 — It has been a long and busy morning. One final errand and then I’m done. But first some food as it’s midday and the sun is high in the sky, scorching.

This is where sometimes serendipity can play a great role in our lives (or at least in helping us to make up our minds as to where to eat). Looking for parking, I find an empty bay right in front of a banana leaf rice restaurant.

It’s a sign. (Plus, who wants to walk far in this ridiculous weather to look for food, especially when one is already famished?)

Quite honestly, this is no compromise worthy of your sympathy, dear readers. I happen to love banana leaf rice and haven’t had any in quite some time.

Perhaps it is because I have always associated enjoying banana leaf rice with the company of like-minded friends; it’s the conversations we have that makes meat juicier and the curries spicier. (Or maybe just juicy gossip and spicy scandals.)

Ecohill Banana Leaf Village Cuisine is nestled along a row of nondescript shophouses in Semenyih.

Ecohill Banana Leaf Village Cuisine is nestled along a row of nondescript shophouses in Semenyih.

Indeed, banana leaf rice is the perfect lunch when you have had a hard morning of work and chores.

Unlimited helpings of fluffy, freshly cooked rice to replenish your glycogen stores with starchy carbohydrates. All the curries — deciding which to have is half the fun, which we shall get into later — you can stomach, soaking first into the white grains, then later into your somnolent system.

Which is what I expected as I enter the restaurant, Ecohill Banana Leaf Village Cuisine. Nestled along a row of nondescript shophouses in Semenyih, the interior looks a bit dark when viewed from outside with the blazing sun but once I am seated, my eyes adjust and start wandering.

Not people watching, mind you! But rather at the plethora of South Indian dishes on display at the counter. For banana leaf rice is originally part of South Indian cuisine that leans towards rice rather than naan.

I am tempted by the smörgåsbord of proteins from eggs and chicken to fish and mutton, most of which are curried to different degrees of dryness or gravy. There are also plenty of vegetarian options, with lentils and eggplants offering heft and heartiness.

South Indian dishes on display.

South Indian dishes on display.

But first: my banana leaf rice!

A server swiftly arrives at my table to place a large banana leaf, its fresh green a pointed rebuttal against the rise in some shops using ceramic plateware shaped like banana leaves, rather than the real thing.

It’s all about the fragrance that the fresh banana leaf imparts to your rice; otherwise, why even bother, right?

Another server comes, this time to ladle generous scoops of steamed white rice onto my banana leaf. I have to tell him when to stop or he might have just kept going!

The musical chairs continue: a third server with the condiments or sides that accompany banana leaf rice. These include must-haves such as rasam, a spicy and sourish tamarind-based soup that aids in digestion, and refreshing cucumber raita, sorely needed given the heat outside.

Various sides that accompany banana leaf rice include must-haves such as ‘rasam’ and cucumber ‘raita’.

Various sides that accompany banana leaf rice include must-haves such as ‘rasam’ and cucumber ‘raita’.

Other staples include tairu, a fresh yoghurt that calms down the spiciness of the curries, and conversely, crispy and salty dried chillies for those of us who need an extra kick to our midday meal.

Time for curries! A fourth server (though who’s keeping count?) brings a stainless steel caddy of four curry pots. Today they have chicken and fish curries for the meat lovers, and spinach curry and the ubiquitous dhal for vegetarians.

Choose your favourite or have a little of everything. I opt for the latter, naturally, to get the full spectrum of flavours.

Now we are all set, or are we? One final server comes with a large plastic container. Using tongs, he fishes out a couple of wafer-thin discs. No banana leaf rice is complete without papadum!

These lightly spiced crackers made from legume flour (traditionally black gram bean, but lentils and chickpeas are also common) add an unmistakable crunch to the spicy, gloppy and delicious mess before me. No wonder papadum is so addictive.

Time for curries! Choose your favourite or have a little of everything.

Time for curries! Choose your favourite or have a little of everything.

Piquant and tangy mutton ‘varuval’.

Piquant and tangy mutton ‘varuval’.

Back to my earlier investigation of the protein options at the display counter, I decided on a plate of piquant and tangy mutton varuval. Anything that requires more thoughtful chewing helps to slow me down, preventing absent-minded wolfing down of rice and curries.

A good meal should be savoured, without hurry.

When I am done, I fold the leaf inwards towards me, to show my appreciation for the meal, so simple yet satisfying.

It’s not unlike how the Japanese say “Gochisosama deshita” at the end of a meal. Translated roughly, this means “Thank you very much for putting in so much effort; it was a feast.”

Which is exactly how I feel after paying and as I stumble outside into the sun again, rejuvenated and ready to face the rest of the day.

Ecohill Banana Leaf Village Cuisine

No. A-03-L1, Pusat Komersial Dataran Ecohill, Block A, Jln Ecohill 1/2, Setia Ecohill, Semenyih, Selangor

Opens daily (except Mon closed) 8am-10pm

Phone: 018-321 8214

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