CHECK IT OUT: Om Lifestyle + Café at Connecticut Street, San Juan
Suman and Anjie Gogna open a little piece of India in Greenhills.
Om Lifestyle + Café
2/F Fox Square Building, 53 Connecticut Street, San Juan
Tel. No. 705-7072, 631 6983, 0917-506-7288
Open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Monday to Saturday)*
(SPOT.ph) Too many things call for your attention at once: the little table full of brightly hued scarves, the big table with stacks of intricately detailed ceramic dishware, the racks of breezy caftans and tunics, the rack of embellished footwear, display cases of all kinds of jewelry-lacquer, brass, semi-precious stones. Large, ornately carved cabinets. Once your eyes adjust to this profusion of color (all further embellished with luxurious golds and silvers), you'll notice the distinct spice-filled scent coming from the small kitchen of a café that managed to squeeze itself into one side.
Om Lifestyle + Cafe is essentially the Gogna home transported to a small space in Greenhills. The Gognas are mother and daughter, Suman and Anjie, who've taken their 13-year-old home-based business to a more commercial setup, complete with a café of Ms. Suman's recipes. The menu is modest, admits Anjie, "but these are the ones you would eat if it's your first time to try Indian cuisine."
She explains them though, in relation to Filipino specialties: "The samosa is like empanada; the tikka is like kebab or barbecue." Dishes are centered on Northern Indian cuisine, which is spicier, compared to the tropical-oriented flavors of the South. The Samosas (P40) are little fried pyramids packed with seasoned potatoes. Considering India's fondness for oil and butter, the pastry gives a greaseless crunch in contrast to the tenderness of the potatoes. There's a subtle spice coaxed out by the tamarind chutney, creating layers of flavors that will probably have you regretting why you don't eat Indian food enough.
"We've edited the flavors," says Anjie. "It's still full of spices, but we toned down the chili." You can have it on the side though. The Butter Chicken (P180) is pan-fried and served on a platter instead of the conventional skewer. That only means more of that complex curry to go around. An overnight marinade imbibes more depth and deboned thigh presents a meatier flavor. The Paneer Tikka (P180) was the most curious dish on the table. Paneer is an Indian cheese that’s unaged, with a texture that resembles a very compact tofu. It flaunts this Sunkist shade of orange that blends with the colorful backdrop of the boutique, but makes one wonder how cheese curd can look that orange. Have them with the Chicken Biryani (P150) or add some homemade yogurt with cucumbers to restart your palate when the spices become overwhelming.
The Gognas source their merchandise from various cities in India when they visit twice a year, but for their food, ingredients are purchased from Indian supermarkets-except the saffron, which they go through great lengths to import. It makes their saffron ice cream or kulfi (P50) all the more worth trying.
Indian music hums gently in the background-something you'll notice when you're finished marveling over the spices and finally sipping your cardamom, cinnamon, and clove-infused Masala Chai tea (P80) at the end of a very enlightening meal. It's a very relaxed arrangement and Anjie invites guests to just hang out, especially once they've installed the intended couch for the café. Look around and you might discover the brass snake-head backscratcher or the meditative singing bowls. Or the ornate umbrella with the more ornate spokes and extra flair of buntings. Or the box of even more accessories. That's the beauty of Om, there's always more to see.
*Operating hours may be adjusted with prior notice from customer. Om also makes customized garments and gowns by appointment. Visit their website for more information.
Photos by Sasha Lim Uy