A lot of people might think Indian food is too spicy to be enjoyed. I counted myself among them, even though, as a Peruvian, I know what it feels like to have your local native cuisine ruled out on the basis of prejudice and second-hand experience. But as Ravi Krishna welcomed our group to this newly-opened, breathtaking dining hall full of color and good taste, I realized one should not let word of mouth generalizations prevent you from walking into Massala.
Even though there are more than 60 spices used in Indian cooking, Ravi tells us that the trend of reducing the intensity of the spices has been going on for a couple of years. “Indian restaurants are more health-conscious now, and the use of chili has been reduced.” Still, at Massala (which means ‘mix of spices’ in South Asia) you can order how hot or mild you wish your dishes to be by using the 1-chili, 2-chili, or 3-chili code as printed on the menu.
(Photo: Marco Simola/Living in Peru)
Opening a top-end Indian cuisine restaurant in Peru is a show-stopping feat that necessitated hiring one of the chefs from Bukhara, listed on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and located within the ITC Maurya Hotel in Delhi. But it also requires importing some exotic foods and growing some of the ingredients on Massala’s own farm in Pachacamac. Most importantly, the kitchen would not be complete without the tandoor, a typical Indian clay oven. And if you are looking for the whole Indian restaurant feeling, dancers will astound you with their moves while you enjoy dinner.
We began with a starter called Samosa, a pastry resembling a Peruvian empanada, though the main difference here is the dips it comes with: one is a sauce made with a mix of mint and cilantro, and the other one is real tamarind sauce. Commonly made with ketchup as a substitute at local chifas, the natural taste of tamarind was the best announcement of delicious things to come.
Samosas served with housemade dips (Photo: Marco Simola/Living in Peru)
Our first main dish was the Tulsi Fish Curry: swordfish marinated with basil, cardamom, garam masala, baked in the tandoor and served on top of coconut curry. The fish was a little dry, but the flavor was captivating. Next was the Chicken Tikka Masala, a staple of Friday nights in Britain, made with roasted chicken that has been marinated for 30 hours with onions, tomatoes, garam masala, cream and butter. It’s served with the traditional jeera rice and its classic whole cumin seeds.
Slowly cooked in the tandoor is the Lamb Bhuna Masala: tender chunks of lamb flank sautéed with onions, tomatoes, yogurt, cream, and kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves). Rather than jeera rice, we get naan, the traditional Indian flatbread.
Chicken Tikka Masala, top, and Lamb Bhuna Masala with naan, bottom (Photo: Marco Simola/Living in Peru)
Next came our favorite, the Chicken Tikka Sizzler made of three different dishes. The first one is the Tandoori Chicken Tikka, consisting of crispy pieces of chicken seasoned with tandoori mix. Then there is the Tandoori Murgh Malai Kebab, a dish made with chicken that has been marinated in yogurt, cream, cardamom, and cheese. And the third one is the Chuski Kebab: grilled chicken pieces stuffed with goat cheese. Just watching the Chicken Tikka Sizzler approach our table made us wonder what the point of a diet is.
Chicken Tikka Sizzler (Photo: Marco Simola/Living in Peru)
Just when we had begun to get thirsty for something refreshing, we were sent a glass of mango lassi, a traditional drink made with yogurt and either fruit or spices. I strongly suggest you order the saffron lassi. The flavor and body starts me thinking that I should never eat artificially-flavored yogurt ever again. Of course, you could also go for the cardamom-flavored lemonade or the spice-flavored chilcano de pisco.
To finish the culinary tour of the different regions of India, we sample a stemmed glass full of Cherimoya Kheer, where the pulp of the Chirimoya fruit is mixed with a milk reduction that has been flavored with cardamom and pistachio. The creamy texture is harnessed by the restrained sweetness and the light touches of spice.
Mango lassi, top, and Gulab Jamun, bottom (Photo: Marco Simola/Living in Peru)
Our sweet tooth has yet one more thing to try: some Gulab Jamun. A South Asian sweet, plump spheres of milk-based bread rest on cardamom syrup, just flavorful enough to make us realize that Massala does have a lot of spiced up dishes, but that does not necessarily mean they are spicy.
With a menu entirely developed in India, Massala has begun to attract more and more customers who are open enough to discover an exuberant array of new and classic flavors from South Asia. Right before the farewell bidding, we catch a glimpse of Ganesha, the elephant-faced god of prosperity, on an akash butti (paper lantern) and get a warm feeling of good fortune for 2017. We will have to come back as not to break the lucky streak.
Av. Bolognesi 201. Miraflores
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 12 pm-4 pm,7 pm – 11 pm; Sunday: 12 pm – 9 pm
Starters: S/ 16-36
House Specials: S/ 24-44
Vegetarian Dishes: S/ 24-36
Rices, Lentils and Peas: S/ 20-32
Desserts: S/ 12-22