Friday, May 23, 2008

Annalakshmi -- Eat What You Want, Give As You Feel

It was more than five months ago when I told myself I wasn’t going back to Amoy St. That time, my friend, Mr. Chippy, took me to another hawker center. With the choices that Lau Pa Sat had to offer, the additional distance we had to walk and the limited time allowed for lunch breaks, I had valid reasons not to go visit that place again.

All that changed today, of course.

"Kaha kathe he!?", I asked Gaurav, practicing a few Hindi words I've learned. Where are we going to eat!?

All I got from him was a soft punch on the chest and his usual, affable smile. I took that to mean "Ahh.. you're learning well."

"I'll make it easier for you. I don't want to eat at Subway today!", I said to him. We had been constantly going there for about three weeks now.

"Yeah, and let's not go to Lau Pa Sat!"

I was expecting to hear a suggestion but his response gave me a bit of relief, knowing that we didn't have to go to Lau Pa Sat, another popular hawker center where we had shared more meals than we can keep track of since he came here to Singapore from India. I myself had been going there with other colleagues since I took on a project in this area last November.

I didn't know where to go but I let my instincts guide me, and lead the way. So, in the heat of high noon but under the shade of Singapore’s buildings, we strayed from our usual route and veered away from Lau Pa Sat. Soon, we found ourselves in Amoy St.

I didn't want to eat anything heavy and I was looking for a place where it was kind of neutral for the two of us: Gaurav is a vegetarian while I couldn't stay away from meat for too long. When I saw Annalakshmi's huge signboard -- the font looked Indian to me -- over their wooden entrance doors, I thought having Indian food for lunch today wasn't a bad idea. Also, I was sure they served something my acha dost could eat. As we got closer to the doors, a small sign decided I was going to be a vegetarian this lunchtime.

An Indian lady dressed in saree guided us in and showed us where we could sit. There were already two people seated in the table for six. It wasn't unusual to share your table with other diners in Singapore. There was a queue in the food counter and there were no signs of any waiter. We knew what he had to do.

There were metal plates and small metal cups near the food counter. The metal trays reminded me of my high school days. I took three cups and put them on my plate, just like the people ahead of me did. Not pretending to know better, I asked Gaurav to help me choose my food. When it came to food, we had one thing in common -- we don't like it very spicy.

I guess I would have done as well without his assistance. He managed to choose a spicy dish, something he also got for himself, that I filled one of my tin cups to the brim. I felt proud for finishing everything I took but Gaurav was wiser not to touch the spicy dish after that first stinging spoonful. He wasn't wise enough to know what the dish was called though. Hmm... no wonder...

The drinks were in pitchers of the same metallic form. Drinking cups of a similar make were also available on the same table. The orange drink was cold enough and had a bit of powdery taste in it but it was nevertheless refreshing.

Apart from that SDWAUN (spicy dish with an unknown name), the meal was good and filling. Being a good follower, I added more rice to what I already had when I saw Gaurav took more servings. I almost regretted that decision. Apart from rice, we had roti, papad, dal and sambar. I consider dal as my new favorite, with Annalakshmi's tasty version. Even my Indian companion was impressed.

I almost forgot to pay but I realized this before I managed to get out. Gaurav was already in the payment counter, speaking to the cashier with that familiar smile and the cordial wagging of the head. It turns out there was no fixed price for dining in Annalakshmi. This wasn't our first time to encounter this, having bought food from a stall that practiced the same Eat what you want, Give as you feel concept in Lau Pa Sat. I also remember Kula mentioning a similar shop (a term he used very frequently) in Little India. Still, it wasn't easy to decide how much to give. Before it got more awkward, Gaurav took $15 from his wallet and paid uncle for both of us. The good fellow refused to take my share of the payment.

In the office, as I was asking Gaurav if there was a Hindi term for free food, he told me that the Eat what you want, Give as you feel concept reminded him of the gurudwara in India. The gurudwara or gurdwara are temples in India were pilgrims can stay overnight at no cost. Good food was also provided free of charge. Absolutely no discrimination based on religion is made. Dwara is Sanksirt for house or door while guru means teacher, so gurudwara can be translated as house of the guru.

Annalakshmi is located in 104 Amoy Street near Far East Square and is a short walk from the Raffles MRT station.

There is a park just opposite this restaurant where the pictures of the monuments of Indian milk traders and Chinese taking part of a procession were taken.

You can visit Annalakshmi's web site here. They also have a profound explanation for their unique concept on this page. A little caution though, my Firefox crashed on the two occasions I tried to visit the site; I had to use Internet Explorer instead.

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At May 24, 2008 at 10:15 PM , Blogger Melissa said...

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