Established in 1924, Ananda Bhavan is Singapore’s longest running Indian vegetarian eatery. The Selegie Road branch comes with a sense of historical primacy, as this is where it all began 90 years ago. Housed within the staid grandeur of the Ellison Building (which marks the northern limit of Singapore’s former Jewish Quarter, or Mahallah), it is fantastically underwhelming in appearance. In fact, it’s borderline disappointing. Not that it matters as it has, over the years, spawned various branches in and around Little India (and Changi Airport), including its flagship outlet on Syed Alwi Road.
Ananda Bhavan is known for its fast-food style approach to Indian vegetarian dining. Such an approach is reflected in the decor (austerity chic – proof is in the picture on the right), the ordering mechanism (queue – or “Q” – numbers) and food collection system (triggered by a digitised rendition of Fur Elise to summon you – and every other patron awaiting their food – to the counter). During busy periods, it can feel a bit like a digital discotheque inside. Nonetheless the food is freshly cooked, and there is a wide range of Indian sweets for sale. A note on drinks: the ginger tea I tried was foul – thin and watery, it needed two sachets of sugar to make it palatable.
Ananda Bhavan Restaurant
221 Selegie Road
Open 07:00-22:00 Monday-Friday; 07:00-23:00 Saturday-Sunday
SET LUNCH (SGD 7.50)
Everything but the kitchen sink goes into Ananda Bhavan’s set lunch. Seriously, everything. Seven different curries, two types of chutney, white rice, a selection of dried chillies, papadums, chapatti, vada, curd and dessert. It’s not for those that lack big appetites, or even bigger stomachs. The highlights for me were the vada (nicely spiced and not too oily), the dhal (good thickness), the jackfruit curry (nice peppery taste), the curd (very refreshing) and dessert (with coconut and cashew nuts – natural sweetness and a smooth consistency). The other curries were a little erratic in flavour, and tended to be either too spicy or too sour. With Indian set lunches, the variation in curries served each day can always be a bit hit and miss. Overall, I think today was a miss.
MASALA THOSAI (SGD 3.60)
Full marks for the origami-inspired shape (come on, the classic rectangle is so passe…), and for the speed of delivery (they must have cooked this thing in about a minute). Unfortunately the thosai itself was a little soggy and lacked crispness, especially around the edges. This probably didn’t help the flavour of the fermented batter, which was overly sour. The potato filling looked as scary as it tasted – bright orange hues that were tongue-numbingly spicy. Quite a deviation from the pepper and cumin notes that I find so appealing in more mainstream masala flavours. The addition of cashew nuts to the filling was both unexpected, and pleasant.
An Indian vegetarian institution that seems to have prioritised its service efficiencies over its food. Spiciness and sourness dominated (and overpowered) the more nuanced flavours of the curries. Whilst the set lunch is fairly good value, there are much better options available just across Rochor Road…