THE tradition of eating rice and curries on a banana leaf is believed to have been brought to Malaysian shores by South Indian migrants.
In the old days, a banana leaf meal at a restaurant always included free top-ups of vegetables and different types of gravy, but today, while most restaurants will top up the gravy for free, some may charge for extra vegetables.
Choosing the best banana leaf rice restaurant is often a matter of personal taste. Here are five in Seremban, Negri Sembilan, that are popular with locals.
Curry Leaf Restaurant
1273-1275 Jalan Rasah, SerembanThis restaurant has been serving up banana leaf meals for over 20 years.
A standard meal (RM7 for white rice, RM7.50 for biryani rice) comes with six vegetables, sambar, rasam, mango pickles, inji puli (a condiment made with ginger, tamarind, chillies and jaggery), a selection of gravy – onion, sambar, fish and chicken, a fried salted dried chilli and papadom.
On Fridays, diners get a bowl of free payasam too.
Add-ons include non-veg dishes such as the restaurant’s signature Chicken 65 – fried chicken pieces marinated with a blend of spices (RM12 per serving), Chicken Kerala (RM7.50), Mutton Varuval – tender cubes of boneless Australian mutton (RM10) and for the ultimate indulgence – Fish Head Curry (RM40 per 500g), which is cooked to order.
Owner T. Thanabalan is a stickler for quality control.
“I’m very particular about the ingredients we use and even our curry powders are bought directly from the miller,” he said.
A huge plus is the variety on offer – besides the daily rotation of veg and non-veg dishes, diners also have an extensive a la carte menu including north Indian fare, noodles and various fried rice dishes to choose from – perfect for times when you’re hankering for banana leaf but your dining partner isn’t.
Wash down your meal with a refreshing mango lassi (yoghurt drink) or masala chai (spiced tea).
Operating hours: Daily (Breakfast and lunch: 7am-4pm, Dinner: 6pm-11pm). Closed on Deepavali.
Bigreen Leaf Restaurant
PT 2166/7, Ground Floor, KM6 Jalan Seremban-Tampin, SerembanThis restaurant’s proximity to the Senawang industrial area and the North-South Expressway’s Senawang exit makes Bigreen Leaf a favourite of office and factory workers, as well as tour groups heading to and from Singapore.
The variety on offer – up to 14 veg and non-veg dishes daily – often leaves diners spoilt for choice.
With regular patrons that include Japanese and South Koreans, most of the curries here are mildly spicy. Unlike traditional banana leaf restaurants where wait staff serve diners their rice and curries, Bigreen Leaf is a self-service eatery.
Customers collect their banana leaf-lined plate from the serving station and select the curries and side dishes they prefer.
A standard banana leaf set (RM6.50 for white rice) comes with a choice of three vegetables, sambar, gravy (chicken or fish) pickles and papadom.
Diners can also opt for “special rice” (between RM2.50 and RM3.50 per serving), which includes a daily rotation of flavoured rice such as onion rice, jeera (cumin) rice and tomato rice.
Highlights include Chicken Masala (RM6.50 per serving), Kerala-style Ghee Roast Chicken (RM8), Portuguese-inspired Serani Chicken (RM8) and Boneless Mutton (RM14).
Owner S. Madhavan, who started the business in 2002, doesn’t believe in skimping on ingredients.
“Quality is essential and that’s why everything from our spices to the curry powders we use are carefully selected.”
Operating hours: Daily (7.30am-10pm). Closed after 4pm on Mondays.
Number One Top Curry House
No 15 & 19, Jalan Dato’ Abdul Rahman, SerembanAsk anyone in Seremban where to go for banana leaf and Number One Top Curry House will probably be on their list. A standard banana leaf meal (RM6 for white rice, RM6.50 for parboiled rice) comes with a variety of vegetables, a selection of four types of gravy – fish, chicken, sambar and kirai (greens and lentils) curry, pickles, rasam, inji puli , fried salted dried chilli and papadom.
The hallmark of a good curry lies in its masala (spice) blend. At Number One Top Curry House, the curry powder blends are made in-house.
My favourite combo of gravy – chicken and kirai curry – still tastes the same as it did over two decades ago on my first visit.
Other must-tries include the spicy Andhra-style Chicken Varuval (RM6 per serving), Prawn Varuval (RM12), Fried Tenggiri or Spanish mackerel (from RM13 per slice), local mutton (RM15) and Tenggiri Fish Head Curry (RM70 for a portion that can feed four pax).
Restaurant owner Naidu, who is of Telugu descent, said the dishes served at his eatery feature Tamil, Kerala and Andhra flavours.
Operating hours: Daily (7.30am- 9.30pm). Closed once a month.
Restoran Dheerann Maju
No 1796, Taman Ujong, Jalan Tok Ungku, SerembanLocated close to the Blossom Heights neighbourhood, this no-frills eatery has been attracting a steady clientele for the past six years. The restaurant is famous for its nandu kari or Crab Curry (from RM15 for about 300g) and weekend specials.
The standard banana leaf (RM7 for white or parboiled rice) comes with four vegetables, sambar, gravy (crab, chicken, fish), rasam, fried salted dried chilli, pickles and papadom.
Eat-in diners also get free top-ups of vegetables, sambar, rasam and gravy.
On the menu daily are home-style dishes that include Kudal Peratal (RM8) which is curried goat/sheep intestines, Kampung Chicken Curry (RM8) as well as fried fish and chicken.
On weekends, the restaurant turns it up a notch with a variety of dishes that include Turkey Curry (RM15), Venison Curry (RM16), Black Pepper Duck (RM8), Duck Curry (RM8), Fried Quail (RM8 per bird) and “KFC”-style Fried Spring Chicken (RM25 per bird).
Operating hours: Daily (7am-9pm). Closed fortnightly on Mondays.
No 5, Jalan Lee Fong Yee, SerembanLocated right smack in the centre of town, Simla is usually busy at lunch time with a steady stream of diners.Customers have to line up at the restaurant’s entrance, pick up a banana leaf-lined tray, ladle on rice and select the curries and side dishes they want with their meal.
Prices for a banana leaf meal start from RM3.50 (white or parboiled rice) with one vegetable, sambar, fish, vegetable or chicken gravy, rasam and papadom.
Add-ons are chargeable (prices vary based on portion size).
Once you’re seated, wait staff will come round to tally your bill.
With up to 15 vegetable dishes and 10 non-veg dishes daily, highlights include traditional vegetable dishes such as Murungakkai (drumstick) Curry and Avarakkai Poriyal (stir-fried broad beans) as well as their mildly spicy Chicken Varuval (RM5).
Operating hours: Daily (7am-10pm). Closed once a month.