LOCATED among the office buildings of Bukit Damansara, behind rows of food trucks and food stalls, is an oasis where friends can gather and catch up over good wholesome food.
At the centre is a modern banana leaf restaurant, with a huge sign that reads Sahana Banana Leaf.
“It’s named after my second daughter,” said Sathiyah Ettickan, managing director of the restaurant.
“It all started with a chance opportunity two years ago. My husband and I always wanted to go into the food business.”
During lunch, the eatery is packed with white-collar workers from the offices nearby.
In addition to the selections you would typically find at a banana leaf restaurant, Sahana Banana Leaf also features two signature items: its lotus leaf biryanis, and its coconut oil bru coffee.
There are three variants of the lotus leaf biryani served at Sahana: chicken, lamb shank, and mutton.
Each, according to Sathiyah, is prepared in the restaurant kitchen fresh every day.
“The idea was to make a dish that is unique,” she said.
“The lotus leaf has a special fragrance. It is often used in Chinese cooking, but I wanted to integrate it into Indian food. “
“The challenge was to find a balance between that and the flavours of a biryani.”
Biryani is a flavourful rice dish flavoured with herbs, spices, and meats.
The spices alone could easily overpower the fragrance of the lotus leaf, and if too little spice is used, it compromises the taste, and the lotus leaf fragrance may overwhelm the rice.
Through experimentation and testing, the folks at Sahana Banana Leaf managed to produce a dish with all the characteristics of biryani rice and a dish wrapped in lotus leaf.
“Each order is prepared fresh by our cooks. It takes approximately 10 minutes to prepare, bundle and steam each portion to perfection,” said Sathiyah.
The result is a unique and delicious spectacle that you can’t find anywhere else.
The lotus leaf biryani (or LLB as it is affectionately known) is tied in a lotus leaf bundle, and served on a banana leaf with a selection of side condiments.
The untying and unwrapping of the bundle is a part of the experience.
In traditional Indian cuisine fashion, customers can add the various condiments to the rice and adjust it to their own taste.
For example, the fried cabbage adds a savoury crunch, while the special lamb shank or mutton gravy add a meaty spiciness to the rice.
Hearty and delicious, the LLB is a meal in itself, and what it a meal without an accompanying drink?
“The coconut oil bru coffee evolved from my practice of taking a spoonful of coconut oil every day,” said Sathiyah.
“From there I started thinking about adding coconut oil to drinks, and we end up with this idea.”
The frothy drink is served in a contemporary mug, instead of the traditional metal cup Indian brewed coffee are known for.
It smelled like coffee and toasted like coconut.
It went down smoothly, and reminded me of coffee sweetened with coconut caramel.
To expand the business further and to make their signature flavours more accessible, Sahana Banana Leaf is looking to work with food delivery services.
So someday soon, you may be able to order an LLB and have it delivered directly to you.
In the two years that Sahana Banana Leaf has been in operation, the restaurant has done more than serve good food.
In 2017, it launched a CSR programme where the restaurant took in refugees, gave them a place to stay and provided them with employment.
“It was a learning experience,” said Sathiyah.
“We rented a bungalow nearby to house them, and we provided meals so that they [could save their
wages] without the need to spend it.
“However, not all of them could take it, and only a few remain with us until today.”
She added that Sahana Banana Leaf may look into launching the programme again, but with lessons learned from the previous experience.