The verdict is unanimous among those I ask about Baba’s Kitchen on Bui Vien. My Indian friends rate it, as do my vegetarian friends.
Baba’s has two floors. The ground floor on Saturdays is for a la carte while upstairs is for the buffet. My Indian companion and I point to the ceiling like a cricket umpire giving someone out and a cheery waiter shows us up the steep, narrow wooden stairs. Anyone with trouble walking will not get up there.
At the top, there’s a room full of punters taking on the buffet. It’s hot despite the air-con doing its best and the fans on max rattling in their wall mounts. But it’s hotter outside. Baba’s has al fresco dining big enough for a cricket team, but at this time of day, it would be suicide out there.
Back inside, we get our first sight of the buffet. I’ll have to come back another day to road test the a la carte menu downstairs because the buffet can’t wait. For VND150,000 (not including drinks), it looks to be a steal. There are five curries to choose from, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, and pakora. Naan and rice are included, so are the condiments synonymous with Indian food. You even get a small dessert at the end.
On our first plate, my friend tells me the curries taste authentic and remind him of his mum’s. They’re typical of what’s eaten at home. To be honest, I’m finding the daal curry and steamed rice bland, so he suggests a pinch of pickled mango. What a revelation. It jumps to life. It’s hard to believe it’s the same curry.
Most of the buffet curries aren’t on the a la carte menu and they’re named just as mum would name them. Potato curry, eggplant curry, chicken curry, fish curry and daal curry. They might seem unimaginative, but they’re worth a try and there’s plenty to eat. With almost two plates done each, we pay our bill and leave. Back down those stairs we go.
A La Carte
Another night, another curry. I’m back at Baba’s on a Monday night. Mondays are slow in Ho Chi Minh City, so some restaurants don’t bother opening. Not Baba’s. It’s 7pm and starting to fill up.
The a la carte menu is extensive. Despite the South Indian offerings on the menu — think dishes like the dosa — I stick with cuisine from the north. The obvious place to start is the vegetable samosa (VND40,000). They come in twos and are crispy on the outside, firm and moist on the inside. Baba’s versions don’t crumble apart nor are they packed solid with just potato. I add a dash of tamarind sauce to sweeten things up. The best I’ve had.
At Baba’s there is a range of 23 curries. The house favourite mutton roganjosh is the most expensive at VND115,000. Mutton pieces are sparse, but it’s tender and with some pickled mango stirred in, my tongue is dancing. The smell of mutton isn’t overpowering either.
From the tandoor there are seven choices and I choose the half chicken tandoori with bone (VND135,000). It’s half a chicken, but it must’ve been a big one. This time I splash it with some green mint chutney. Each bite is succulent, smokey and tangy.
The plain naan (VND30,000) is hot and buttery and doesn’t wilt under the pressure mopping up the palaak paneer (VND80,000). I find the sweet mango chutney goes well with this dish. The texture of the cheese offers difference from the other curries. The steamed rice (VND22,000) is fresh.
I finish off with a mango lassi (VND40,000) and a complimentary sweet dessert. The bill comes to less than VND450,000. It’s tons of food and for one of those rare occasions, it’s worth believing everything you hear about a place that has great food.
Baba’s Kitchen is open 11am to 10pm, 7 days a week and is located at 164 Bui Vien, Q1, HCMC
Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals