Whenever any of my family members are in the northern region of Singapore, a trip – more like a food pilgrimage – to Shami Banana Leaf Delights (formerly known as Kavin Banana Leaf Delights back in the 90’s) is never an afterthought. Sticking to the tradition of serving their delectable wares on banana leaves, these folks are well-versed in the art of briyani (known to locals as nasi briyani) and its accompaniments (think tandoori chicken, curries and the likes). We would often be greeted with a queue of close to 10 to 15 equally hungry folks who were busy salivating over the spread of Indian dishes on offer. A rewarding meal awaited those who persevered despite the long wait.
Once again, the layout of the food court that houses these Indian delicacy has changed (not to mention the ownership of the food court itself). The stall used to be located near the entrance of the food enclave, but now sits miserably between a tiled wall and another fast-food-themed Indian eatery. The aforementioned queue was still there – albeit smaller – when my mother and I visited the place last week. The server lady clad in a baby blue polo t-shirt and matching headscarf was generous with – seemingly never-ending – scoops of briyani rice, a portion of alluring tandoori chicken, an equally generous portion of stir-fried beansprouts (seeing that the rest of the shriveled vegetables and accompaniments looked worse for wear) and a dose of potent and flavourful curry atop the rice. However, the similar-looking plate of similar-looking dishes that I fondly remembered years ago now costs 1.5 times more – minus the all-important papadum (which used to be a complimentary accompaniment to each plate of briyani).
The upside? The tandoori chicken and its rich, red, fingertip-staining, spice-laden sauce (reminiscent of the good old days) managed to temporarily divert my attention away from the unfortunate reality of the omitted crispy cracker, while the curry gave a supplementary depth of flavour to the surprisingly disappointing bland briyani rice. A native Indian couple and their son seated next to my table (who, by the way, ordered two plates of briyani and sides, plus an additional serving of rice!) seemed to be in briyani heaven – keeping their heads tucked into their respective plates, raising them only to grab a quick slurp of their cold beverage (and also to inhale, deeply, I might add).
I cannot immediately recall the last time I ate at Shami’s, but it somehow seemed that the whole dining experience wasn’t as the same as it used to be when my tastebuds went bonkers over the first encounter with their offerings. A number of blogs and local food-dedicated forums cite inflation and copious renovation works (which brought about higher cost of rent) – among others – being the reasons as to why standards have declined. I can only be left wondering as to what actually happened to (what my family and I – and surely many others – consider to be) the definitive benchmark for briyani in Singapore. Despite all this, I can be cautiously optimistic and say that the north-bound pilgrimage will still be made, though not as enthusiastically hopeful as before.Shami Banana Leaf Delights
Northpoint Shopping Centre, Kopitiam Food Court
Opening Hours: 10am – 8.30pm
Tel: +65 6754 3797