Mrs. Komal Khanchandani arrived in Manila from India with her husband Sanjay and family eight years ago. At first, she missed the spicy victuals and vegetables of her native land. She decided to do something about it. She went to the best markets and groceries in the city and hunted up the spices then approximated those she had always been used to. Her search was not in vain. She was soon busy in the family kitchen whipping up the best of Indian cuisine. The aroma and flavor of her culinary efforts soon gave her the idea to open a restaurant in Makati.

After experimenting with a small canteen, she took the bold step of opening a restaurant that exclusively specialized on Indian cuisine. The result was Swagat, a word which means "Welcome" in the Hindi language.

Swagat restaurant has the ambience of a big but cozy dining room in a suburban home in India. Paintings with Indian settings adorn the walls and the soft strains of native music that Mahatma Gandhi must have enjoyed filled the air.

It is great to start the meal with a generous serving of Dal or thick lentil soup along with a piece of Roti or wheat bread that may be dipped in sauce. One can choose from different kinds of spicy rice mixed with Murgh or chicken, Anda or scrambled egg, Sangam or lean pieces of chicken and lamb, Mutton or goat meat. The main course may be varieties of vegetable, fish, mutton lamb, or chicken.

- What's On & Expat March 7-13, 2004

Spices are the key to Indian cooking, and masala is the foundation. A masala is an intricate combination of freshly ground spices and herbs, each combination devised to suit a particular dish.

…Komal makes her own masalas… she also makes her own yogurt and paneer (a type of homemade cheese), cooks all the dishes from scratch, and serves various Indian breads baked fresh in her own oven. She loves to cook, and learned the techniques of true Indian cooking from her mother - as is usual in India. At the restaurant, she cooks all the meals herself.

Swagat's menu is extensive and very reasonably priced, running the gamut from a large selection of deep fried appetizers to biryanis, mutton, chicken, and seafood, breads, desserts, and a whole plethora of vegetarian dishes. Komal is vegetarian, and her touch with these dishes is excellent.

- Manila Standard, Foodaholic, CJ Juntereal, May 2004

"Learning how to cook right is important," she says, "as I come from a big family."

She had virtually given up on the local Indian food scene and was simply happy to putter
around her kitchen, until Sanjay's expatriate Indian friends noticed her cooking.

As most of them were bachelors with no wives-and mothers-to cook for them, they would crave Komal's home-cooked meals. So they bugged her endlessly about putting up her own Indian restaurant.

Komal relented by opening Sangam, a hole-in-the-wall Indian carinderia at the basement of an office building in Makati, a few years ago. The couple's Indian friends -- and a growing Filipino clientele -- welcomed such a place but, as expected, they weren't totally placated.

"Except for those who held office in the building, many found it inaccessible," says Komal. "They kept on nagging me to move to a bigger, more accessible place in Makati."

She did just that last year with the opening of Swagat Indian Cuisine. Located at FCC Building on Rada Street, Legaspi Village, Makati (tel. 752-5669), the eatery is a clean, well-lit place devoid of frills.

In keeping with her own standards, Komal cooks the meals herself. Almost everything is sourced locally except for hard-to-find Indian spices. In the name of authenticity, Komal's relatives in India send these spices to her via DHL.

"I haven't had a vacation since this place opened," she sighs. "I'm the owner, cook and manager all rolled into one. But I love to cook-that's the problem."

Swagat offers a substantial list of vegetarian and rice specialties from various parts of India. Its biryani (rice) dishes, for instance, are India's version of the Spanish paella, mixed with chicken, mutton, shrimps, boneless fish or egg.

"Every item on the menu happens to be our favorite," says Komal, who hails from the southern Indian state of Andra Pradesh. "I didn't include anything that's not."

"You can search our ref and see for yourself," she says with a broad grin. "There's nothing there to reheat, as I cook everything right after a customer makes an order."

Every meal is best capped with either the coconut burfi or the kulfi, Komal's signature ice cream.

- Thursday Jul. 29, 2004, Philippines

The homemade ice cream is to die for.. "If you taste my ice cream, you'll forget the others," she says proudly.

- COOK, Culinary Lifestyle Magazine, June 2004

Excerpts from: "A Culinary Trip to India"

by Ruth Lincoln
U.S. Embassy

If you've been searching for authentic Indian cuisine in Manila, and don't have any personal connections with the Indian community or embassy here, perhaps you've found the local scene rather disappointingly lacking. Sure there are the old traditional standbys - fine if you don't mind Philippine-influenced Indian food that can boast only a passing acquaintance with the real thing. Newcomers on the Indian food scene, while bearing a closer resemblance in taste and texture to authentic Indian food, will charge you for their upscale location, chandeliers and silverware, not to mention the purple leather sofas at the entrance. Alas! All is not lost. While taking a taxi through Legaspi Village recently, I spotted an Indian restaurant that I had not previously heard of called Swagat (meaning welcome). Located on Rada Street (also known as Thailand Street) this little known café was opened by a Philippine resident of ten years who hails from Andhra Pradesh in India. (Andhra is known for having some of the spiciest cuisine in all of India). Apparently the owner ran a canteen elsewhere in the city and was urged by friends to open a larger establishment.

I visited Swagat for lunch one Saturday. I found a clean, cozy space modestly and neatly decorated. The menu was surprisingly extensive, offering a range of appetizers, from paneer pakoras to a variety of chaats, as well as curries, kebabs, Indian breads (including my personal favorite, puris) and rice dishes. The Philippine wait staff was pleasant and efficient. More impressive was the fact that the owner, Komal S.K. was on the premises to answer questions and to ensure that the food and service is kept up to standards. While I was there, another expatriate walked in and inquired how long the restaurant had been open.

…I was pleasantly surprised to find all of the dishes fresh, individually spiced, and ungreasy. There were no firestarters and I didn't have to find myself having to remove whole spices from any of the offerings as one finds doing in some other Indian restaurants. This is simple, home-cooked Indian food at its best.

Swagat - worth a visit!


Copyright © Swagat Indian Cuisine . 2005 . All Rights Reserved