I don’t know much about Indian food. I have eaten at exactly three Indian restaurants in my life, all of them in the Philippines. All those times I ate Indian food, I loved how the flavors and the spices were right in my face. Thus I was excited to hear about this new Indian restaurant — Ricksha Streetside Tandoor — in Pasig. (Even if it means traveling an hour away from Quezon City.)
Ricksha Streetside Tandoor promises homemade Indian food, specializing in tandoor cooking and offering family recipes from owners Pierre and Cyril Addison. Most of the menu feature recipes from Cyril’s mom, including their own personal favorites. At its core, Ricksha is an ode to the family’s eating memories.
The place is located in Kapitolyo, right along the busy restaurant street of E. Capitol Drive. The facade has a colorful mural reminiscent of a Mariachi festival. Inside, the decor is pared down — concrete gray walls, solid sea green and black dining chairs, marble tables, and stark yellow lighting. Though the place is relatively small, it didn’t feel cramped at all.
There’s a huge blackboard on the left side wall that features all the drinks menu, along with the restaurant’s manifesto that says, “We don’t claim to be authentic, because for my mom, it is about good taste.” Not that I’d know the difference, but yes I’m all about that too.
Jed and I stared at the menu for a long time. He’s been to India once before but he was still as clueless as I was on what to order. Good thing Ricksha’s menu includes explanatory footnotes on each item. My eyes darted to the most familiar option — the chicken tandoori. After that, we were back to the drawing board and decided we’d choose the recommended items on the menu marked with pink hearts. A pink heart means it’s “mom’s secret recipe.”
Drinks were the first ones to reach our table. I had the masala chai, which was described as “dad’s favorite drink” made of red label tea, milk, and sweet spices. I’m not going to mince words and pretend we were politically correct on this table. First sip and both Jed and I nodded our heads and agreed, “Ohhh that tasted Indian.” Like what does that even mean? It means it had a strong, sweet aroma and a lot of aftertaste. Milky? Yes. A little like drinking a glass of spiced milk tea with a dash of mama’s perfume. I liked it.
Jed had the more predictable mango lassi, which is basically a mango-flavored yogurt drink.
Our first appetizer was the homemade samosa chaat. Chaat, according to my Google search, is a famous Indian streetfood made of broken down samosas (spiced potatoes), lentils, onions, meat, peas, and a generous sprinkle of sev (yellow trimmings of crunchy noodles). That’s a mouthful, yes? And that’s exactly what this dish was all about.
One bite and it’s a magic carpet ride of familiar, umami, salsa-like flavors. It’s spicy, it’s sour, it’s tangy, it’s crunchy. Almost every addictive flavor I can think of was right here in this chaat. It’s no surprise Jed and I inhaled this dish.
Next up were the bajji fritters, or simply fried onion balls. These fritters paled in comparison to the overachiever chaat. There was a distinct bitter taste to it. I’m guessing it’s the char of the onion, possibly fried a tad too long. However, I can easily imagine this dish pairing nicely with a glass of ice-cold beer.
I was busy taking a million mediocre photos of our food when our main entrées arrived. Right on cue, our plate of chicken tandoori couldn’t be any more dressed for the pictorial. What a colorful plate of food!
On a bed of yellow biryani rice sits a golden brown chicken tikka (chicken cutlets) with orange curry sauce, white raita, pickled onions, green raw chile, and rainbow-colored fryers (think Indian kropek). Chicken tandoori is possibly one of the most recognizable Indian dishes for noobs like me. It’s comparable to our chicken inasal. The difference is in the marinade — they use yogurt and a slew of spices like cumin, paprika, cayenne, coriander, and masala, to name a few — and they cook it using a cylindrical clay oven called a tandoor.
We also tried one of their bestsellers — the palak paneer. Now this one was a discovery for us, and by far my favorite dish of the evening.
At first I was like, “what is this?” It’s dark green and brown, that’s what it is. This bowl of soup looked like a version of Bicol’s laing. Turns out palak paneer is a vegetarian dish made of pureed spinach, spices, shredded coconut, and — hallelujah — paneer cheese.
Let’s stop for a moment and give due honor to this cheese.
Like square slices of tofu at the bottom of this murky soup, this gorgeous paneer cheese tasted like burrata but even better. Way better. It was chewy, cheesy, with lots of stretch to it, like those Pizza Hut sticky cheese pizza commercials.
I dipped the warm, flaky paratha (flatbread), scooping the soaking wet paneer cheese with the soup, and by then I could just feel all my troubles slipping away. It reminded me of French onion soup — the soggy bread mixed with caramelized onions and gooey cheese dripping on all sides. I could not stop eating it.
Coming down from that high, we just wanted something small and light for desserts. I was full by this time — so full I could feel the yawn slipping through my mouth.
We chose a small dessert, indeed, called gulab jamun. But it wasn’t light by any means. It’s milk balls bathed in sweet syrup. Think of our very own humble yema covered in caramelized sugar. I flinched a little as I find the jamun too sweet for my taste. It felt like I ate a big meatball of condensada.
I gobbled a can of Thums Up, a less sweet version of Indian Coca Cola, secretly burping as I comfortably surrender to my satiety. I was staring blankly at the mess in front of me, thinking nothing in particular, just mildly (and happily) exhausted from eating all this good food. Ricksha did serve a taste of home, an unpretentious and delicious one at that. I could even imagine the sound of my mother’s voice telling me to start clearing the dishes.
Ricksha Streetside Tandoor
4/5 rating (first visit)
#23 Unit 1 E. Capitol Dr Pasig City
12nn to 10pm (except Sun 11am-10pm)
63 917 637 2113
₱300-500 per person