Does leaving the country you grew up in mean leaving everything that you know?
For Om Indian Kitchen’s owner and founder, Suman Gogna, it doesn’t have to be that way. 36 years ago, she left India for the Philippines, where she decided to raise her children. But instead of turning away from her roots, she chose to bring as much of India as she could to our country.
One of the things she did to share her heritage was to serve Indian food to her friends and business clients while entertaining them at her house. By doing so, she was able to make them realize that Indian food wasn’t about using copious amounts of chili. Gogna explained, “It’s not all maanghang. It’s about blending different spices. There are so many spices that we put in [Indian food] and that brings out the flavor.”
Over the years, encouragement from Gogna’s friends and clients compelled her to open a small, homey outlet where she could share more of her culture and extend her hospitality to more people. That’s when she decided to establish Om Indian Kitchen.
In Hindu religion, Om is a sacred sound that aligns one’s positive energy. To reflect this philosophy, everything from Om Indian Kitchen’s vibrant décor to the relaxing traditional music aims to give customers a positive feeling. The warm and friendly servers, who are knowledgeable about each component of every dish, will educate diners on anything on the menu, which is composed of a lean list of Indian favorites. This is important, especially if it’s their first time trying dishes like Palak Paneer, a spinach-based curry with blocks of cottage cheese or Vegetable Samosa, a crispy, savory pastry stuffed with spiced potatoes and green peas.
Gogna aims for authenticity when it comes to her recipes. She says, “It’s very authentic! No shortcuts; no ready mixes. Even for our desserts, we do ourselves.” Asked if she tweaked anything for the Filipino palate, she remarked, “When it comes to flavors, no, I would put all of these even for an Indian guest or diner. But when it comes to chili, yes. So our food is mild and very tolerable for the Filipino palate.” Despite this, you can request to have your food served spicier. A bottle of homemade chili chutney also sits on every table so you can easily add as much heat as you like.
While there are many different kinds of curry on Om’s menu, you’d be pleased to find that every last one of them has a distinct flavor profile. The Butter Chicken, the house’s best seller, has a rich, tangy, and tomatoey flavor that goes incredibly well with the house’s naan (flatbread). Meanwhile, the Fish Curry draws its excellent flavor from fresh curry leaves. The fish Om uses usually depends on the fresh catch of the day, but it’s guaranteed to have a tender and creamy texture which will complement the thick sauce well.
Because of their religious beliefs, a lot of people in India are vegetarians. Even people who are non-vegetarians eat vegetables regularly as mains, and eat meat only a few times a week. Since this is the case, Indians have developed an extensive list of meatless recipes that are both filling and satisfying.
At Om, you can try some of these vegetarian mains, like the Veg Kofta. While Veg Kofta is usually made with upo, Om makes it with local jackfruit, which gives the kofta a meatier mouthfeel. “[Using jackfruit] was one of my personal discoveries,” Gogna explains. Another vegetarian dish worth trying is the saucy and buttery Dal Makhni. This soup makes use of whole lentils, making it more filling to eat.
For those who are still craving meat, Om offers a few options, like Mutton Rogan Josh and the Seekh Kebab. Despite the brown color, you’ll be surprised to find that Seekh Kebab is actually made from minced pork. “Indians don’t eat beef,” Gogna shares. Cattle are considered sacred in Indian culture, so Indians cook with other types of protein, like mutton, pork, and chicken. Nevertheless, if you’re used to eating beef kebabs, you won’t find any shortage of flavor in Om’s minced pork version. The meat is already blended with a slew of different spices, and barely needs the mint-yogurt sauce it’s served with. In addition to the Seekh Kebab, a spicier, bulkier option for meat-eaters is the Pork Keema, which comes in a large serving.
Aside from the starters and mains, the beverages and desserts at Om are also not to be taken lightly. Instead of the usual lemonade, the restaurant adds ginger to create the Ginger Lemon Cooler, a unique and refreshing drink. There’s also the Masala Chai, a one-of-a-kind milk tea prepared with aromatic spice. Even the desserts don’t spare you from a deluge of flavors. Kulfi, which is essentially homemade ice cream flavored with saffron, cardamom, and pistachio, will blow any regular ice cream out of the water.
What keeps the flavors of Om’s dishes on point is the fact that the spices used are imported directly from India. Gogna travels to her country of origin every 4-6 months to purchase most of the ingredients she needs for her restaurant. Aside from that, when asked how she keeps the quality of her food consistent, Gogna admitted that she is still very much personally involved in the cooking process, even after all these years. She trains her cooks and sees to it that each dish is made precisely as it should be. That way, she is able to ensure that every dish that comes out of her kitchen is prepared with the care that only a loving mother could provide.
More than 30 years ago, Gogna left India for the Philippines. In doing so, she was able to establish a comforting nook where diners can have a chance to finally say, “At Om, I’ve found my long lost home.”
Om Indian Kitchen is located at G/F, The Grove by Rockwell, E. Rodriguez Jr. Avenue, Pasig City.
Fun fact: Om now offers packed meals that diners can order for takeout. You can also order party platters from FoodPanda.
Fun fact 2: Om will also offer specials on Valentine’s. Call them for a reservation at 532-7694/09979578476.