If you’ve ever shared a table with a fussy vegetarian diner at a restaurant serving Pan-Asian food, chances are, ordering a meal is never a simple affair.
The dance with the server usually goes something like this: “I’m vegetarian. That means no chicken, no egg, what came in between and definitely nothing that swims.”
Err, I’m not sure if oysters swim.
“Right. No oyster sauce, fish sauce, chili-garlic shrimp sauce, no prawn crackers…” And so it goes.
Whether the final dish is actually edible is debatable.
It was perhaps with this in mind that Chef Akshay Nayyar — who was hand-picked by celebrity Indian Sanjeev Kapoor to run his kitchens — decided to launch a restaurant of his own to cater to this market niche.
Tum Tum Asia, a quirky new standalone restaurant in Oud Metha, Bur Dubai has packed in a street food from seven countries across Asia — think Vietnamese Banh, Thai curry and Singaporean Laksa under one roof. A handful of traditional Indian delicacies also find their way onto the menu, at the behest of the owners we hear.
The intimate restaurant creates a warm, colourful ambience, coupled with wall art of bustling street scenes that are a common sight in parts of Asia. Local artists were commissioned to design the murals, while the owners hand-picked a few of the artefacts you see on display.
As we were handed the detailed menu, the server was quick to assure us that everything on the menu was in fact vegetarian, doing away with the required dance that my family is well-trained in.
We started with a round of the restaurant’s signature beverage — the Barrel Blast. The server described it as a palate cleanser, calling it a smoky passion fruit-chili cooler, flavoured with a dash of tamarind. The drink itself is served in a tabletop keg, large enough to sustain a party of four.
Again, following the recommendation of our server, we decided to do away with our mains and opted for tapas style shared dishes.
First up was the Momo chutney, a dish inspired from the streets of Dharamshala. Similar to steamed Chinese dumplings, and a perfect treat to be had after a 12-hour road trip through the pothole ridden highways of Ladakh, Tum Tum Asia serves these steamed crescents stuffed with a dash of paneer and sour cream. A side of chutney adds to the spicy taste, with several dipping sauces also brought to the table to sample away.
Steamed to perfection, the Schezwan sauce was a personal favourite, while my partner chickened out and stuck to the green chutney that accompanied the dish.
Next up was the Dynamite Sushi, a spiced-up roll with crispy asparagus tempura and spinach at its centre. The dish is served with a tiny paintbrush, which our server explained, can be used to paint our sushi rolls with the soy sauce and even a smidgen of wasabi if we dare.
Why not, we said, rolling with the punches as we splashed away at our sushi rolls with childlike abandon. The dish itself packs a spicy kick, surprisingly retaining its crisp interior despite our attempts to stroke it the very core with our slapstick soy-infused paint job.
The Chow Chow Cigars were carried out next, served in a miniature cycle-rickshaw no less. Resembling skinny spring rolls the size of breadsticks, these cigars appeared to be stuffed with Indian Maggi noodles — or at least tasted liked them. Bliss.
Another recommendation were the Charred Soya Wings — the restaurant’s take on chicken wings we assume. While soya itself may not appear to be an enticing draw, these honey-glazed, garlic soya sticks with a side of chilli potato wedges are definitely a must-try on the menu.
While the bite-sized appetisers were well on their way to fill us up, we buckled under the pressure and ordered the Chiang Mai Curry, along with the Bamboo Goreng rice. The curry can be catered to your preferred spice levels and was bursting with flavours of lemongrass and coconut milk. The rice, on the other hand, is meant to be cooked and be served in Bamboo rolls — or so we were led to believe. However, logistics and the fury of wet, sticky rice in tight, enclosed spaces propelled the chef to transfer the rice into a bowl inside the kitchen before serving to patrons.
With the bell finally ringing for dessert, we opted for at the safety of the Macha Mania — a green tea pastry, with a dash of cream and lemongrass milk mousse. The flavour of green tea is not overpowering, with the cranberry topping adding just the right hint of flavour to this sweet indulgence.
For the sake of transparency, following this review, I have returned to Tum Tum Asia to sample other dishes on the menu, including the Wasabi Paneer and the Singapore Laksa.
Yes, the authentic flavours have been altered to cater to the larger South Asian clientele that call the UAE their home, but what works for Tum Tum Asia is its ability to acknowledge the obvious and make these traditional fares their very own.
Check it out!
What: Tum Tum Asia
Where: Oud Metha
Timings: 11.30am to 3.30pm and 6.30pm to 11.30pm
Cost: Dinner for two costs approximately Dh150