Snatches of Oriental images and cute graffiti are bound to set the mood as you climb the narrow staircase leading to the first floor restaurant. And as you enter the restaurant proper, you cannot help but smile at the eccentricity of it all – where else in the world will you find Bruce Lee and Kung-fu Panda taking on each other?
Recreating colourful vignettes of the streets of south-east Asia and their food is Asia!Asia!Asia!, one of the new restaurants located in Kolkata’s IT hub (Sector V, Salt Lake) on the eastern end of the city.
(Before we commence further, let us get the geography right. Although the restaurant is called Asia! Asia! Asia!, it covers only part of the continent – south-east Asia to be precise.)
Wall art, graffiti, neon signage, colourful street lights recreate little nooks and corners that transport you from one oriental country to the other; despite the political divide, even North Korea is not left behind. The neon-lit walkway is an instagrammer’s delight.
At one end is the open kitchen which recreates the hawker stalls with quirky names and the typical price lists; the clank of pots and pans or the rattle of a spatula against the wok or the sizzling sound from a grill enliven the scene. The table-chair seating arrangement is basic (but not ungainly) and colourful like the open air eateries.
As we took in the scene around us, two bottles of Ramune were placed on the table before us. This Japanese soft drink comes in a Codd-neck bottle with a large marble acting as the stopper, much like the ‘Banta Soda’ of Delhi or the ‘Fotash’ of Bengal. The carbonated content keeps the stopper in place until you jab at it.
The on-table grill allows guests to cook the skewers to their choice. The skewers are partly cooked on the live Robata Grill; guests can finish it on the table grill. We were served chilli lime corn on the cob, chicken yakitori, Indonesian Fish Satay, Bangkok Pork Belly, and more. We dipped into the range of condiments already on the table. Large MahJong dice served as both wall décor and as indicators for tables where live grills were on.
Next arrived the neon dim sums, sui mai and stir fries. We polished off the Sriracha Chicken Dim Sum, Chicken and Prawn Sui Mai, Peanut crusted Chilli Potato in no time, and munched on Shanghai Crispy Lotus Stem as our plates were refilled.
While the starters are served directly on the table, the mains are served as a buffet. We shunned the soups and salads (Som Tam, Kimchi, Tom Yum soup, etc) and walked over to the sideboard for the mains.
The periodically rotated menu at Asia!Asia!Asia! consists of street style cuisines from eight major countries, namely Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia. If you are lucky, you may find dishes from Myanmar and Cambodia too. Said Abhimanyu Maheshwari, Founder & CEO of Zing Restaurants of which AAA is a part of, “We wanted to bring together the countries under one roof and were looking for a common element. The culture of street foods suited our purpose. Another binding element was that nearly each of these countries had a tradition of grilling. So we decided to implement both.”
Each country was fairly represented on our day of visit. The curries section included Shredded Chicken in Hunan Sauce, Burmese Tomato Fish Curry, Creamy (Chicken) Masamman Curry, and Prawns in Hot Thai Basil Sauce in the non-vegetarian section. A peek at the vegetarian side revealed Red Thai Curry Veg, Bok Choy and Mushroom, Kung pao, etc.
The noodles and rice section included Mushroom Rice, Pad Thai Noodles, Burnt Garlic Spinach Noodles (veg and non-veg) Khao Tod or the Laotian Crispy Rice (ours had chicken in it, you also get a veg option), Nasi Goreng and Mee Goreng to name a few. If you would like to pair your side dish with steamed or sticky rice, you can request them to serve it at the table. And if you have room for more, check if they have the flavourful Clay Pot Rice which contains a mix of slow cooked and braised curry in coconut milk; this dish is finished on the Robata Grill.
On the way to the side-board, you cannot miss the counter with the large Doraemon cut out. We stopped awhile for some freshly made Dora cakes (Dorayaki) – the Japanese pancake sandwich had sweet red bean filling.
The dessert corner looked colourful but probably the restaurant wanted to play it safe here. So Lemongrass Tapioca Pudding, Thai Mango Sticky Rice or Steamed Custard Bao sat side by side with Coconut and Rose Panna Cotta, Lychee Phirni and Walnut Brownie. But someone with a sweet tooth (like me) may not mind the eclectic range, so long as the food tasted good. There was also Mochi Ice Cream (ice-cream packed into the soft and sticky rice dumpling) in assorted flavours; the fusion dessert said to be invented by Frances Hashimoto, the former president and CEO of Mikawaya (an American confectionary house specialising in Japanese desserts and snacks), which I definitely preferred over the rest. The Matcha flavoured mochi ice cream stood out for me.
Apart from the Ramune, they also have a range of beverages – hot tea, lemon grass ice tea, bubble tea, etc.
If you are a stickler for perfection, some of the dishes may seem Indianised to suit the local palate. Said Maheshwari, “We try to make the dishes as authentic as possible. But we do not want the food to be intimidating. Street food is comfort food after all. We want our patrons to taste something new while enjoy it at the same time. The vast range of street food across countries gives us enough room to play with.”
So if you want to enjoy a wide range of delightful south-east Asian street food under one roof, or may be relive those happy travel days through these countries before the pandemic struck, Asia!Asia!Asia is the place to be. Also they will soon be launching country-wise food festivals. So keep checking their
Asia! Asia! Asia - Street BBQ & Buffet is located at DN-37, 1st Floor, Sector V, Salt Lake Kolkata (above Rang De Basanti Dhaba).
Open: All seven days. Timing is according to pandemic regulations in force (11am to 8pm)
Price: Veg buffet meal: Rs. 650 plus onwards per person, Non-veg buffet meal: Rs 750 plus onwards per person.