PUCHONG, Feb 26 — You know you have walked into the right eatery when random strangers flash you the thumbs up as they are walking out. This couple was so excited after their delicious meal that they actually stopped for a few minutes to point out their favourites.
That’s what you get when you dine at Puchong Mess.
Located at the quieter side of Bandar Puteri Puchong behind the Columbia Asia Hospital, the only sign pointing to its location is a small notice at the grille leading to the first floor. It’s best you look instead for the Chakra Catering Services signboard.
Walk up the stairs and place your shoes outside the door and enter the small space where long tables are arranged like a mess hall or cafeteria. Find a seat and the servers will approach you to start your meal.
The eatery’s mess hall setting means it’s an eat-and-dash lunch spot. There’s no lingering as people would be breathing down your neck, waiting to take over your seat.
The mess hall opens on weekdays and is run by Chakra Catering Services, which is owned by Param J. Sivanathan. Opened since last August, the eatery is his way to ensure that his workers are fully utilised during the weekdays when there are not many catering jobs.
Param also believes it’s a good way to showcase Chakra’s catering capabilities. Once people taste their delicious fare, they often recruit Chakra to do the catering when they have an event.
Originally working in a law firm, Param was previously a silent investor of Chakra’s which started in 2004. He only took over running the business on a full-time basis from 2011 onwards.
What makes him the perfect person for this business is his passion for food. As he loves to eat, he’s travelled to many places in India to sample what’s good.
His criterion is a simple but effective one. “I must like the food first before I serve it.” His band of eight cooks that hail from South India are a faithful bunch who have been with the company since they first started.
Once you sample a meal at Puchong Mess, you can understand what the fuss is all about. The daily menu might be a small one but it’s the taste and quality that keep their diners happy.
Param tells us the trick is using spices imported from India versus ready-made spice mixes. These aromatic spices elevate the taste profiles of Indian favourites like chicken varuval or even mutton peratal, making them taste completely different from that served at other eateries.
Photographer May and I also liked the freshness of the produce used, like the crab masala with its sweet-tasting meat mingling with the spicy masala. Even the simple fried fish (Param only uses ikan senangin or ikan bulus) accompanied with fried curry leaves is exceptional with its flaky sweet meat.
Most of their diners are returning customers. Some even come from as far as Kuala Lumpur and Subang. Take for instance, cake shop owner Shoba Raman.
Since she was introduced by a friend to Puchong Mess about a week ago, she’s been here almost every day. She is also busy referring all her friends to dine here; a form of marketing that money can’t purchase. Shoba adds, “I like the home-cooked taste and you can’t find some of these dishes elsewhere.”
From 7am onwards, the cooks will start preparing the food in the kitchen on the ground floor. By 11am to 11.30am, they are ready for customers. For updates on their daily menu offerings, leave your telephone number after a meal here. Param will update everyone on WhatsApp what they are serving.
On a daily basis, there will be deep fried options such as chicken 65 and fish. The vegetables change daily except mango patchadi. It’s everyone’s favourite so it must be on the menu without fail.
You also have a choice of normal rice or Indian (parboiled) rice. Select between two types of curries to flood your rice; chicken, fish, sotong or even prawn curry. Every day, they will serve a different rasam made with crab, coriander, tomato and the list goes on.
Just be careful when you’re drinking it as the rasam packs a peppery punch. Once you finish your meal, wind down with a cup of Bru coffee, instant coffee with its distinct chicory aroma or the aromatic Masala tea.
You will find some unusual items served here like their raw banana curry and banana flower cooked with grated fresh coconut. The curry is cooked with green bananas and dhal.
Param advises that not many people serve this item, since it’s too costly and a lot of work. Similarly, the banana flower dish is also shunned by others, since the blooms require tedious preparations like peeling.
A signature dish from their catering menu is pumpkin varuval. As Param adds, “It’s got the spiciness and the sweetness from the pumpkin.” For the mess hall, he prefers to serve the bottle gourd varuval. Cut into cubes, the vegetable’s spongy interior mimics bean curd and works well with the spices.
On Fridays, the crowd swells up and often you find a queue snaking down the staircase as people are willing to wait for a seat. Otherwise, you can do takeaways.
People look forward to the sweet creamy payasam that is served on the side. Here you get vadai that you can dip into the creamy dessert. Otherwise, try the superb combination of crunchy pappadum with the payasam — a salty and sweet combination that we guarantee you will want more.
Currently the place seats up to 20 people which is relatively small compared to other places. Param prefers to keep this small as he believes if it’s expanded to a bigger spot, it’ll be hard to keep the quality.
“I want to keep it small and let you enjoy your food. I am just happy to see you eat your food.” Some diners also wish it is opened on weekends but as most of Chakra’s catering business is during that time, it’s not possible to juggle both activities. Occasionally, Param does open Puchong Mess on random public holidays so keep in touch with him.
The banana leaf rice on normal days is RM6 with four types of vegetables and pappadum. On Fridays, there’s a special meal for RM7 that includes six types of vegetables, vadai, payasam and pappadum.
For the side dishes, the fried fish is RM6 per piece, while the chicken, fish or mutton curry is RM6 per portion. For the crab masala, it’s RM8.
No. 11-1, Jalan Puteri 7/9
Bandar Puteri Puchong
Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm (Monday to Friday). Closed on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.