Bismillah In Fordsburg
Tucked away, on the periphery of bustling Fordsburg, is an Aladdin'sCave of gastronomic delights, a modest little restaurant serving allmanner of Indian & Pakistani delicacies.
Although the furnishings leave much to be desired, the delectable food more than make up for the lack of ambience, however, others might find the uninspired décor detracts from the overall dining experience.
You will leave replete and feeling decidedly chubbier around the waist and happily, your wallet should remain somewhat plump too, due to the modest prices.
Bismillah is strictly Halaal and therefore in accordance with Islamic law, no liquor is served on the premises. In addition, nicotine addicts be warned, there is no smoking section so you will have to puff on the pavement. Nonetheless, even I, who cannot purport to being without vices, can cheerfully stow them away for an hour in exchange for a bit of culinary nirvana! The waitrons, who hail mainly from Pakistan, battle somewhat with the English language. They will not be too forthcoming upon questioning them about the myriad dishes, not because they are disobliging or surly, but rather can be attributed to the fact that English is not their mother tongue. In fact, quite to the contrary, the taciturn waitrons will hover persistently, anxious for their guests' every whim to be catered for.
So if you can't tell your poppadoms from your naans and in the absence of chatty waitrons, let me be the one to recommend a few of my favourite tasty titbits. The Mutton Karahi (extra meat, no bones version) is the stuff dreams are made of. Personally I like it hot, but best go with the medium or mild version in order to gauge if Bismillah shares your personal heat barometer. Chicken Samoosa's to start with, are virtually obligatory and are served with lemon and a sapid tamarind sauce that is quite unlike anything I've ever tasted before. In fact, as with most exotic restaurants, there are numerous different accompaniments ranging from sour milk for curries, breyani's and rotis to tamarind sauce and other little bowls, overflowing with unusual but scrumptious concoctions. Also served mild, medium or hot is the Tandoori Chicken Tikka, which can only be described as mouth-watering. This dish is cooked in the customary way, basted for hours on end in a zesty red tikka sauce and then baked slowly in a traditional tandoori (clay) oven. The result is splendid, tender and tasty beyond belief. Although I've yet to personally sample their array of breyani's, korma's and bunny chow's, reports from friends and culinary comrades have been nothing short of glowing. Lastly, because curry is a liberatingly messy affair, due to the fact that cutlery is not a pre-requisite, no curry is complete without a bread accompaniment to mop up the dribs & drabs. Be it poppadoms, rotis or naan, they all have their well deserved place on the Indian menu; nonetheless, my personal favourite is the garlic butter naan. As large as a dinner plate, but certainly not as heavy, quite possibly the best naan I've yet to sample. Light, fluffy and bursting with garlicky flavour! They literally melt in your mouth.
According to one of the three managers, the personable Mr Morsid, the menu draws inspiration from the Northern region of India as well as Pakistan. However, it is interesting to note that the menu also bizarrely advertises a few Chinese dishes. Judging from the ubiquitous offering of chop-suey's and chowmine's (sic) one is rather advised to sample the food that is indigenous to the chef's native home. It is also comforting to notice that the majority of Bismillahs' patrons are of obvious Indian descent, thus further proving my point, that if the locals are frequenting the establishment, the food must be up to par. What's more, an Indian acquaintance of mine, swears by the curries, going so far as to say that even his own mothers version can't top Bismillah's! But that's hush-hush; I certainly wouldn't want to be responsible for causing a family feud!
Fridays are normally a good time to immerse oneself in the fascinating and exotic Fordsburg community, owing to the fact that it is customary for Muslim men to attend mosque on the last day of the working week. Fridays are not only holy days but also a day for the family to gather and break bread together. With this in mind, come Friday in the early evening, Bismillah is positively abuzz with patrons. The restaurant is a hive of activity and the heady aroma's wafting in from the kitchen are positively tantalizing.
Pop into the bustling flea market prior to eating and stock up on everything from perfume to aromatic incense and spices, herbs and jewellery. Just traipsing through the flea market will be an enjoyable prelude to your dining experience. It's also an opportunity to hone ones haggling skills as the traders are shrewd and masterful in the art of negotiation, but won't be terribly disappointed should you decline an offer that's not to your liking, there are after all many other potential customers to attract. There's nothing like a spot of customary haggling to work up ones appetite!
Granted, the unadventurous might be reluctant to cross the divide to the exotic fields of Fordsburg, choosing the safer option of the bland Indian franchise restaurants in the relative safety of the suburbs. Sadly, you would be missing out on a unique and authentic Indian dining experience.
Personally, I like authenticity and it truly doesn't get more so than Bismillah!
by Laura Banks
Bismillah can be found at 78 Mint Road, Fordsburg, Johannesburg. Tel: (011) 838-8051. A branch in Laudium, Pretoria, will be opening soon.
The flea market can also be found on Mint Road and is within easy walking distance of Bismillah.