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Jjamppong – High on Innovation, Low on Pretense

A menu that features dishes with peculiar twists, very reasonable prices and catering to a clientele that is very rigid about their food habits – that’s what Jjamppong has been dishing out for a year, and fairly successfully too!

Cooking for Jains is tough, given their almost vegan choices and their intolerance to several vegetables for various reasons. So why would two youngsters decide to open a South East Asian restaurant in a predominantly Gujarati-Jain locality offering Jain-approved dishes? One would think that this is a risky gamble with all the odds stacked against Siddharth and Aakash Kashyap. But not this duo.

Having spent their entire life near Malabar Hill, the young brothers believe that the Gen Y of Jains, Gujaratis and Marwaris are more daring in their food habits as compared to their elders and topping this list of culinary adventure was South East Asian fare. The reason – many of these dishes find resonance with Indian cuisine. That is how Jjamppong came into being a year ago. Strangely, the name of the restaurant has its origin in a Korean soup usually made with seafood. This ironic name was what piqued our interest enough to make us trudge to Walkeshwar and check out this Asian restaurant.

Our first impression on entering Jjamppong was one of surprise. It was tiny, with around 5-6 wooden tables with narrow spaces in between. There were some Chinese paper lanterns in case one was confused by the restaurant’s name and harbored doubts about the kind of food offered at Jjamppong.

We chatted up the amiable Kashyap brothers who told us that when they started Jjamppong they intended it to be just a takeaway joint. But soon they figured they could use the spare space in the restaurant to seat a few dine-in customers. They were honest enough to reveal that several months of the year are very slow, especially the chau-maasa (a religious period stretching four months) when fasting Jains restrict their already limited list of acceptable foodstuffs.

JJamppong’s menu was another surprise, albeit a pleasant one. The dishes were categorized under Sushi, Dimsum, Rolls, Starters, Noodles, Rice, Desserts, etc., and instead of attributing a price to each dish, it’s the category that carries a price tag. So you can order any Dimsum or Sushi of your choice and pay just INR 199 for 6 pieces. Did we mention that Jjamppong offers complete value for money meals; another reason why locals in the immediate vicinity keep ordering their takeaway food from here?

The other thing on the menu that caught our attention was that many dishes could be specially tweaked for Jains. For instance in the Glass Noodle Salad the carrots and mushrooms could be dispensed with and the diner could enjoy it with just a healthy dose of cucumber and basil dressing. Talk about convenience and customization!

We decided to dig into the signature Crispy Lychee Wontons (199), which we were told was the most ordered dish on the menu. We could see why. This unusual sounding dish actually manages to hit the right spot on your palate and the slightly sweet lychee stuffing perfectly offsets the crispiness of the fried wontons. The Basil Ricotta Dimsum (199) which had assorted vegetables with some crumbled ricotta cheese had a name that was more exotic than what came to our table – not really very earth shattering in taste.

The dish that was really interesting was the Chung King Potato and Raw Banana (199). We could hardly tell that the deep fried spicy strips we happily popped into our mouths were raw bananas masquerading as French fries. With a healthy dousing of Schezwan sauce and the perfectly-crispy-on-the-outside-and-slightly-soft-on-the-inside texture, this was one slam dunk score for those Jains who do not eat potatoes.

The Mushroom Glass Dumpling was strictly okay, without any particular flavours coming through. The Peanut Pot Sticker Dimsum fared much better; the flavor of peanuts helped to alleviate the blandness of the dimsum wrapper.

For our main course, we tried the Fiery Crunch (199), which had assorted crispy vegetables tossed with whole roasted chili, garlic, black bean and chili oil. I thought the roasted chilies were sliced too big, so they were in my way when popping in a mouthful of stir fried vegetables. Also, combination with the chilli oil it nearly set my tongue afire. The Bokkeum Mushroom (199) was something that will find favour with those who really, really like fungus. The mix of different types of mushrooms was overpowering and completely smothered the taste of the bell peppers, leaving an earthy taste in the mouth. But if mushrooms be the music that sets your palate tingling, then you will love it.

BBC Rice, which was essentially rice with bamboo, black bean and corn, was nothing to write home about though for a bit of authenticity there were bamboo flakes in it. We did however, thoroughly enjoy the Malaysian Flat Noodles (179); noodles tossed in a sauce with a wee bit of grated coconut along with some roasted and ground peanuts resulting in a nice comforting taste – something one’s mom would cook up when home after a long day at work.

In fact, the entire package that is Jjamppong is all about recreating the illusion of having home cooked food in a homely environment, listening to soft music with minimal pretenses about the way the food is served. So will we, hardcore carnivores, head back to Jjamppong for another meal? Hell, yeah!