Komala Vilas: The oldest Indian vegetarian restaurant in Singapore

Komala Vilas first opened in 1947, making it the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Singapore. It is situated on Serangoon Road in the cultural enclave...

Komala Vilas first opened in 1947, making it the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Singapore. It is situated on Serangoon Road in the cultural enclave of “Little India”.

In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dined at Komala Vilas during his visit to Singapore. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching brought PM Modi to this restaurant where they enjoyed a delightful vegetarian meal consisting of idli, vadai, and thosai – which Komala Vilas is known for.

The restaurant was started by Murugiah Rajoo and his family. When Murugiah was 16 years old, he traveled from Tamil Nadu to Singapore in 1936 in search of work.

“My grandfather, Murugiah Rajoo, arrived in Singapore when he was just a teen and found a job at a restaurant named Sri Karuna Villas,” related. “He worked hard, moved up the ranks, and in ten years time, managed to save up enough to buy over the restaurant,” Rajakumar Gunasekaran, Operations Director, Komala Vilas shared In an interview with Connected to India.

Rajakumar Gunasekaran, Operations Director, Komala Vilas. Photo: Connected to India

After taking over the restaurant, Rajoo renamed it to Komala Vilas in honor of the original owner’s wife. “Her name was Komala, and she was like a mother to him, taking care of him when he first arrived on the shores of Singapore.”

After Rajoo became the owner of the restaurant, he kept the vegetarian menu but added meals inspired by traditional foods from Tamil Nadu’s Tanjore District served on fresh banana leaves. The manu has been expanded over time to offer customers a wider range of authentic dishes from India.

Komala Vilas is an icon and a household name in Singapore, which counts Tamil as one of its official languages. It remains as one of the most popular vegetarian restaurants in Singapore despite competition from other Indian restaurants.

One reason for Komala Vilas’ popularity is its custom of only hiring chefs from India after going through an extensive vetting process.

“We want to make sure we get the best cooks from India,” said Gunasekaran to Connected to India . “We would make a trip to India ourselves, make them go through trials and taste their food, before bringing them over. It has always been this way.”

The restaurant takes many measures to ensure that the vegetarian food it serves is authentic. “We stick to original recipes, and we tweak absolutely nothing.”

The changing demographics of Indians in Singapore

Gunasekaran introduced North Indian dishes to the Komala Vilas menu when he joined the family business about ten years ago.

“Even as we remain rooted in our tradition, the restaurant has never stopped evolving with the times and trying new things. There was an influx of North Indians moving to Singapore at that time, and I saw that it was important that we cater to these customers.”

It is thought that Komala Vilas was the first restaurant to bring the popular North Indian bread, bhatura, to Singapore. “But that’s just my side of the story. If you go to another restaurant, they might make the same claim,” Gunasekaran added.

The future continues to look bright for the restaurant as it seeks to open a branch in the eastern part of Singapore, an area where many North Indian expatriates reside, in the near future.

Out of all of its authentic dishes, what is a must-try at Komala Vilas? “You can’t go wrong with masala thosai. I have yet to meet a person who had our masala thosai and not liked it,” Gunasekaran said.

Originally published by: Connected to India

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Edit Desk

Author: Edit Desk

Karvaan India is an online journal of politics, culture, heritage, monuments and people. We initiate conversation around the following themes with an intent to question traditional mindsets, popular discourses and initiate meaningful debates around it.
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