Aappa Kadai hits the spot. Many spots. Every spot.

Sometimes I think I’ve grown up in Dubai with my eyes closed. Or my mouth closed. Or some combination of critical body parts closed. How the heck have I never eaten at Aapa Kadai before?!

Anyhow, the wrong has been righted. Nausheen at Dubai-Bites and Complete Foodie, thank you for opening my eyes to the most rocking South Indian restaurant of all time in Dubai. I’ve already eaten there twice:

…the first time to chit chat with another local blogger and fellow food lover, Partha. Couldn’t have asked for a better accomplice on this expedition. Between the two of us, we demolished papadums with lemon pickle and three dishes unique to different states of South India, including Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala (not surprisingly, Aappa Kadai did pay its respects to the token North Indian and Indo-Chinese dishes that occupy a sacred spot on many a typical Indian restaurant menu. Butter chicken and chicken lollipops for instance. Don’t be fooled, just skip those pages and go for the real South Indian stuff.)

…and the second time with my folks, to photograph the death out of everything we ate so I could preserve the memories for posterity.

For starters, the boneless Chicken 65.

Don’t ask me why it’s called Chicken ’65,’ and not ‘45’ or ‘30’ – all I care about is pouncing on a mound of those chicken nuggets, deep-fried and uber crisp on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. Like RADICALLY tender and juicy on the inside. So much so that you could see the juices exude out if you managed to eat a nugget in two polite halves, rather than stuffing four into your face all at the same time. So much so that the white insides were scaling like fish, and then melting into chickeny butter on your tongue. So much so that Partha and I had to beg and plead with the servers to give up their secret because THIS CHICKEN WAS EARTH-SHATTERINGLY MAGIC AND please dear waiter, for the love of God, tell me how you guys do it?

The server’s answer after we had harassed him with our pesky questions over and over again – raw papaya. Use raw papaya, presumably ground up into a paste, as tenderizer. PAPAYA + CHICKEN (or any meat for that instance) ensures that CHICKEN –> BUTTER. May every chef that ever feeds me take note of this magical trick.

And here is a pile of chicken and paranthas (fried buttery Indian bread) and omelette all shredded up and tossed with spices – the Chicken Kothu Parotta. DEAD AWESOME COMBO.

Love that it’s all pre-shred up and mixed together, totally minimizes chewing time, which means that in any given span of five minutes, you can devour more spoonfuls of this addictive chicken-bread-egg mish mash. By the law of hedonistic food consumption, more spoonfuls of good stuff in a given time always = a happier belly.

Also crammed on our table was a plate of Prawns in Curry Leaves

Ooooh that gravy, full of thick gooey onions and garlic and curry leaves and whoever knows what spices blended in. That dish should have been just curry…the prawns were way too fishy and I had to wade around them to sop up the gravy without any fishy distractions.

If I had to pick a fishy dish that was more of a rockstar, that would be the Kingfish Tava Fry that I had the first time around when I made the trip down with Partha. Crunchy spicy outer layer with soft white fleshy insides that deserve a massive squeeze of lemon before you take your first bite.

I don’t know why we ordered the Chicken Chettinad when I was at Aappa Kadai with folks that second time. I had a that feeling in my bones that this was the wrong decision – a little elf in my head murmured: it’ll have too much garam masala, too much of the cardamom and cinnamon and all of those heaty ground up spices that don’t work well if you OD a dish on them. I just know it. A few bites later, elf in head cackles: Of course [dismissive toss of elf hair], I was right.

The Chicken Chettinad had been massacred in garam masala, and was so terribly disappointing compared to the Chicken in Fried Curry which Partha and I ordered the first time that…that…that it made me sad I guess [droopy dog face.] Readers, you are now forewarned. If you’re looking for a bowl of gravied chicken, go for the Chicken in Fried Curry, with chicken that’s as killer soft and juicy as the Chicken 65, in a tomato onion gravy that totally measures up to the awesomeness of Aappa Kadai’s papaya-tenderized chicken.

All these dishes – except the Chicken 65 which can be eaten solo like popcorn – beg for a bready or rice-based partner. Something that has crispy bits to crunch through with bites of chicken…

…as well as spongy bits to soak up the gravy and squish it out on your tongue.

And that would be the Aappam, a bowl of crispy and spongy fermented rice batter that’s so light and airy and subtle that it provides the perfect non-interfering partner for all the potent spices and flavours running through the other dishes. Stick to the plain Aapam rather than the fancy egg or meat variations – the goal is to soak up, not to distract.

The Ceylon Egg Parotta is another bready type thing you could go for, fried folds of Indian bread bursting with chopped up omelette on the inside. Though this isn’t meant to accompany anything – it’s got to be front and center, with its own side yogurt and daal dips.

I still need a couple more visits to work my way through that menu, but in the meantime, I’m pinning Aappa Kadai to my list of Best Seven of 2011. *Defeaning applause, whistles, hoots and a girl tripping over herself with excitement in the background*

[The fact that my list of seven already has six spots occupied just five months into the year is not lost on me. Someone’s going to be falling off that list to make place for a more awesome find soon. Competition is heating up, stay tuned.]

More Aappa Kadai, I want MORE. Juice-dripping chicken, spongey-crispy aapams, oniony gravies, and everything else from their menu that I can cram into my tummy while I’m there. Little elf prances around, gloating over this new discovery, this is just the beginning.

Aappa Kadai
Locations: Dubai Marina, Diamond 06 building, on the Dubai side of Marina mall. (Other locations in Karama, opposite Lulu Centre and in Discovery Gardens, Building #18, Zen 2 Discovery Gardens)
Delivery Phone: +971 (4) 3348030

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

15 thoughts on “Aappa Kadai hits the spot. Many spots. Every spot.

  1. Ameera Khan says:

    Nice post Arwa :)
    Glad that you too liked the Kothu Paratha…its my comfort food…i can have it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
    You are absolutely right abt the Chicken Chettinad….its too masaledar…
    Next time, do try the Mango Fish Curry. I usually skip the fish in it, but the sauce is said to be the best combo with Aapams.

  2. saleem says:

    I was there so can vouch for what you have written – well done.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @DevinaDivecha – Just did! ;) But we’ve gotta back so I can sit next to you and we can hog together :D

      @Ameera Khan – Thanks Ameera! Tried the Mango Fish curry last night, love the sour raw mango taste and those strips of raw mango…sooo good.

      @saleem – :D thanks dad – we have to go back soon, just a metro ride away!

  3. Karishma Sundaram says:

    The raw papaya tenderizer works like a dream. Perfect for steaks! Lovely post, as always.

  4. Najla says:

    Oh Arva, I was literally drooling through the whole post.. I had gone their once and loved their Appam and Pepper Chicken combo… Loved the write up and the snaps, as always :)

  5. FooDiva says:

    Very atmospheric review. OMG, I so can’t wait until tomorrow night to savour for myself. I can understand the papaya on the chicken. I use pineapple for beef as a tenderiser. A demain! x

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Karishma – Tell me about it, I’m so late in learning this…where have you been all my life o papaya tenderizer? Makes me want to tenderize EVERYTHING in papaya from now on.

      @Najla – pepper chicken? eep. how did I miss that?! *frantically scribbles it down on foodie-to-do list*

      @shafeena – ah we missed you there! always a next time, I have a feeling this place is gonna become my home-away-from-home dinner table.

      @FooDiva – so awesome seeing you there last night! I love that you\’re so up for trying everything, makes me feel warm and glowy from within to have you on the dinner table :D

  6. ginger and scotch says:

    Thanks Arva for introducing me to this restaurant – I pass it every day and always meant to go in. My faves for the night were the Chicken 65 and the Chicken Kothu Parotta. I also loved the Aappam for mopping up all the spicy curry.

    Papaya!? Pineapple!? Hmm… I have been told that the secret to tender Korean bulgogi (bbq meat) is kiwi as the tenderizer. I’m sensing a trend….

  7. Sally says:

    Chicken 65 for me and some aapam with chicken in fried curry to dip into. KP now begging to go.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @ginger and scotch – Agreed, chicken 65 and Chicken Kothu Parotta rock my boat too. I gotta figure out how to use those fruits as tenderizers – had a kitchen disaster last time trying to puree papaya and using it in my marinade. But honestly, that’s the way to go…I have tasted papaya-tenderized kababs in India as well, and goodness knows, they’re like melty nuggets of extreme softness.

      @Sally – I hear that KP has been taken, has tested, and is officially hooked now ;)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *