Ever seen that row of South Indian restaurants in Karama, all sitting cross-legged next to each other, selling appams and fish curries and dosas just like the southies next door? Let’s call it Little South India for the purposes of this post.
Each one always feels like its buzzing. Aaryas, Saravanas Bhavan, Calicut Paragon, Aapa Kadai, Chef Lanka, Anjappar Chettinad…I’m sure there are more. They’re always deep-frying a vada or steaming an idli with zeal, even though it’s just a two second decision for a loyal customer to defect to one of their neighbors for his sambar fix. Go there on a weekend dinner, and they’re all cramped up. Go there on a weekday lunch, and they’re not awkwardly empty either. Little South India is like one of those jam-packed smoky street bazaars, everybody makes his buck. And each place has its devout fan following. I’m relieved that they have their patrons despite being lodged one against the other. It would break my dosa-loving heart if one of them were to shut.
But I’m on track to righting that wrong. The other day mom and I stepped into Calicut Paragon, the home of curries and yummies fried up along the Malabar coast of India. And my 2012 resolution is that I’d have conquered the rest of Little South India by the end of the year (…on its own, a very doable resolution. Combined with all my other foodie resolutions, including eating through 101 parathas at the House of Parathas, covering more Malaysian and Korean ground, and reconnecting with eats in Satwa - it can be quite an undertaking.)
We were pretty conservative in our ordering strategy that day (aka mom is a nutritionist.) But the food was simple, soulful and heaped graciously with the signature ingredient of Little South India: coconut.
The Most Poofy Dish of the Dinner award goes to this puffy undulated terrain of a parotta, with airy peaks that protrude out of a fried, elastic, well-oiled but not greasy, stretch of dough.
Never make the mistake of confusing the South Indian white flour-based Parotta with its North Indian wheat-flour Paratha predecessor. It’s the pizza equivalent to mixing up New York thin crust with Chicago deep-dish. Major foodie faux pas.
Mom’s curry accompaniment-of-choice were these lacy coconut-milk and rice flour appams.
I’ve spoken about the sponge-like properties and dipping utility of appams in my Aapa Kadai post in more colorful detail, but the two part bottom-line is: (1) rip crunchy perimeter of appam and dip in curry. (2) plonk finger in centre of the appam valley and sensually trace its spongy coconut milk skin…but still rip apart and dip in curry.
The chicken curry was appropriately fragrant and well-seasoned. Nothing to throw celebratory rice from the rooftops for, and I’m not even sure what it was called anymore (maybe the Mulakittath). All I recollect was that it gave me the gravy pool I needed to dip the parotta and appams in.
But the dish that became The Dish of the Evening, the dish that I mulled over for the next two days, and whose explosively crunchy coconut crumbs and fried fragrant curry leaves I can still taste in my mind’s mouth, was the Malabar Dry Fry Prawns.
It was like someone had shaved off those crispiest edge bits of golden hash browns right over a bed of prawns, and dusted it with spice like there was no tomorrow. [Yes Potson, the spice brought out the The Crying Pan in me.] The most intriguing, yet slight creepy part of this dry concoction was that the prawns came intact with their hands and legs, all of which had been fried along with the prawn torso into brittle matchsticks that curled around the clumps of crunchy coconut bits. I’m quite sure that sounds vile to most people, but honestly, other than feeling a tad bit disturbed at the sound of crackling prawn limbs, I know that this dish will go down in my prawn memoirs for posterity.
Now I know a bunch of you are die hard Calicut fans and have recommended entire lists of dishes that I’ve got to try at this place. I’ve failed you all, I know I have. I lost the darned lists. Be a paragon of Calicut virtue and send them again, I beg you.
Phone: +971 (4) 335-8700
Opposite Lulu Centre Karama