Adiga’s

Rating:

In Malleswaram there are a large number of sagar shops where you can get quick, delicious south Indian fare. One of our favorites is Adiga’s, located just around the corner from Sean and Archana’s place.

The main floor is typical of a sagar shop (or “hotel”), if a bit larger than most. You order near the entrance from the cashier, pay, and receive a number of receipts. Each receipt needs to be taken to the appropriate station (e.g. dosa, meals, idly, roti), where a worker will  magically turn your receipt into the dishes listed. At both stages, it’s important to know how to deal with an IndiaQueue. Once you’ve obtained your meal, you grab a section of long, shared countertops and dig in while standing.

On this trip, Archana introduced us to the upstairs “restaurant” part of Adiga’s, which I didn’t even know existed. The upstairs experience is less busy – you are seated at your own table, given a menu, and served by a waiter. The choices are similar, though some smaller items such as roti curry are replaced with larger variations such as dal fry. Prices are higher since portions are bigger and you are getting table service, but it’s a nicer environment to linger in. I enjoyed the experience, though my favorite part of Adiga’s is still the ground floor with its communal feel.

Overall, Adiga’s is a great stop for a quick meal of south Indian favorites. In particular, their roti curry, rava idly, and special dosai are my favorites. I also like stealing a few bites of Sean’s ever-present channa batura.

Happy to be at Adigas
Enjoying an assortment of goodies for lunch

Sean with his channa batura Lauren and her roti curry
Sean with channa batura and south Indian coffee, Lauren with roti curry

Palak Dosa
Palak dosa

Rava idly
Rava idly

Adiga’s
Sampige Road at 15th Cross (+ other branches in the Bangalore area)
Bangalore, India 560003
+91 80 4153 5991

Daily: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Why is Western Veg Food So Boring?

During our stays in India and among Burmese people in Thailand this year, Kenny and I have often observed that vegetarian food is so much more interesting – and delicious – in communities where eating meat is not the norm. In the case of our South Indian friends, the refusal to eat meat stems from religious observance, while for our Burmese friends (especially the tribe with whom I was working), it’s simply a result of the high price of meat. Both cuisines feature some of the best vegetarian food I have ever consumed.

This observation was reinforced several times this week, when I heard many of my carnivorous friends proclaim that South Indian cuisine has revolutionized their idea of what non-meat food could be. All of the meals we’ve eaten in Bangalore – especially those at Archana’s parents’ house – have been spicy, varied, and spectacularly delicious. South Indians just make incredible use of lentils, beans, whole grains, tomatoes, okra, coconuts, jackfruit, chilies, and even plain old potatoes.

What a contrast after the steamed broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower that were often served as a side dish in London and environs. Bleh. Even Seattle, which features a relatively creative restaurant scene and a plethora of ethnic restaurants, is fairly boring on the vegetarian front. I’d kill for a real South Indian restaurant.

Hallimane

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Hallimane was one of the best restaurants that Archana introduced me and Kenny to last fall, and we returned this week with our Seattle friends for a decadent lunch feast. It is conveniently located in Malleswaram, just a short walk from Sean and Archana’s apartment and an even shorter walk from the wedding hotel.

Its name is Kannada for “village house,” indicating that the menu features the typical foods of rural Karnataka. Of course, for variety, there is also an array of North Indian dishes available, but everything is vegetarian.

Like many casual lunch joints here in Bangalore, Hallimane has a system where customers order and pay at the counter and then deliver receipts to various stations to collect their food. Most hot dishes can be picked up indoors, while ragi and akki rotis as well as parotas must be collected from the men working the flat grill outside. Because Hallimane is always packed, this process involves elbowing your way through throngs of people, and is not recommended for claustrophobics.

Two of their signature dishes are made of ragi, the grain of Karnataka: ragi roti, and ragi mudde, which is a mushy steamed ball of grain. The mudde was certainly not for me, but Kenny and I love love loved the roti, which is made from a batter that includes onions, chilies and dill. We even tried making our own in Archana’s kitchen last fall, but had problems with the rotis falling apart. Thus was born our invention of the ragi waffle.

On our visit with the Seattle friends, we devoured a huge two-round feast, including several orders of ragi roti, two akki roti (made of rice flour), two aloo parota, one ragi mudde for everyone to try (no one enjoyed it much more than I had on the first visit), and a rava idly. We even tried a couple of North Indian dishes this time – channa masala, shahi paneer, naan, and kulcha – and they were excellent, probably the best North Indian I’ve had in Bangalore. For less than $2/person everyone was in food heaven, followed by a huge food coma that threatened to impede our last-minute wedding reception shopping.

Overall, it was an epic food day, starting with Veena for breakfast, continuing with Hallimane for lunch, and finishing off with a huge dinner buffet at Jayamahal for Sean and Archana’s wedding reception.

Lunch at Hallimane
Mini-feast at Hallimane with Kenny and Archana last fall

Kenny and Archana
Kenny and Archana love Hallimane

Hallimane feast
Hallimane feast with the Seattle friends

Hallimane chefs
These guys make the delicious ragi and akki rotis

Hallimane
3rd cross Sampige Road
Malleswaram
Bangalore, India 560003
+91-80-65611222

Dosa Corner

Rating:

With all due respect to Khmer food, Phnom Penh seemed like a great place to sample some international fare. We passed by Dosa Corner, in BKK1, during our walk down to Tuol Sleng, and decided that we would return later for dinner to satisfy our growing cravings for South Indian food.

The menu features a huge array of options, including many varieties of dosa that I had never encountered before. Ironically enough, we ordered 3 dishes, and none of them were dosas. Kenny was just dying for an idly, the waiter strongly recommended the kottu parota (a Tamil Nadu specialty), and we decided to round out the meal with a channa masala for some protein (even though we know this is more northern fare).

The kottu parota was good but certainly odd – it tasted like Indian pad see ew! We’re certainly spoiled for idlies after spending 6 weeks living across the street from Veena, but we enjoyed the PP rendition, especially the accompanying chutneys and sambar. The channa masala reminded me of the first channa masala I made when we were in Bangalore – which is not to say that it was bad, but it was very tomato-ey.

Overall, it was not an amazing dinner, but it helped indulge our South Indian nostalgia. It’s worth checking out if you’re in BKK1 and craving a dosa.

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Idlies

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Kottu parota – minced parota with egg, onion, and spices

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Dosa Corner
N. 5E, Pasteur (Street 51)
Phnom Penh, Cambodia 12302
+855 (0)12 673 276

South Indian Restaurants in LA

We’re in Los Angeles for a few days and have a hankering for South Indian food. Here are some places on our candidate list. I think our first stop will be Mayura, since it’s the only Keralan restaurant I’ve found based on my initial search. If anyone has been to these places or has other recommendations, let us know!

Veena Stores

Rating:

A block from Sean and Archana’s place is a little South Indian food stall, Veena Idly.  Sean took us there on our first morning in Bangalore. I remember enjoying it, but my memories of that breakfast were quite hazy due to our exhausting travel day.

For some reason, we didn’t make it back to Veena until yesterday. I’m not sure why, as we talked about going a bunch. Maybe it’s the same reason that Floridians never use the pool in their backyard. One day while driving to work, we even ad-libbed a jingle for Veena. I think it went something like this (it changed a bit every time):

Veena Idly, for all your idly needs
Veena Idly, hooray for you and me
Veena Idly, for all your idly needs
I want some Veena Idly! (and vada too!)

However, we did have our final two Bangalore breakfasts at Veena, and they were fantastic. The menu is similar to many other south Indian breakfast stalls, but the execution was far above the competition. Someone said they have a special high-end idly steamer. I don’t know what it is, but I do know that I love it.

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Idly/vada, the classic south Indian breakfast served with amazing coconut chutney

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Chow chow bath. There are two sections, sweet and a savory. You are supposed to get a little of each part in each bite.

Veena Idly Archana and her idly vada

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Veena Idly
No. 183, 15th Cross, Margosa Road
Malleshwaram, Bangalore, India 560 055
+91 23344838

Daily: Breakfast, Lunch

Ketan

Rating:

Next door to the Dunes is a cute little family-run guesthouse and vegetarian restaurant called Ketan. At Rs100 (about $2), their vegetarian thali is the most expensive, but also one of the most delicious, I’ve had in India. It’s also large enough that Kenny and I can share one for lunch or dinner if we order a couple of extra chapatis.

We dined at Ketan three times during our week in Goa, and each time the thali featured a different combination of vegetables and curries. My favorite thali items were the dal and the delicious pumpkin sabji. Everything was a winner though, including cabbage, beets, and gobi curry.

There was always a very cute little boy running around the restaurant and sharing his toys with the guests. He looked great in my sunglasses. His older brother, Ketan, apparently inspired the guesthouse/restaurant’s name. We also befriended Keshav, who I believe was the patriarch of the family. He gave us a ride down to Anjuna for the weekly market, and also offered a good rate on a taxi to the airport at the end of our week.

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Ketan
Junes Wada, Mandrem Beach, Goa
+91-832-2247943
+91-942-1257616
ketanguest@yahoo.co.in

Coconut Grove

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Sadly, this is another review with no photos, because we dined at Coconut Grove during the period in which we were PowerShot-less (which we remedied later the same night).

We visited Coconut Grove on a Sunday evening in a large group; when we arrived, we had the run of the place (and it is not small). The dining area is a large open patio, with coconut trees and tile floors. The food is served on banana leaves and the beverages in copper cups. I haven’t been to Kerala yet, but I assume that they’re going for an authentic Keralan feel.

“The” thing to order at Coconut Grove (and other Keralan restaurants, I’m told) is appams – the appam is to Keralan food what naan, rotis, and chappatis are to the cuisines of other parts of India. It is simply a round rice batter pancake, but it’s thick and spongy in the middle, and is perfect for soaking up delicious coconutty curries. I was also told that they’re wonderful with a fried egg on top, but we had to save something for our next visit.

We ordered several curries for the table:

  • Chicken Stew – the most popular appam accompaniment, a coconut curry with chicken and potatoes. I was actually a bit disappointed by this one, as the flavors were bland compared to the other spicy tomato-ey curries that we ordered.
  • Veggie Stew – a vegetarian version of the above.
  • Kuraliach Kadi – crabs in a fiery red masala with a hint of tamarind. Spicy and delicious, but lots of work dissecting the crab.
  • Nadan Chemeen Curry – this was basically the same as the Kurialach Kadi, but with prawns instead of crabs. The prawns were slightly less flavorful than the crab meat, but much easier to eat, so I think this dish actually wins for overall enjoyment (we ended up ordering a second round of this one).
  • Kozhi Melagu – a Chettinad chicken dish with a masala curry and black pepper. Yum.

Coconut Grove was delicious and fun. I can’t wait to go back with the camera.

Coconut Grove
No. 86, Spencers Building, Church Street
Bangalore 560 001, India
+(91) (80) 25596149

Mahabalipuram

Yesterday we left Pondicherry on a bus to Mahabalipuram, the ancient port city of the Pallavas located halfway between Pondi and Chennai on the coast of Tamil Nadu. We took a ride on the local bus, which cost almost nothing, left right on time, and was even pretty roomy… for about 10 minutes. As the bus drove through the outskirts of Pondicherry, we progressively picked up more people until they were packed into every crevice. While it was scorching hot outside, the window breeze helped some, and it was still much more comfortable than a Guatemalan chicken bus. As a bonus, since we are foreigners they only squeezed one more person onto our two person bench.

The bus dropped us off about a kilometer outside of town (turns out that “Mahabalipuram” as a destination on this bus meant “the part of the highway near Mahabalipuram,” not “the bus station in the middle of town and two blocks from our hotel”). Fortunately we were armed with our trusty compass, and we made our way eastward a few blocks along dirt paths to the ocean. From there it was a pleasant walk along the beach into the center of town. It was a nice stretch of beach, and we got a great view of the Shore Temple as we arrived. After gorging on awesome thalis next to the bus station (curry with chapattis hot off the pan for 25 Rs/person), we spent a lazy afternoon at our hotel’s pool and then had a great south Indian meal at their restaurant, the Golden Palate.

Mahabalipuram beach
Walking along the Bay of Bengal from the bus drop-off into town

Shore temple from the beach
Our first view of the Shore Temple, during our walk into town. The surrounding rock wall was built after the temple miraculously survived the 2004 tsunami.

This morning we awoke before dawn to check out sunrise over the Shore Temple, the top attraction of Mahabalipuram. We had the place completely to ourselves for about a half-hour, checking out the multitude of carvings and sculptures that are impressive in spite of the years of erosion. After a break for our morning idlies, we headed to the Five Rathas, a set of temples that are each carved from a single piece of rock. Just like at the Shore Temple, the level of preservation and the attention to detail is stunning. What’s even more amazing is that the temple arrangement is simply a result of where the outcroppings of pink granite were located at the time of sculpting. The temples were carved from the top down, so while they all have a lot of details on their rooftops, some of the rathas were never completed and have a mere outline of structure carved at their bases.

It was a great morning of culture and history, and after hiking back to town via Mahabalipuram’s main hill we enjoyed another delicious thali and an afternoon by the pool (after seeing the skull and crossbones signs on the beach tallying the rip-tide-related deaths, we decided not to include swimming in our beach itinerary).

Shore temple at sunrise
Shore temple at sunrise

Five rathas
Lauren and the Five Rathas

More five rathasEnjoying a coconut
After a final view of “the most perfectly sculpted elephant in India,” I enjoyed a fresh coconut in the shade

View from the hill
Viewing the mandapams atop Mahabalipuram’s main hill

Thali at Mamalla Bhavan
Lauren’s unlimited veg thali at Mamalla Bhavan hit the spot after our morning hikes

Surguru

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On our last afternoon in Pondy, we took the local Heritage Walk tour. During the walk around the French quarter, we started discussing food and drink with the tour guide. He told us that Pondicherry was not very good at classic French food (in line with our observations), but had good continental food and amazing South Indian food. We asked what his favorite South Indian restaurant was, and he unhesitatingly recommended Surguru. He takes his family there when they want to go out for South Indian food. So how could we resist? Off we went for our final dinner in Pondy.

Surguru is set back from the busy Mission Street, in a converted Health Department office. The building reminded me a little of a bingo hall or a community center, with a bunch of larger tables, a cashier behind small bars, and a recessed upstairs loft.

Unfortunately our camera was stolen with the pictures from this meal still on the SD card. So text will have to suffice for this one (if anyone makes it here, send me pictures of the Tandoori Idly).

The menu at Surguru is enormous, with South Indian, North Indian, and South/North fusion dishes. We had a feast so that we could try even a small fraction of what looked intriguing:

  • Tandoori Idly – None of the Indians I’ve talked to have heard of this, but it was delicious. 3 Idlies cooked in the Tandoor with a tandoori masala sauce. The idlies were still nice and soft on the inside, with the addition of a unique smokiness and heft to the outside. I’m very sad to have lost my pictures of this special treat.
  • Channa Batura – We didn’t know what this was, but we like channa (chickpeas) and gave it a try. Turns out that a batura is a large, puffy fry bread (think poori but larger and with a thicker skin). Baturas are a bit too greasy for my taste, but it made for an impressive picture (oops), and the channa preparation was great. Spicy, complex, and perfectly cooked channa.
  • Mangalore Set Dosa with Vada Curry – Surguru has an entire section of their menu dedicated to dosai, and we asked the waiter for his recommendation. A Mangalore dosa is solely made of rice, which makes it lighter and lacier than your standard dosa. The “set” part of the dosa meant that it was cooked on one side and served in a set of two. It came out more like a medium-sized pancake than the paper-thin dosai I’ve had in the past. As advertised it was served with a vada curry, which was thick, brown, spicy and went well with the dosa.
  • 3 Taste Uttapam – I’d seen uttapam on a bunch of menus and didn’t know what they were. The “3 Taste Uttapam” seemed like a good way to try them out. The uttapam was pancake-ish (like the set dosa but cooked on both sides) with vegetables mixed in. The 3 tastes were onion, tomato, and parsley. The parsley was my favorite, the herbs mixed into the uttapam went very well with the assortment of chutneys. The onion and tomato were fine, but less exciting.

Overall, the food was fantastic and very cheap. Staff were friendly, and the ambience was entertaining. It was fun watching the food stream out of the kitchen. We’ll definitely be back next time we’re in the area, and I highly recommend checking out Surguru if you’re in Pondicherry.

Surguru
99 Mission Street (+ 2 other locations)
Pondicherry, India
+91 4308082

Daily: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner