southern grub

I’m not too proud to admit that at first, we were a little cavalier about Indian eating.* It didn’t take long before we were forced to learn a few hard gastrointestinal lessons and the famous “Lindsay & Catie Tripartite Test for Restaurant Selection” was quickly revised for the Indian market.** Thankfully, it didn’t take long for us to overcome The Fear and we have since made it our business to sample as much of the local fare as possible.  My big brother wasn’t far off the mark when he recently remarked that all we seem to do in India is eat and helpfully pointed out that it’s good we’ve engaged in a bit of physical activity because we might otherwise have grown to be the size of small mountain cottages.

What has delighted us most is the diversity of food on offer, which is sadly overlooked by most Indian restaurants at home. We were barely aware of the differences between north and south Indian food before we came here, which is hardly surprising given that our only frames of reference were boozy nights at d’Tandoor and the occasional lunch with my Indian relatives. You can now consider yourselves reliably informed that the food on your local Indian menu at home is almost entirely northern – the usual suspects of butter chicken, palak paneer, rogan josh – influenced by the omnivorous Muslim and Sikh communities and laced with fairly shocking amounts of butter and cream.

By comparison, the food of the south goes easy on the dairy and is almost entirely veg or “pure veg” (eggless). Not completely without vice – most meals contain at least one fried component – we have found it a lot more enjoyable to eat on a daily basis than northern food. I know some of you will find this hard to believe***, but it is possibly to tire of butter chicken after a while.

And now, for your appetitive pleasure, I bring you the Food of the South:

I’m not sure who this restaurant thought they were fooling when they named this set the “mini breakfast.” This is like a “who’s who” of southern cuisine – idli, vada, sambar, poori, utthappam, pongal and, of course, coconut chutney – two kinds here (red and white). Linds has meticulously labelled all the elements on Flickr, so I’ll save you the repetition here.

The ubiquitous dosa – this big guy is a paper dosa, which I think roughly translates to “really, really big.” Masala dosa comes accompanied with spicy potato. Sometimes rolled into a cylinder, sometimes folded into a parcel. Always with sambar and coconut chutney. You can get these in Perth at Maya Masala.

Poori set, with coconut chutney and sabji (miscellaneous veg dish). Fresh pooris will come out too hot to touch and puffed up like a pillow of deep-fried goodness, deflating as they cool. Hangover food from the Gods.

Bhel puri is a native snack of Bombay, although we were way too chicken to eat it on the street there. Puffed rice, potato, onion, chutney, papri (small discs of fried dough), sev (fried chickpea flour noodles), coriander and lemon. It’s like there’s a party in your mouth and everyone’s invited.

Idli: the steamed snack that powers millions. Usually a breakfast food, but some places serve it all day. Idli is good friends with vada (savoury doughnut) and they are often served together. Again, always with sambar and coconut chutney. This one is rava idli, which is made with semolina instead of the usual rice and lentil mix. The normal ones don’t usually have tomato and bits baked into them either.

Appam, or a study in white. Bowl-shaped and soft. This one was sweet-ish and served with coconut cream for dipping.

The poori that ate Paris. Channa batura, or chole puri – poori with chickpeas. My research has just informed me that this is actually a Punjabi breakfast dish, so not from the south. But tasty all the same.


*  Just to clarify – eating Indian food, not Indians themselves.

** For the uninitiated:

  1. Restaurant must be busy. Queuing and having to wait a while for your food are good things.
  2. The fewer whiteys, the better.
  3. Must be at least one other female customer. Extra points for women dining with kids and female staff.

These are essentially listed in order of priority: Rule #1 is, and has always been, the most important consideration, while Rules #2 & 3 can be reversed as required. The basic tenet of the Indian revision is that customers must also be firmly rooted in the middle classes. Call us weak, but we’ve found that the extra 15 rupees you pay for your meal generally buys a higher standard of hygiene. Key indicators are men in business attire and groups of college-educated youths giggling loudly and shouting “Nooo! Get out of town!”

*** Marsha and Drew, this means you.


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3 Responses to “southern grub”

  1. wheaters Says:

    OMG. NOM NOM and NOM. that food looks incredible! Maybe you kids need to come home (now sydney, sorry) and open up some great wine/beer bar that serves indian snacks. think about it!
    much love, xxxx

  2. aflatofonesown Says:

    rubbish and lies!One could NEVER tire of butter chicken

  3. Dave Says:

    awesome run down man. You should do a special on the Keralan seafood!
    I so didn’t get enough idli and appam…that stuff is awesome gear!

    Miss you guys, checked out the photos and blog finally it is kicking ass 🙂

    L D ooxx

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