Incredible India? Incredible Malabari Food. I have always been one of those people firmly in the “Southern Indian food is better than the northern cuisine” camp. I didn’t have any great expectations that this city, much smaller than our hometown, the capital of the state, would have incredible food joints, but I was happy to be wrong. Even the food catered for our workshop was of a very high quality. They seem to have a lighter hand with the spices, or perhaps a more sophisticated knowledge of them and their combinations, because their food flavors are one of many notes yet very subtle. There is a lightness to their cuisine I appreciated after a few months of pretty heavy curries. Malabari food justly famous as very good regional food, in a part of the country that is already known for its good food.
We had gotten several recommendations, both personal and online, to be sure to visit the restaurant PARAGON. What an apt name. We are staying in a hotel that is rated as the 2nd best place to eat here, and it is very good food, especially their breakfast vadas, but there is a large gap between our hotel food, and the food at the PARAGON. The first time we went (we are regulars after 4 days in the city) I accidentally left my camera behind, so a detailed description is in order. We had been told by everyone this was the best biryani in town, so we couldn’t wait. When I asked the waiter whether I should order the fish, mutton, or chicken biryani, he smiled and said it was finished. Finished? What does that mean? It meant I wasn’t eating their biryani that evening. He smiled and said it wasn’t a problem because they had many other good dishes. I was disappointed, but I regrouped and studied the menu. We ordered chicken cooked in pandanas leaves for a starter. I would have been content to leave after those, they were that good. Succulent, perfectly seasoned deboned chicken thighs. So good. Next we strategically ordered 2 different dishes, and S’s chicken vembanadu was one of the best dishes I have ever eaten, anywhere. It consisted of very small pieces of chicken, with even smaller pieces of pineapple, red pepper, onion, and some cilantro, I believe. Using appam like a tortilla, I fashioned a type of fajita, and remarked to S that the taste was somewhat like a fajita, albeit with Indian spices. My dish was a red mango fish curry. There was unbelievable flavor in the curry, which consisted of tomato (the red part) raw green mango thin slices (sour/tart goodness) and a broth finished with coconut milk and containing chunks of the freshest fish. One other delight in the evening was a sweet melon “milk shake”, which the waiter divulged only had pureed melon, some sugar and milk. It was out of sight. I gushed a bit when the waiter asked how our meal was, and he went to get the chef to hear the praise. He was gracious and interested in our food knowledge, and shared that he trained in Paris, and cooked for 3 years in Dubai, first in a Mexican restaurant, where he said, “I know of your fajitas.” AHA!
|Dry Fry Shrimp with Rice|
When we returned the 2nd time, the men all smiled and greeted us when we came in the door and someone went to retrieve the cook, who also came out to greet us. I liked this treatment, as you can imagine. I asked if he ever shared his recipes, and he assured me he would write the chicken vembanadu for me, and I assured him I was leaving the area and would tell no one. He helped us decide what to order, and assured us we came early enough this night to have some biryani. The chef sent us several unordered dishes, including an incredible grape-melon drink concoction that was outstanding, and fresh mussels in a French preparation I can’t remember the name of, but it involved garlic, butter, and parsley. We had the signature “dry-fry” shrimp, picture in this blog. Which is fresh marinated shrimp flash-fried in their shells, and covered with a coating of what I thought was very fine bread crumbs and spices, but was in fact ground rice, as the chef explained when he came out after each course to see how we liked it. We liked it, all of it. Next the famous chicken biryani, which deserves all its cred and then some, and a repeat of the chicken vembanadu. The chef brought me a hand-written 2-page detailed recipe of the dish, which I will make some day back in the U.S. and wish I had seafood that fresh to work with. It was a top-10 meal experience, right up there with Mario Batali’s Lupa, some of Rick Bayless’s finest at Frontera Grill, almost all the food in Turkey, particularly the restaurant under the church with the frescoes, the pizza at Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn, The Red Bean in Kunming, and a couple of restaurants in Puebla, and …..I’m happy to remember there are a lot more than 10 restaurants in my top 10! We will be going back a final time to see our friends and see how much more of the menu we can taste. Really good food is a really good treat.