Just Kerala (Bombay, December 2018)

Dinner plans on my second day in Bombay were for a seafood blowout at Jai Hind. The proper thing to do would have been to eat a light breakfast and early lunch to prepare. Accordingly, I had a big bowl of uppma for breakfast at the hotel and went out for a late and massive Malayali lunch. I was meeting a friend—whose love of good food matches mine but whose capacity I may have pushed to the limit over the three days we spent hanging out, discussing work and so on. Anyway, I wanted to eat Malayali food in Bombay—on the principle that it must be better than in Delhi given the greater proximity of Bombay to Kerala. Just Kerala on the second floor of Hotel Samraj in Andheri East was her pick as a casual, no-frills old-school Kerala eatery and so it proved to be. This is a good thing. 

The restaurant is not massive but not tiny either. The dining room is functional and bright and even though we were there late (though on a Sunday) it was quite full—and seemingly mostly with Malayali diners. The walls in the hallway outside (where the restrooms and a smoking room are) are decorated with cartoons that are identical to those on the walls of Mahabelly in Delhi. I’ve no idea if this indicates some ownership connection or if there’s some company that supplies this art to Malayali restaurants all over the country. (I ate at Mahabelly again on this trip, by the way—report coming in a few weeks.)

They have a large menu that covers most of the best-known dishes from the state, but we were there to eat their sadhya.  “Sadhya” means feast or banquet in Malayalam (Malayalam (n.) =language; Malayali (adj.) =culture, people, food etc.). Functionally, it works on the thali system. You get a whole bunch of things along with rice and pooris, and it’s all essentially bottomless refills. They have a veg sadhya, a fish sadhya, and a chicken sadhya; I’d imagine the fish and chicken are not bottomless if you go for those options. We got the veg sadhya. It is served on a big banana leaf. The perimeter gets filled up first and then a big mound of red rice is placed at the bottom. Sambhar comes over the top and a poori alongside. Rasam and buttermilk as accompaniments. Payasam (rice “pudding”) shows up at the end. You eat with your hands (though you could probably ask for cutlery). The servers keep coming around with refills and if you aren’t careful you will be at risk of utter gluttony (even by my standards).

Speaking of gluttony, we added on a buffalo fry and a shrimp curry. Even though it’s buffalo meat, not cow, given the tense atmosphere around beef in India these days, the restaurant does not put it on the menu—but you can ask for it. We got an excellent Malabar porotta to mop the buffalo up with. The buffalo was very good; the shrimp was just good (though I’d kill to get that quality here in Minnesota). Everything on the sadhya was very good. I wish I could tell you what every item on it was with great confidence but the food was plopped down very quickly on our banana leaves and we were too busy chatting to confirm the exact identity of every item with the servers. As you’ll see, there’s a sadhya menu in the slideshow below—if you know Malayali food well, please help me out with matching the items listed on the menu with what’s on my banana leaf.

For a closer look at the restaurant and the food, launch the slideshow. Scroll down for more on service, cost etc. and to see what’s coming next.

Service was ever-present and ever-ready to stuff us past satiety. The price was rather low: Rs. 1500 before tip for two people for all this food (or about $10/head). I am not going to make over-large claims for the food. Nothing here is going to knock your socks off or seem revelatory if you’ve had good Malayali food before. But it’s all very solid and very good and none of it makes any concessions to the non-Malayali palate that I could make out. Excellent Malayali comfort food that comforted even this Bengali.

Okay, what’s next on the food front: two last Hong Kong food reports and then I’m going to finish up the London reports from June, interspersing them with my remaining Bombay reports. And then Delhi and Los Angeles. Whisky reviews as per usual, of course.

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