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South India Trip Report - Tamil Nadu and Kerala

I'm making my way through South India with friend and fellow CH'er Cicely - this portion of the trip has been mostly about temple-hopping, with less of an emphasis on scouting out great food, but we've had a number of surprisingly good meals in hotel restaurants (as well as a number of frustrating meals, in part because it's taken us a while to adapt to the rhythm of South Indian meals), so I thought it would be worth it to record them for other travellers. Cicely will have her take, along with pictures, on her blog frimframsauce.com, after we return to the States in a few weeks.

Our itinerary:
Chennai
Pondicherry
Mahabalipuram
Chidamburam, Gongakondacholapuram
Kumbakonam
Thanjavar
Trichy
Madurai
Thekkady
Munnar
Cochin
Allepey (backwater tour)
Trivndrum

One problem I've had that as I love dosa, I've been greedily ordering them (along with vadai and iddly) at breakfast... but then I won't want them for a second meal, at dinner. I thought I would see a lot of South Indian-style vegetables (dry, with mustard seeds, curry leaves, chilis) on dinner menus, to have with rice and curd and rasam, but almost every restaurant we've been to has predominantly North Indian-style vegetables, with lots of gravy, and those just haven't been very good. I've finally settled into a better rhythm - pongal or iddly for breakfast, vegetable thali for lunch (I wish these were available for dinner, too!), dosa and vadai for dinner. I always scan menus for special items not seen on other menus and try to order those, too.

I'll do a separate post for each city.

Also, can anyone tell me what it means when a dish has the number "65" in it? Gobi 65, chicken 65, etc etc.

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  1. CHENNAI:

    Unfortunately, I was there to early to take advantage of oniontears' excellent post: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/48811...

    However, as I was only here for a day, I suppose I wouldn't have done things much differently even had I read it... but I will definitely send a link to that post to my friends living in Chennai.

    Saravan Bhavan - I've been to the outpost in Mountain View, CA, and definitely liked it the best out of all the South Indian restaurants I've been to in the US, so I was looking forward to going to one of the Chennai branches. It did not disappoint - gorgeous, buttery dosas with perfectly spiced potatoes in the masala dosa, excellent sambar and chutney. The texture of the iddly was the best I've had so far - fluffy, tender crumb that soaked up the sambar beautifuly, and the vadai were greaseless, with a full, nutty, spicy flavor.

    Grand Sweets and Snacks: prior to visiting this shop, I thought I didn't like Indian sweets. GSS changed my mind. I went mostly because a friend told me to buy a few bags of their om pudi (delicious asofoetida flavored fried noodle snacks), and since we were there, we also bought some samosas (excellent flaky pastry, perfectly seasoned filling), badhusha (sweet flaky pastry, like a thick, tender pie crust, lightly sweetened), and the best jamun I've had to date. They were light and fluffy in texture, redolent of cardomom and rosewater, with whole strands of saffron within. The perfume lingered long after the pastry was gone - I think it was a solid half hour after we had finished the jamun when Cicely and I turned to each other in the car and simultaneously commented on how great they were.

    9 Replies
    1. re: daveena

      Pictures (Saravana Bhavan)
      1) Rasam vada
      2) Curd vada
      3) Rava dosa
      4) Masala dosa

       
       
       
       
      1. re: daveena

        Amazing! They look just like the dishes served by Saravana Bhavan in NY!!! Thanks for the wonderful postings...I look forward to using the info on my next trip to India.

      2. re: daveena

        5) 7-flavor uttapam (top) - oh, I forgot about this one - this one was skippable. The better flavors were all the standard chutneys that came with the other dishes, and the others were forgettable. One tasted like ketchup.
        Iddly (bottom)

         
        1. re: daveena

          I love Tamil food, and those items looked so good, Daveena! Thankfully, I'm able to satisfy all my craving right here in Singapore's Little India.

          1. re: klyeoh

            One thing that amazed me is that I really didn't get tired of the food in Tamil Nadu and Kerala - except maybe sambar, but I never got tired of rasam, or any of the veg poriyal - I didn't even have any cravings for other foods when I came back to the States... there was always so much variation between thalis in Tamil Nadu, and then the food in Kerala was so vastly different. We can get Tamil-style food in Oakland, but Keralan is nearly impossible to find (I think there are one or two restaurants that rotate specialties from different regions of India that make Keralan specialties every once in a while.) Anyway, this trip definitely inspired me to cook more, since I can't just find these dishes in restaurants. I need to find a coconut grater first though.

            1. re: daveena

              You must let me know the addresses of good Tamil eateries in Oakland, Daveena. I'll need that for my next business trip there. So far, it's always been "Breads of India" for me (10 minutes' walk from our Oakland office), and they are "Northern Indian' & not very good at all. And let me know if you can't find a coconut grater - I can lug one from Singapore for you on my next visit.

              1. re: klyeoh

                I should have been more precise... that is, I can *drive* to decent Tamil places from Oakland, LOL. There are some South Indian places in Berkeley, which I haven't been to, although I've been to their sister branches in Sunnyvale. The rundown in this thread on East Bay Indian wasn't very optimistic, but it sounded like Udupi Palace has a good veg thali (and I did like their branch in Sunnyvale):
                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/475473

                Unfortunately, I think most of the better places are in the South Bay. Worth it for me to drive there to eat, but not worth it for you, given your close proximity to India.

                Thanks for the offer on the coconut grater... can you imagine trying to get one of things through security?

                1. re: daveena

                  No problem - just have it in my check-in luggage. It's one of those stuff that looked like a little wooden horse which you straddle & the "head" is a flat, round saw-tooth grater, right?

                  BTW, during the last trip - you could have tried to visit the famous Krishna Matha in Udupi, Karnataka, whose kitchens inspired the thousands of Udupi vegetarian restaurants around the world. I tried Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR) in Bangalore, whose chefs trained in Udupi - their cuisine was to-die for.

        2. re: daveena

          I would seriously consider going back to Chennai just for that jamun. It smashed our prejudices against Indian sweets, and we never had anything as good in the other sweets shops we tried.

          More photos on my blog:

          Grand Sweets: http://frimframsauce.com/blog/2008/04...

          Saravana Bhavan: http://frimframsauce.com/blog/2008/04...

        3. MAHABALLIPURAM:

          Mahalla Beach Resort Restaurant: the biggest surprise of the trip by far. The "resort" is fairly bare bones, but the food being served at its outdoor restaurant is excellent, with one of the most interesting menus we've seen so far. We had excellent spicy okra (dry and South Indian-style, the kind I thought I'd be seeing everywhere), Mahab's Meen Kuzhambu (an excellent spicy fish stew, really complex - identifiable elements were curry leaf, mustard seeds, urad dal, coconut, tamarind, tomato), Malabar fish curry (this had a toastier flavor than the Meen Kuzhambu - maybe more curry leaf? - it was also tomato based, with curry leaves and mustard seeds, but did not have the coconut or tamarind elements of the other fish curry.) The breakfast buffet was excellent, with large, mild iddly; excellent, small, crisp vada; decent upma; and made to order dosas (flavorful, if a little soft). Toast, omelettes and pancakes were also available.

          1 Reply
          1. re: daveena

            from Mahalla Beach Resort:
            1) Mahab's Meen Kuzhambou
            2) Spicy Okra

             
             
          2. Chicken 65 is essentially deep-fried chicken pieces which had been marinated in yoghurt & spices (red chilli powder, turmeric, ginger & garlic paste), served with lemon wedges.

            BTW, the widely held view of the origins of the name was that the now widely-known dish originated from a popular restaurant at Buhari Hotel, Mount Road, Chennai. It's the 65th item on the restaurant's menu. You should've checked it out when you were in Chennai!

            Keep your posts coming in - you're making me hungry (am currently in Oakland again)!

            1. PONDICHERRY:

              Pondicherry has been our least successful city, food-wise, so far. The description of the restaurant Lonely Planet declared to be the best in Pondicherry was really unappealing - I don't have my guide book with me right now, but it was some combination of French, Indian, pizza, and pasta. We opted to eat at the restaurant at Hotel de L'Orient where we were staying, in hopes that we could experience some of this "French-Indian" fusion we kept reading about. In retrospect, it might have been a better strategy to order French dishes, as Indian influence in a French dish would probably be easier to identify than French influence in an Indian dish ("I think that just means they take out all the spices," said Cicely). We tried a number of dishes - a green banana curry, a shrimp curry, mutton vindali (supposedly "the chef's grandmother's recipe") - all were uninspired. The chapathi had been reheated - after several days of having freshly cooked chapathi, this was a big disappointment.

              The western-style breakfast was quite good, if expensive (around Rs150 pp), with one of the best baguettes I've had anywhere (maybe the flavor was a little underdeveloped, but the texture of the crust was fantastic), eggs cooked to order, fresh yogurt, etc.

              5 Replies
              1. re: daveena

                Simply love your posts, Daveena. I never trusted Lonely Planet's recommendations - they cater to backpacking American travellers who look for burgers & pizzas wherever they go.

                Case in point was when I went to Bangladesh & looked for good Bengali food using Lonely Planet - it was next to useless in this department, and the locals who pointed me to the really good restaurants.

                1. re: daveena

                  From Hotel L'Orient:
                  Shrimp curry (top)
                  Curry leaf rice (middle)
                  Banana curry (bottom)

                   
                  1. re: daveena

                    The restaurant mentioned in LP is called Satsanga, and it is truly vile. Inept service, creepy vibe, and bland, flavorless food.

                    1. re: whs

                      I had to go to my guidebook to see which one I'd been thinking about - the one I referred to was actually Rendezvous. But Satsanga also received a pretty glowing review.

                    2. re: daveena

                      I think this could spawn a discussion post about When Fusion Is a Bad Idea.

                      The food was crap, but the setting was gorgeous:
                      http://frimframsauce.com/blog/2008/04...

                    3. KUMBAKONAM:

                      We had lunch at our hotel restaurant (Hotel Raya). We've been seeing Indo-Chinese items on just about every menu out here, so I decided to try the Gobi Manchurian - it had a fairly appealing texture, tender and almost spongy, and the flavor was weirdly familiar, as if all the packets of orange duck sauce I've ever discarded in my life somehow ended up in India, on my plate, at that moment. I didn't hate it, but I didn't like it enough to brave any other Indo-Chinese dishes since then. I also tried the paneer dopiaza, a yellow-brown, very oniony curry, and ghee rice. They were fine, not great, and I think that was the last time we ordered anything besides a veg thali for lunch - we've been much more successful with thalis, particularly in hotel restaurants.

                      There's a small restaurant right next door to the Hotel Raya annex, right across the street from the main hotel Raya - we were directed there for breakfast the next day. The restaurant is dark and dingy, the light fluorescent, and the proprietor morose (we considered it a major triumph when we got him to crack a smile our last day there), but boy was the food good. The iddly were light and fluffy, the vadai room temperature but greaseless and flavorfull, and the dosa crisp and delicious. My favorite part, though, was the complex sambar, probably the best I've had so far. With coffee, iddly, dosa, and vadai came out to 35 Rs pp.

                      Breakfast was so good that we returned for lunch - the veg thali was more limited than most (which was kind of a blessing - I keep overeating at lunch and passing out in the afteroon) - but everything was really good. There was a corn coconut curry, a poriyal of a vegetable I couldn't identify, achar, curd, sambar, rice, and more of that excellent spicy rasam. This was 27 Rs pp.

                      Dinner was at Meenakshi Bhavan - we had the veettu dosa (basically a smaller dosa, otherwise not significantly different), onion uttapam (ok, but I preferred the plain one I had at the Madurai branch a few days later), milk periyada (a slightly sweet ball of black gram bean flour - this had an intriguing, mild cheeselike flavor), idiyappam with coconut milk (basically what I know as a hopper, but served with coconut milk, which I've never seen before). I was also had my first pomegranate milkshake - the juice is from white pomegranates and less tart than that of red - shaken with milk, it was frothy and refreshing. The chutneys and sambars were good, not great (to compare with another chain, I think Saravana Bhavan's were much better).

                      1. THANJAVAR:

                        Lunch at Sahar's - we went because our guidebook mentioned veg thalis, but they weren't serving them (oh ok, so we had one more non-thali lunch). The waiter suggested fried rice, which I bristled at (what? because I'm Chinese?) - towards the end of the meal, we noticed that almost eveyrone had fried rice. Ha ha. I guess that was a specialty of theirs. Anyway, I ordered a few things I hadn't seen on other menus - Ceylon egg paratha (very similar to murtabak, a flatbread stuffed with egg and mutton) and egg masala. They were fine, nothing remarkable.

                        Dinner was at the restaurant in our hotel (Hotel Gnanam). Their fried iddly were very tasty - they were small, fried to an almost chip-like consistency, with some pungent, earthy tasting spices I couldn't quite identify. Again, I was unable to find the curd/sambar/rice/poriyal I was craving, so we ordered some random North Indian items - malai kofta, butter naan - these weren't very good.

                        At breakfast, the Hotel Gnanam restaurant has a very good pongal. The vada are a little large and greasy. The lunch thali is excellent at 50 Rs and included a fantastic sweet pongal that tasted like caramel corn. I also tried paan for the first and last time - to me, it tastes the way the inside of a temple smells.

                        Dinner the second night was at the Hotel Thangam Chettinadu, across the street from our hotel. We went with the intent of ordering biryani, which turned out to be a lunch item. Instead, we ordered the Thangam Chettinad chicken (I think this was a sweetish brown curry), green peas masala and paratha - nothing was noteworthy.

                        1. TRICHY:

                          We asked our driver to recommend a good place for veg thali and he brought us to Geethanjali Veg, the restaurant in the Hotel Maya. It was excellent (for aroune 50 Rs) and included and extraordinarily fragrant payasam.

                          1. MADURAI:

                            I don't know if Madurai just has the best street food scene out of all the cities I've been to so far, or if I happened to luck out in location (very near the Sri Meenakshi temple) and time (many of our meals were eaten before 7 pm, and I noticed the highest concentration of street food vendors between 8-10 om). There were at least 5 vendors hand-making parathas on my street alone - gorgeous, elastic, tender, flaky things, sold for 3 rupees each. There were also people making fried rice, selling what I think is chicken 65, cooking omelette-looking things, and making dosas on small portable griddles.

                            Our hotel restaurant was quite good (Hotel Residency), with an excellent lunch thali (the "Business Special" at Rs 45).

                            Our driver also introduced us to a special halvah (I think it's Thirunelveli halva) sold by Prema Vilas Thirunelveli Lala Sweet Shop just down the road from us (84 Town Hall Road, Madurai) - at 4 pm, it was a fresh, warm, almost molten mass of candy tasting of jaggery and ghee, served on a piece of banana leaf. Unfortunately, in the pictures it looks like an enormous larva, but it tasted great.

                            Finally, after our positive experience at Meenakshi Bhavan in Kumbamonam, we decided to give the flagship branch a try. Surprisingly, the menu seemed more limited. They were also out of some of the things we wanted to try (idyappam, appam) as it was around 9 when we got there. I had a very good oothapam, but I somewhat regretted not just snacking on the street for dinner that night.

                            1. KUMILY/THEKKADY/PERIYAR:

                              As our driver already had a proven track record in recommending good, inexpensive restaurants, we relied on him once again, and he came through for us – Sree Krishna Marwadi Gujarati restaurant, in Kumily’s main bazaar (the part furthest from the wildlife preserve) had an excellent 50 rupee lunch thali (they offered several different styles, including Marwadi and Gujarati. We chose the South Indian thali). It was by far the spiciest food I had on this trip, and – perhaps a reflection of Kumily’s proximity to many spice plantations – there were distinct, single-spice notes in the dal (clove, I think) and the delicious, black peppery rasam that I had not experienced in other restaurants.

                              We had one dinner in the hotel restaurant at Taj Garden Retreat, where we were staying. Up until this point, we had been averaging less than $3 (120 rupees) a day on food, so it was a shock to see entrees in the 400 rupee range. Fortunately, the Keralan fish curry we ordered was excellent. Upon checkout, we found out that we actually had a 2000 rupee food credit that we hadn’t known about, so we rushed to take advantage of the very good breakfast buffet (with some really good fresh juices – salted cucumber, grape, etc), and then spent the rest of our credit on chicken salad sandwiches to take on our trip. I have to say – they were fantastic chicken salad sandwiches. No gristly bits, just good, white meat chicken, lightly dressed, on crustless, thickly sliced white sandwich bread.

                              We also had a breakfast at Aranya Nivas in the park – we’d rushed to get to the park by 7, only to find that the boat we’d intended to take didn’t leave until 9:30, so we went to find breakfast. Their Indian breakfast wasn’t available at 7, so we had the continental breakfast – toast, butter, and an excellent, tart, berry jam (not sure what kind of berry), fresh watermelon juice, and coffee/tea for 100 Rs. I also had a good masala omelet, with very finely diced tomato and thin slices of jalapeno, for 40 rupees.

                              After a morning in the park, we had lunch at Coffee Inn, one of those muesli-and-banana-pancake joints so beloved by Lonely Planet. I thought they would have at least a small selection of local-style food, but the only Indian option available at lunch was dal, so I had a fried egg sandwich on toasted, buttered multigrain bread, and a fruit salad served with an enormous pitcher of yogurt. I felt very virtuous afterwards. They did have excellent cardamom tea, and an attractive outdoor seating area.

                              In Munnar, we stayed in an old tea plantation bungalow with its own chef… unfortunately, the food wasn’t great.

                              1. COCHIN:

                                After the dry heat of the East Coast, and the cool of the highlands, the humid heat of the West Coast hit me like a bomb. I couldn’t even think of eating anything heavy for lunch, so we went to Vasco Café (347 Bastion Street) and had veg katti rolls – curried vegetables rolled in chapathi – and ginger lime punch.
                                Our biggest splurge dinner of the trip was at History Restaurant in the Brunton Boatyard (not a boatyard at all, but a very posh hotel). We found the basic premise of the restaurant intriguing – it traced the lineage of Keralan cooking to its Jewish, Syrian, Arabic, and Portuguese roots. The final check was a whopping 2000 Rs, and the food was excellent.

                                Kedappan – finely minced runner beans and banana flower, dry sautéed with coconut and spices (dominated by mustard seed and curry leaf), stuffed into one petal of a banana flower. This came with two kinds of banana chips – thin, crisp ones fried in coconut oil, and thicker ones dusted in sugar and cumin.

                                Awaal Rubyan Bil Lebeneh – Arab influenced grilled tiger prawns marinated in yogurt and (sweet) spices. The prawns were paired with a short-grained rice pilaf flavored with sweet spices dominated by clove. Mint popped up somewhere, maybe in the yogurt sauce.

                                Chuttulli Meen – a specialty from the Jewish quarter of Fort Cochin – this was a whole fish, split and marinated in pearl onions and “green spices” (we tasted chilies and cilantro). This was accompanied by a basmati rice pilaf flavored with cilantro.

                                I really enjoyed the contrast between green/savory and brown/sweet spices in the fish and prawn dishes, and was impressed that the attention to detail went as far as the type of rice used in each pilaf.

                                Dessert was a banana topped with caramelized coconut and cardamom with a jaggery caramel on the side.

                                Later, at Nimmy Paul’s house, I read R.W. Apple’s 2003 NYTimes article on Kerala (framed, matted, and displayed in their kitchen) and was gratified to see that he had chosen many of the same dishes we had. I did feel that our menu gave a good representation of the different influences on Keralan cooking, and each dish was delicious in its own right.

                                We had private cooking lessons with Nimmy for lunch and dinner, which were fantastic. Nimmy moves incredibly fast, and we zipped through four recipes before lunch in less time than I ever thought possible, but I learned a great deal just by hovering over her shoulder, watching and smelling and tasting. She made (and we ate) green mango curry, mallichar (coriander-based coconut curry - she made it with beef), green papaya thoren, chicken chettinad, fish curry, and payasam. Everything was fantastic. We were also treated to rare and delicious mangos from their tree (“Having this tree,” sighed Nimmy, “is like having a good looking daughter in the house. At least five men come by everyday asking about it”), preserved in simple syrup and lemon. For breakfast, we had masala dosa, followed by steamed rice and coconut cakes with steamed banana. In other words, carbs wrapped in carbs, followed by carbs with a side of carbs. Awesome.

                                This was followed by two days on a houseboat in the Keralan backwaters – luckily, the chef on our houseboat was very talented, and we feasted on superb Keralan cuisine for the next two days.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: daveena

                                  >daveena
                                  Coming to this a bit late, but was hoping to see you get to the end of your list in the first post, that being Trivandrum. I was there in early-March for a few days as well, though never had much a chance to eat outside of my hotel (was a business trip), but am likely going back again this year so hopefully I can pick up a few pointers...

                                  1. re: jay_kay

                                    Unfortunately, I only had one meal in Trivandrum, and it was pretty bad - some greasy biryani from a hotel rooftop restaurant - I was so tired by that point I didn't write down the name of the restaurant, and I didn't review it. Hope you have better luck than I did!

                                  2. re: daveena

                                    Your year-old posts are a great help to us as we travel South India. We're about to choose our own houseboat to do the same trip that you did. Do you happen to remember the company that your chef worked for? And would you recommend a trip of one or two nights? Thanks so much!

                                    1. re: aylowe

                                      Ooh, good thing I was scanning my old posts trying to find an old thread... wouldn't have seen this otherwise :)

                                      Email me at the address in my profile and I'll send you the info of our travel agent in Kerala - and I'd do two nights.

                                  3. SUMMARY:
                                    Culinary highlights of this trip:
                                    1) Mangoes (Baiganpally, I think?) from Nimmy Paul’s tree – floral, with a stunning, custardy texture.
                                    2) An amazing banana that our driver bought from a street stall – possibly the ugliest fruit I’ve ever seen (seriously, it looked moldy), and one of the most delicious. It had an acidity I’ve never tasted before, that helped the other tropical fruit flavors (passion fruit, pineapple) blossom. The texture was dense and silky, unlike any banana I’ve had before.
                                    3) Masala dosa and idly from Saravana Bhavan in Chennai – after many, many dosa and idly in three weeks, my first ones in India were still my best
                                    4) Dry jamun from Grand Sweets and Snacks in Chennai
                                    5) Mahab’s Meen Kuzhambou in the Mahalla Beach Resort Restaurant
                                    6) The complex sambar at the tiny veg restaurant next to the Hotel Raya Annex in Kumbakonam
                                    7) The idiyappam with coconut milk from the Kumbakonam branch of Meenakshi Bhavan
                                    8) The sweet pongal in the lunch thali from the Hotel Gnanam’s restaurant in Thanjavar. Also, their savory pongal at breakfast.
                                    9) The vadai from the breakfast buffet at Hotel Residency in Madurai – I didn’t think vadai from a steam table could be so crisp, but when I heard crackling as the server picked them up with tongs, I knew they would be great.
                                    10) Handmade paratha from street stalls in Madurai
                                    11) Thirunelveli halvah from Prema Vilas Thurnelveli Lala Sweet Shop in Madurai
                                    12) The peppery rasam at Sree Krishna Marwadi Gujarati restaurant in Kumily
                                    13) The kedappan from History Restaurant in Cochin
                                    14) Everything at Nimmy Paul’s, but the beef mallichar and fish mollee may have been the highlights.
                                    15) Food on the houseboat - screamingly fresh fish, spiced and fried expertly; ultra-tender chicken kuruma; and simply grilled lobsters of a variety I’ve never seen before, with fragrant, almost-jasmine scented flesh. Great veg thorens, too (especially loved one made with red cabbage).

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: daveena

                                      What a breathtaking report - wish I can jump on the next plane to Kerala!

                                      One question, Daveena - did you have a bout of "Delhi Belly" at any point of this eating expedition of yours?

                                      1. re: klyeoh

                                        Incredibly, no! And I *always* get sick when I travel. Although, I did pop Pepto-Bismol at the first sign of trouble, but overall, my GI health was remarkably good. Maybe it was all the curd I ate. Or maybe it was the typhoid vaccine...

                                        1. re: daveena

                                          as her co-traveler, I took a precautionary Imodium before any long car rides, but didn't have any major problems. We also didn't eat any street food, except for a paratha once (partly just because we didn't see any particularly appealing street food). I had read somewhere that it helps to eat a lot of yogurt, and since I loved Indian yogurt (fresh, unsweetened, texture like ultrasoft tofu) I was only too happy to do that.

                                          1. re: Cicely

                                            I was served yoghurt in little terracotta pots when I was in Bangalore. You smash the pots after you finish the yoghurt - don't know why, but I guess I'm helping create jobs for some little cottage industry making terracotta pots! Southern Indians love finishing a meal with some yoghurt mixed into rice (masaru anna) - it's delish.

                                    2. I just happened on this thread - great report! I worked in Chennai for a month in 2006, and the hotel staff loved that I ate dosa and curd vadai for breakfast while the other westerners were ordering toast and fried eggs. I did find the curry pizza rather odd at lunchtimes (the office where I worked had a pizzeria), and trying to eat almost liquid curries with no cutlery was a challenge.
                                      The hotel where I stayed had a fabulous South Indian restaurant - which as a woman staying alone was a godsend. I did venture out and about at weekends, but I got so much attention being a lone white blonde woman that it wasn't always comfortable to explore the more rustic side of town.
                                      I was amazed that eating curry 3 times a day plus drinking fresh fruit juices (made from dubiously washed fruit) had almost no effect on my 'digestive system'. I came away with a total addiction to chillies, a love of dosa and meen polichadu, and a hugely overweight suitcase full of nuts, spices, bolts of cloth, clothes and jewellery.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Peg

                                        I had the same experience of not getting sick, when I *alway* get sick when I travel. I was also less than vigilant when it came to drinking fruit juices, eating unpeeled raw vegetables, etc. I wonder if it was a result of not eating meat?

                                        1. re: daveena

                                          I guess everyone is different. I travel 100+ days a year and will try almost anything. I've had oyster shooters on the street in Cuba and raw pork laab in Thailand. But I just got back from a 3 week trip to southern India and spent the last 10 days with stomach issues. I ate almost no meat, other than some occasional fish, and stayed away from most fruit juices.
                                          This was my first trip to India and 95% of the people I've talked to say they got sick on their first trip.
                                          That said, I still love southern Indian food, Keralan in particular.

                                          1. re: el jefe

                                            >el jefe
                                            Count me in as part of that 95% of people getting sick on their first trip to India. Probably had more to do with me gorging on everything that was served in front of me, including meats and fruit juices. My second trip I was more careful, but did indulge in meats at the end of my visit, but came away just fine. Must be that 'first timer' thing that gets us all. :)

                                      2. Hi,

                                        The lore is that the '65' is a branding differentiator created originally by a restaurant called Buhari's in Chennai. Apparently the restaurant's owners believed their fried chicken to be superior to fried chicken elsewhere in the city. Since this was in the year 1965 they simply tagged on the year to it to propagate it as a menu item.

                                        This had in fact started a wave in the early seventies for restaurants to name their fried chicken as chicken 71, 72, etc.

                                        Karthik

                                        1. So the frimfram website no longer works. Is Cecily's trip report online somewhere else? I'm getting hungry reading your post!

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: hungry

                                            I think they are here - but you have to scroll down to the relevant time period. Really enjoyable account and great pix
                                            http://frimframsauce.wordpress.com/

                                            1. re: jen kalb

                                              I had to search for "India" and found many posts. Thanks for the link.