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Oct 1, 2009 01:03 PM

Questions about Sarvanas and South Indian food in general

I've been reading posts about the Curry Hill food scene since I am now working in the area and the restaurant Saravanas comes up quite often. I have a few questions. First, do they do carry out? It sounds like maybe a fast food cafeteria style place, but I'm wondering if I can call and pick up my order.

Now for the fun part. There is a lot of talk on the board about south Indian cuisine. I love Indian food, but honestly had no idea I was eating Northern or Southern. I'm guessing I generally eat northern, as there is usually meat involved.

So my question is, what do I order? What is wonderful, not just at this restaurant but at southern indian restaurants in general? I am pretty flexible, there aren't many veggies that skeeve me, and I really like spicy food.


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  1. While it's true that most Indian restaurants tend to be predominantly north Indian, there is plenty of meaty south Indian food.

    A lot of the south Indian stuff you'll find in restaurants is breakfast food (though great at any hour): dosa, idli, appam -- basically anything that goes with sambar and chutney. All these items also go really well with spicy meat curries. Another popular dish is rasam, a spicy, sour, soupy dish that can be enjoyed on its own or with rice. If you're familiar with the Greek dish 'avgolemono', the net effect of rasam with rice is pretty similar.

    Andhra food is probably the spiciest of the south Indian cuisines. Meat and seafood curries (chicken, fish, goat, prawn. crab) take center stage. Also try the pickles. The cuisine of Hyderabad, its capital city, has a strong Muslim influence. It's well known for its biryani.

    Tamilian cuisine is generally a little milder, but is also well known for its spicy Chettinadu cuisine. I associate Tamilian food with spicy fried meat/seafood dishes with little or no sauce (listed on menus as 'fry' or 'pepper fry'). If you're a coffee person, also try a Chennai-style filter coffee.

    The Malayali (Kerala) food I've eaten tends to be milder than the above two. More seafood, more coconut, more Western influences. The stew (often pronounced 'ishtoo') is another thing that goes well with breakfast dishes, particularly appam and idiyappam.

    I'm not terribly familiar with Kannada (Karnataka) cuisine, except via its influences on the above three. I think of it as milder and sweeter than the others, though I don't know how accurate this is.

    1. Very informative by Scrofula.

      At Saravanaas, you are best off ordering iddly and either an utthapam or a dosa. Some of the drinks (I'm partial to the masala buttermilk) and desserts (such as the badam halwa) are also delicious. For the most part, you won't go wrong by ordering iddly and utthapam/dosa at any good South Indian restaurant.

      Off-topic: What's with the "This is a review of a specific restaurant" tag? I wonder if I should have checked it.

      1. I do not eat Southern Indian very often and have never had take-out south indian vegetarian food. But my gues is that most of it (especially the dosas and utthapams) would not travel well. Better to eat in the restaurant.

        2 Replies
        1. re: bobjbkln

          I completely agree. I wouldn't get dosas, utthapams, or iddlys for takeout, unless maybe I was walking a very short distance.

          1. re: Pan

            Idlis travel a lot better than dosas. They are often sold on railway platforms etc. for this reason.

        2. Maybe its me, but the standout at Saravanas is the daily curries in the thali special. Different each day, it is really great. Several small dishes of various curries, sambar, bread, padad, and rasam. Only 10 bucks or so.

          1. stereotype of south-indian food will be sambar (tomato based hearty soup.. although can be of varying consistency) + a starch (typically idli/dosa, but you can see vada/uttapam etc.)

            When I go to Saravana I typically get:
            1) Idli
            2) Mini-ghee idli (mini-idlis, immersed in more sambar + ghee [clarified butter]
            3) Channa Batura (deep-fried bread + chickpeas to eat it with)
            4) Dosa (I am not an Uttapam person..)

            You can google up all these terms and I'm sure you will get photos. Note #3 is not your typical meal, but very enjoyable (baturas are huge/puffed up fried bread and I like chickpea subjis a lot).

            You can try the Thali there as well with the various curries etc. I haven't had it, but I'm sure its good. I just go to Saravanna for my sambar fix. Sometimes I have asked for extra tamarind or lemon in their sambar though.. their sambar is much richer than peers in the area.. but I feel not sour enough (which I think they make up for by extra fermenting their idlis etc. to make them more sour).

            For Dosa I think in big picture you can break down into super-crispy or not. If you want the super-crispy, just ask your waiter which one is super-crispy.. a lot of times called "paper dosa". I like paper ones as a kid, but today I order idlis 90% of the time when I have south inidan.

            If you go the thali route and want the non-veg entrees.. for $8.. I think Haandi's Meat Platter is a neighborhood steal. It may be intimidating when you go into Haandi (a lot more intiminidating than going into Saravanna for sure).. but the counter guy will work with you. Just ask for the Meat Platter Combination (you get 2 meats, 1 vegetable, plus rice and a naan).. pick out your meats/vegetables.. and take a seat. The waitor will bring you the naan separately. For meats try to stay away from chicken tikka masala.. they have a great selection (e.g. try the achar chicken, or a chicken kebab + a lamb curry). If you can order comfortable at Haandi.. you are good to order anywhere...