I have long been a fan of Chettinad food ever since I ate at the Anjappar Restaurant in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Yes, Anjappar is a chain, that happens to have locations all over the world–including the Middle East, U.S., Canada, Singapore and Malaysia. They finally made it to one of the biggest foodie towns in the world–good old NYC–to which I say, ‘What took you so long?’ But, really, ‘Better late than never,’ is more apropos. For despite its status as a franchise (like Mickey D’s or Burger King), Anjappar serves up some of the tastiest, most authentic Chettinad food, this side of Chennai.
And just what is Chettinad cuisine, you ask? Unlike much southern Indian food, which is mostly vegetarian, the Chettiars, a merchant caste in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, who comprise about 14% of the population, do relish their chicken, mutton, and fish. And the way they prepare those meats is unlike any other Indian food you’ve ever eaten.
Take, for instance, the Mutton Sukka Varuval, whose description in the menu does this dish absolutely no justice. Goat, usually a tough customer, comes out moist and tender here, coated in a fragrant paste of spices–including coriander, cumin, fennel, cardamom, cloves–ginger and garlic with fried onions and curry leaves to push it over the top on the flav-o-meter. Such complexity and layering of flavors is the hallmark of this cooking. My only criticism was that there was not enough chilies in the mix, which probably would not have been the case had I been served this dish in Chennai (Madras). Maybe I should have gone for the Chicken 65, boneless cubes of chicken breast marinated in a variety of spices that is supposedly super-hot. The only problem was that my lunch companion was vegetarian, so I did not want to order half the menu only to eat it myself.
While he opted for the Chettinadu traditonal vegetarian Thali meal for a main course, I got the Kingfish thali. Both meals came with rice, chappathi, sambar, rasam, kootu, poriyal, lime pickle, curd, and pappad–all standard South Indian veg dishes–while mine came with an extra side of Kingfish masala curry made with a tamarind flavored gravy. Though tasty, the portion of fish was tiny, and I was glad I had ordered the mutton to supplement it.
Anjappar also features biriyani, and a selection of south Indian breads such as dosais, parathas, and utthupams. There were also some prawn and crab specials, but way above my budget for lunch. Your best bet is to come here with a bunch of people so you can order several dishes and try a bit of everything because I suspect everything here is good! Even the ambience and tasteful decor of the place proved very relaxing, and the service was up to snuff, making Anjappar a place that demands another visit.