These two words 'simply' and 'south' are almost always mentioned in the same breath to denote all things that emerge from the south of the Vindhyas. The adjective in this term, and unfortunately, for foodies from Mumbai, also remains the thumb rule, mostly, when it comes to representing South Indian food in the city.
Try scouting for fine dining or gourmet restaurants that celebrate at least one if not all the varied cuisines from the Indian peninsula. It’s a crib that has often emerged in conversations with foodie friends who hail from Kerala, Hyderabad or Coorg. “Where do we go for a fine dine, four-course South Indian meal in the city if we crave for the real deal?” they’d ask often. We’d be reminded of this vacuum on our city’s culinary map when friends from other countries visiting the city would get curious to taste fiery Chettinad and Andhra curries or Pondicherry’s famed Franco-Tamil fare after having read and heard so much about these diverse influences.
As one did a random search on a popular restaurant search engine for high-end restaurants that served gourmet South Indian food, the handful of names that cropped up were of names located within the city’s five star hotels. So did any standalone restaurants emerge? None. This, sadly, remains the state of affairs when a gourmand has to scour for the authentic South Indian fine dining experience. He/she will have to make that trip to one of these swish addresses scattered in either south Mumbai or near the city’s airport.
In comparison, Mumbai has been fortunate to be treated with delicacies and menus created by some of North India’s finest chefs, as well as standalone restaurants serving the best of the region — be it Awadhi, Mughlai, Tandoori, Kashmiri or Rajasthani. Even Bengali food has found a niche in the city. But South Indian cuisine, strangely, remains way behind as far as creating a presence. Could it be because public perception might unfairly round off this cuisine as all that gets served in an Udipi, or seafood, or the appam-stew fare? Your guess is as good as ours.
But, for a city that’s overflowing with foodies and with restaurants opening every week, we sure could do with a better representation of the rich, numerous culinary traditions from South India. Are Mumbai’s dynamic restaurateurs listening? We dearly hope they are, because we can’t wait for the good times to roll! Watch this space.
— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY