Saturday, June 02, 2007

South Indian Food

I'm spending the weekend scrubbing and spiffing up my bachelor pad. I haven't done much entertaining in a while, and I've resolved to begin having my friends over so I can make South Indian food for them. Tomorrow my pals Becky & Clare are coming over, and very soon, B & B. My mom's been sending me Word files with meticulously detailed Tamil food recipes. I've been hitting the Indian store for ingredients. They always have fresh cilantro leaves in stock--crucial for South Indian cooking.

When I moved to Buffalo 20 years ago, there were no Indian restaurants here. Western food was alien to me; I'd never even had a slice of pizza. It took me forever to shake my Indian food withdrawal. That first semester, we (groups of Indian students) would make weekend trips to Jackson Heights in NYC, Devon in Chicago, or Garrard St. in Toronto, for food alone. We'd rent a jalopy, drive hundreds of miles into the night, check into some fleabag motel four to a room (couldn't afford better), and spend all weekend stuffing ourselves.

And then one fellow grad student, who was Sikh, convinced his parents to move to town and open a restaurant. Since then, about a half dozen Indian places have opened their doors. But (and this is true all over North America and in Europe too) the overwhelming majority of Indian restaurants serve North Indian food. So, a South Indian like me is still left out in the cold...

But suddenly, last month, a godsend: Palace of Dosas, a vegetarian South Indian restaurant run by a Tamil family, came to town. The menu has all the essentials: Masala Dosa, Idli, Vadai, Utthappam, etc. plus a traditional Tamil thali meal with Sambar and Rasam. It's also redoubled my desire to dip into my mom's reservoir of recipes and start whipping up this stuff at home.

I've flirted with the idea of firing up a South Indian food blog but I'm not sure how realistic that is, given the time commitment (and constancy) that any serious-minded blog venture demands. I've set my sights a bit lower and I'm in the process of collecting links to the Indian food blogosphere. I'd like to create a new section in my blogroll for it this summer.

Speaking of dosas and Tamil food, Zach turned me on to the legendary Thiru in Washington Square Park last year. Today, Zach reports that he's on an episode of Rachel Ray's show. (Here's an interview with Thiru, by the way.) On my last trip to New York in March, I had a chance to chat with Thiru for a half hour. What a hard working, humble, inspirational man....

Pic: One of my mom's saris.

28 Comments:

Blogger Flickhead said...

Does the Purple Rabbi still play piano under the arch in Washington Square Park?

June 02, 2007 2:12 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Flickhead--I didn't know about the Purple Rabbi but there were people playing chess like they did in Searching for Bobby Fischer...

June 02, 2007 2:23 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

What a fun topic, Girish. Maybe we could pull together a group blog for posting family recipes? We could tag every post by ingredient, nationality, contributor, etc. Just a thought.

You've mentioned a few favorite Indian places in Toronto, right? I'm looking forward to it.

June 02, 2007 2:52 PM  
Blogger girish said...

The group blog's a great idea, Darren. Count me in for sure.

And you know, there are a lot of good Indian places right on the way from the Osgoode subway stop to the Paramount theater, the route we walk a dozen or more times each year during TIFF. IMO, the best of them is Little India, a stone's throw from that Korean sushi place we ate at on Queen.

June 02, 2007 2:53 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Girish - I like a South Indian place in NYC called Madras Mahal, on Lexington between 27th and 28th Sts. Have you eaten there?

Is Ho Su the Korean joint on Queen that you mention? That was the best food I've found so far that's near the Paramount. Don't think I tried Little India.

June 03, 2007 1:28 AM  
Blogger David Lowery said...

I just went to this amazing South Indian place in LA last night. I thought I'd run the gamut of quality, both North and South, but this place was something else.

June 03, 2007 5:03 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Dan, thank you for the Madras Mahal tip; I've made a note of it. I've been scanning the schedules of the big NYC "movie mahals" (i.e. palaces) like MoMA, Walter Reade, Anthology, Film Forum, and if I can find a weekend, spread across them, with a few good & rare films I haven't seen, I'd like to perhaps make a weekend trip to NYC this summer while I'm off from teaching. And go restaurant-exploring too...

The name of that Korean sushi place on Queen escapes me now, but it's right next to the good indie bookstore Pages, and is very close to the intersection of Queen and John. (John is the street that one turns into from Queen to head southward toward the Paramount.)

Hey, David--I enjoyed your interview with Charles Burnett about Killer of Sheep that you just posted. It was quite hilarious to hear him say: "I had difficulty getting into a slaughterhouse in the LA area, because at the time I was making the film, there was an upsurge of vegetarianism. A lot of the vegetarians were also making movies..."

June 03, 2007 9:09 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Another bit from David's interview with Charles Burnett:

David: "...John Cassavetes wanted to show his pictures to working class audiences; he always thought they would be his most appreciative audience, that they would intrinsically understand his films, and he was always disappointed when they didn't respond. Did you find that people got what you were trying to do with Killer Of Sheep?"

Burnett: "No, no, no. They normally don't, and that's not important. Everyone has their own reality, their own perception of what life is, and someone living two or three houses down sees things differently. The film never claimed to be a total representation of black community. I didn't expect anyone to understand the film. And particularly now, when people are so used to seeing these really commercial action-oriented films...I look at To Sleep With Anger and see how slow it is. It just plods along. Things have changed. Just looking at the image used to be really exciting in and of itself. It had a story to tell."

June 03, 2007 9:54 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I would love to read your foodblogging, Girish.

June 03, 2007 11:08 AM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Burnett is a pretty cool guy, isn't he? I've never heard any other filmmaker say what he says here, and it seems so obviously true: there's not a person on earth who shares film taste with any other, so why should a personal filmmaker expect a single other person to get his or her films?

June 03, 2007 1:04 PM  
Blogger Paul Doherty said...

Girish: Raj Mahal 324 Monroe Ave in Rochester is very good,have you ever been there? I know a few people in Syracuse that get catered from there because of their reputation.

June 03, 2007 9:34 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I don't know north from south when it comes to Indian food, but the best I had was at a restaurant called "Shiva" in Amsterdam.

June 04, 2007 12:39 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

What's so unsettling about Burnett when you talk to him is how much anger seems to be seething away inside of him. He's aware of the racism and hatred on film, in the filmmaking industry, in the police force. But when he talks he never raises his voice, never gets impassioned. Same with his films--not an unsubtle moment in any of them. Even The Glass Shield had its layers of ambiguity.

June 04, 2007 1:53 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, everyone!

Tuwa, do you still keep that food blog you started a couple of years ago? If you do, I'd like to subscribe to the RSS feed...

Dan, yeah, when I read Burnett's comments, I was reminded of your recent, intriguing "Artifice vs. Fantasy" post ("It's always been painfully obvious that, as much as film buffs like to theorize about what makes films good or bad, we all like different things, and our reasons for liking and disliking are often blatantly linked to our personalities. We have a lot of trouble grasping why everyone doesn't love Film X, or hate Film Y; something about us really wants to believe that the issue is purely aesthetic, despite the screamingly obvious subjectivity of all parties.").

I've been pondering taste differences a lot lately...

Paul, the Raj Mahal people started up (and run) two Indian restaurants here in Buffalo, but before they did, I remember driving frequently to Rochester for meals...

Peter, that could be either a North or South Indian place, hard to tell, although my money would be on the latter. Shiva is big amongst us Tamils. Both my first and last names literally mean "Shiva"...

Noel, I was rummaging through my VHS tapes the other day and turned up To Sleep With Anger. I plan to watch it while Killer of Sheep is still fresh in my head...

June 04, 2007 3:40 AM  
Blogger girish said...

-- Andy Rector has a post on filmmaking and the US military.
-- At Reverse Shot: An interview with Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
-- At Screengrab: Five pregnancy comedies.
-- New issue of Cineaste.
-- Kristin Thompson on Kieron Corless and Chris Darke’s new book on the history of the Cannes film festival.

June 04, 2007 3:54 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I guess you could call it kept still. Originally I was posting about everything new that I cooked, then I switched to posting only about the new things I liked. The site feed's at http://socksupfootdown.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default but it only has about a post a month.

The idea above--to join a group blog--probably would have been more interesting to readers. ^_^

June 04, 2007 7:58 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

P.S. I don't think I've ever eaten at a South Indian restaurant, though I'd like to. I have had sweet potato & brocolli sambar, but the cookbook identifies it as Sri Lankan, not South Indian....

June 04, 2007 8:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Girish, love the pic of your mom's sari ... nice colors. I wish I could remember the name of that sushi place next to Pages -- was that the one you and Darren and I ate at one evening? I had dinner there with Doug as well on a different night. Really good food. I tried searching for it, but there seem to be a million sushi/Asian restaurants on Queen. If I recall correctly, I think it might have actually been Japanese sushi (I remember having their miso soup, which is killer).

Your post has inspired me to be more adventurous. I think I'm going to have to give Indian food a shot again (perhaps at this year's TIFF, if I can make it). And if you decide to set up a food-based blog, I'd look forward to reading it.

June 04, 2007 1:05 PM  
Anonymous cinebeats said...

Just wanted to say that I for one would love to read a blog about Indian food if you started one!

About a month ago a wonderful Indian market opened up only two blocks from my apartment and my husband and I have been shopping their regularly ever since then.

Since we don't know much about Indian food and our cooking skills are minimal we've been sticking to prepackaged meals and the frozen food section, but we've bought some fantastic stuff there.

The family who owns the market is very friendly and helpful so they've encouraged us to try lots of wonderful things which we may have passed over otherwise. They're also planning on renting DVDs soon so I'll probably be spending even more time there soon.

June 04, 2007 2:18 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for pasting that feed address, Tuwa.
Re: sambar, Sri Lanka has a big Tamil population and so it's part of Sri Lankan cuisine as well. They talk about sambar, etc at this wikipedia entry for Tamil cuisine.

Sambar is an essential component of our meals. My mom makes it every single day without exception (although, different kinds, of course...)

Michael, yeah, that's the same place you and Darren and I ate at. The restaurant itself is Korean, I'm fairly sure (Rob Davis turned me on to it the year before at TIFF), but the sushi is likely Japanese, I suspect, although I'm not sure...

Probably the most lavish and diverse sushi meal I've had is one that Acquarello treated me to in Manhattan, right across the street from Lincoln Center; the name of the place escapes my scatter-brain right now but it was very good.

In the process of pulling together a biggish post; back later today or tonight.

June 04, 2007 2:18 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Kimberly! Just saw your comment...

June 04, 2007 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Ah, thanks for the clarification about the restaurant, Girish. By the way, I definitely want to go back there, not only because the food is good, but because it gives me an excuse to stop in at Pages and charge up a bunch of books about film. :)

June 04, 2007 3:18 PM  
Blogger phil said...

"i went to an indian restaurant once..." (name-drops coordinates)

hey look, a post that isn't hopelessly out of my league...

just thought i'd come by and say hi; incidentally, the last time i saw you was in an indian restaurant.

i'll look you up next time i'm in town.

June 04, 2007 5:47 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Yo Phil, what a surprise! It's been ages.
Eric & I were chatting about you when I saw him at the coffeeshop earlier today. I'd love to get together the next time you're here. Call me.

June 04, 2007 6:03 PM  
Anonymous Matt M. said...

Yes, please do start a foodblog, Girish. I’m a curry fanatic, and for the most part I’ve done well in making them myself—except the Indian variety. Southern or northern Thai? No problem. Indonesian or Malay? Got it down. Japanese? Nothing to it. Indian? Oh brother . . .

I’m intimately familiar with the vast majority of the Southern Indian staple of ingredients, primarily from eating and preparing Thai food over the years (most of it directly influenced by the migrating Tamil population, I suppose). But the northern Indian curries, based on water and then yogurts and tomatoes, et cetera, as thickening agents, have me stumped. What I end up with is seldom as forceful and rich as the variety I eat in restaurants. I’m beginning to think not cooking the meat on the bone is part of the problem, as the flavor I end up with using, say, slices or chunks of chicken breast is quite bland comparatively.

My trip to Singapore late last year provided me plenty of opportunity to dine on Tamil food, among others. Those Singaporeans love to eat, bless their hearts. And though I prefer traditional naan bread to the Malay/Singaporean roti prata, darned if I don’t crave it in all its crispy, grease-drenched glory.

June 04, 2007 6:29 PM  
Blogger sury said...

If u r a lover of food, particularly, of the South indian variety, you may visit at your leisure,
http://menakasury.blogspot.com
which provides lots of details about good food (apart from good humour, good music and good sleep) and also about the culture of Tamil Nadu, india.By the way, Hotel Saravana bhavan has opened branches near NY I presume.

June 04, 2007 7:37 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Matt and Sury.

Matt, I have tried only a limited amount of North Indian cooking. And have never made any non-vegetarian food (was raised a vegetarian). I'm making a trip home to India later this year and hope to spend some time learning from my mom...

I've only had Thai food a few times in my life. I need to seek out some Thai places here in town...

June 04, 2007 10:05 PM  
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