For my Sunday lunch, I want full-bodied flavors that won’t make me feel like a lazy pudding. After all, Sunday is the last day of glorious freedom before the week begins and although Punjabi food or cheesy fries from Shake Shack sound appealing, I don’t want to be so weighed down by lunch that I sleep the day away. Sunday = possibility, and I must make the most of it.
This is why South Indian cuisine makes the perfect Sunday lunch. Often consisting of soft, steaming white iddlys and dosas filled with sunny, superbly-spiced potatoes, onions, and chiles, it’s a well-balanced meal- carbs in the potatoes and iddlys, protein in the dosa and sambar, deliciousness in every bite- that’s incredibly tasty. (Another South Indian favorite of mine is upma, cream of wheat prepared with ghee, mustard seeds, cashews, chiles, chopped vegetables and bay leaves.)
At home, my mom will make upma or sometimes we’ll walk over to my kaki’s and fold pieces of crispy dosa over potatoes. In Bombay, my masi makes excellent South Indian food at her home, but we’ll drive to Cafe Madras in Matunga for their filter coffee; we can eat at home, but it’s a real treat to sip on strong milky coffee.
In New York, I can find most of the foods I love from India. At Chennai Garden in Murray Hill, we started with the excellent bonda, two crispy fried balls of twice-cooked potato. I was initially quite excited for the Kangipuram iddly, golden rice cakes embedded with cashew and green chili, but I found that their texture was disappointingly mushy, and the green chilies lacked fire.
Our food and drinks arrived very quickly. The sweet lassi was too sweet, but the salty lassi was refreshing and frothy with cilantro, cumin, and salt.
The Mysore Masala Dosa was hot (a real change from Saravanas, where I inevitably get cold food) and enclosed were fantastically spiced potatoes and a sprinkling of red chilli. The hearty sambar and fresh coconut chutney helped elevate this dosa to superb. The dosa and the bonda were my favorite items.
Our Onion and Hot Pepper Utthappam, a savory pancake made from a batter of daal and rice, was OK, but not particularly flavorful or memorable. The Lemon Rice was also pretty mediocre- I didn’t taste any popped mustard seeds or other complexities, but it did come with a deliciously fiery, nutty red aachar. Next time, however, I’m ordering the yogurt rice.
After writing this ode to South Indian Sundays, I’m going to eat eggs at Alias. Let’s see how they sit with my Sunday Stomach.
Bonda: $3.95; K. Iddly: $4.95; Mysore Masala Dosa: $7.95; Onion and Hot Pepper Utthappam: $7.45; Lemon Rice: $6.95
Chennai Garden is on 129 East 27th street, near Lexington Ave. (212) 689-1999