Anyhow, the wrong has been righted. Nausheen at Dubai-Bites and Complete Foodie, thank you for opening my eyes to the most rocking South Indian restaurant of all time in Dubai. I’ve already eaten there twice:
…the first time to chit chat with another local blogger and fellow food lover, Partha. Couldn’t have asked for a better accomplice on this expedition. Between the two of us, we demolished papadums with lemon pickle and three dishes unique to different states of South India, including Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala (not surprisingly, Aappa Kadai did pay its respects to the token North Indian and Indo-Chinese dishes that occupy a sacred spot on many a typical Indian restaurant menu. Butter chicken and chicken lollipops for instance. Don’t be fooled, just skip those pages and go for the real South Indian stuff.)
…and the second time with my folks, to photograph the death out of everything we ate so I could preserve the memories for posterity.
For starters, the boneless Chicken 65.
Don’t ask me why it’s called Chicken ’65,’ and not ‘45’ or ‘30’ – all I care about is pouncing on a mound of those chicken nuggets, deep-fried and uber crisp on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. Like RADICALLY tender and juicy on the inside. So much so that you could see the juices exude out if you managed to eat a nugget in two polite halves, rather than stuffing four into your face all at the same time. So much so that the white insides were scaling like fish, and then melting into chickeny butter on your tongue. So much so that Partha and I had to beg and plead with the servers to give up their secret because THIS CHICKEN WAS EARTH-SHATTERINGLY MAGIC AND please dear waiter, for the love of God, tell me how you guys do it?
The server’s answer after we had harassed him with our pesky questions over and over again – raw papaya. Use raw papaya, presumably ground up into a paste, as tenderizer. PAPAYA + CHICKEN (or any meat for that instance) ensures that CHICKEN –> BUTTER. May every chef that ever feeds me take note of this magical trick.
And here is a pile of chicken and paranthas (fried buttery Indian bread) and omelette all shredded up and tossed with spices – the Chicken Kothu Parotta. DEAD AWESOME COMBO.
Love that it’s all pre-shred up and mixed together, totally minimizes chewing time, which means that in any given span of five minutes, you can devour more spoonfuls of this addictive chicken-bread-egg mish mash. By the law of hedonistic food consumption, more spoonfuls of good stuff in a given time always = a happier belly.
Ooooh that gravy, full of thick gooey onions and garlic and curry leaves and whoever knows what spices blended in. That dish should have been just curry…the prawns were way too fishy and I had to wade around them to sop up the gravy without any fishy distractions.
If I had to pick a fishy dish that was more of a rockstar, that would be the Kingfish Tava Fry that I had the first time around when I made the trip down with Partha. Crunchy spicy outer layer with soft white fleshy insides that deserve a massive squeeze of lemon before you take your first bite.
I don’t know why we ordered the Chicken Chettinad when I was at Aappa Kadai with folks that second time. I had a that feeling in my bones that this was the wrong decision – a little elf in my head murmured: it'll have too much garam masala, too much of the cardamom and cinnamon and all of those heaty ground up spices that don’t work well if you OD a dish on them. I just know it. A few bites later, elf in head cackles: Of course [dismissive toss of elf hair], I was right.
The Chicken Chettinad had been massacred in garam masala, and was so terribly disappointing compared to the Chicken in Fried Curry which Partha and I ordered the first time that…that…that it made me sad I guess [droopy dog face.] Readers, you are now forewarned. If you’re looking for a bowl of gravied chicken, go for the Chicken in Fried Curry, with chicken that’s as killer soft and juicy as the Chicken 65, in a tomato onion gravy that totally measures up to the awesomeness of Aappa Kadai’s papaya-tenderized chicken.
All these dishes – except the Chicken 65 which can be eaten solo like popcorn – beg for a bready or rice-based partner. Something that has crispy bits to crunch through with bites of chicken...
...as well as spongy bits to soak up the gravy and squish it out on your tongue.
And that would be the Aappam, a bowl of crispy and spongy fermented rice batter that’s so light and airy and subtle that it provides the perfect non-interfering partner for all the potent spices and flavours running through the other dishes. Stick to the plain Aapam rather than the fancy egg or meat variations – the goal is to soak up, not to distract.
The Ceylon Egg Parotta is another bready type thing you could go for, fried folds of Indian bread bursting with chopped up omelette on the inside. Though this isn’t meant to accompany anything – it’s got to be front and center, with its own side yogurt and daal dips.
I still need a couple more visits to work my way through that menu, but in the meantime, I’m pinning Aappa Kadai to my list of Best Seven of 2011. *Defeaning applause, whistles, hoots and a girl tripping over herself with excitement in the background*
[The fact that my list of seven already has six spots occupied just five months into the year is not lost on me. Someone's going to be falling off that list to make place for a more awesome find soon. Competition is heating up, stay tuned.]
More Aappa Kadai, I want MORE. Juice-dripping chicken, spongey-crispy aapams, oniony gravies, and everything else from their menu that I can cram into my tummy while I’m there. Little elf prances around, gloating over this new discovery, this is just the beginning.
Locations: Dubai Marina, Diamond 06 building, on the Dubai side of Marina mall. (Other locations in Karama, opposite Lulu Centre and in Discovery Gardens, Building #18, Zen 2 Discovery Gardens)
Delivery Phone: +971 (4) 3348030