The Authentic Indian Way
So maybe you’ve had your share of Tandoori Chicken and Paneer Tikka Masala. But have you tried crispy dosas* that put crepes to shame or pillowy soft idli soaked in sambar and served with chutneys? Stop by Saravanaa Bhavan in West Plano to taste these South Indian delicacies.
*A glossary of Indian foods can be found at the bottom of the story.
Indian cuisine is as diverse as the country’s culture, languages, regions and climate. Every major region of India has its own unique dishes and subtle variations to popular dishes. While naan, chapattis and paneer dishes are the staples in North India, the South is known for its rice-based dishes. Most South Indians eat idli or dosas made from different batters for breakfast and dinner, while the heavier rice, dhal and vegetables are eaten for lunch.
Each meal from South India is well rounded with carbs, vegetables and a protein all cooked in aromatic spices that are the essence of Indian cuisine. Food is generally classified into six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent and pungent (or spicy). Traditionally it is recommended that one includes all six tastes at each main meal. Including some of each is believed to provide complete nutrition, minimize cravings and balance the appetite and digestion.
Tamil Nadu cuisine is very different from the food of other regions of the South like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka. The cuisines of Andhra are the spiciest in all of India; there is usually a generous use of chili and tamarind that make the dishes tangy and hot. On the other hand, dishes from Kerala usually have coconut, either in the form of shavings or oil extracted from the nut.
Tamil Nadu cuisine from Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, and other parts of South India is served in the restaurant Saravanaa Bhavan. It consists of both spicy and non-spicy dishes, but all are vegetarian. The intake of meat is lower in Tamil Nadu than in most parts of the world. The rice dishes can be ordered as a Thali, a complete meal served on a stainless steel tray. It usually comes with multiple kuzhambus, like sambar, puli kuzhambu or vaththal kuzhambu, which are mixed with the rice and eaten along with vegetable curries and crispy papads. Alternatively you can order briyani and other mixed variety rices a la carte. The last course will invariably be rice with curd or yogurt, usually eaten with pickles that help cool the palate.
There are no frills, fancy tablecloths or dim lights at Saravanaa Bhavan. The aroma of the food takes center stage and transports one to the busy streets of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, where the concept originated. Owned by the restaurant chain Hotel Saravana Bhavan, you can also find outlets in Australia, Singapore, Germany and other corners of the world – anywhere that Tamilians are living. The menu is the same at locations, and the cooks are all trained in Chennai. There are two locations in the DFW area, one in Plano at the corner of Sam Rayburn Tollway and Ohio Drive and one in Irving.
The batters for the dosas and idlis make all the difference, and the cooks at Saravanaa Bhavan have the formula right. The ghee roast dosas come out crispy every time with that light nutty sweet taste, never too oily. Regular diners love that the place is extremely clean and that most items on the menu are naturally gluten free; the taste is always consistent.
For those not in the mood for a big meal, stop in for filtered coffee, served strong but milky in a traditional silver cup, and snack items like vadas, bondas or a sampling of the numerous sweets (we suggest the laddu or kesari dripping with ghee). Survey the crispy dosas, puffy pooris and other yummy food on the tables, and try some. And don’t be shy – eating with hands is the authentic Indian way.
Glossary of Indian Food
(in order of appearance in the story)
Dosa – bread made with flours, rice, wheat or legumes, cooked flat like a pancake and sometimes filled with a spicy mixture or flavored with ghee
Idli – bread from South India made with fermented rice and legumes, and almost like a cake, round and soft
Sambar – a South Indian broth/curry made with vegetables and some tamarind that gives it a tangy taste.
Chutney – a spicy condiment made of fruits or vegetables with vinegar, spices, and sugar
Naan – bread made with leavened dough and popular in North India
Chapatti – unleavened bread usually made on a circular cast iron griddle over very high heat
Paneer – Indian cottage cheese
Dal – souplike dish made of dried, split peas, lentils and beans
Tamarind – the most popular souring agent in South India, made from a fruit
Kuzhambu – common South Indian dish made with a broth of tamarind, legumes and vegetables
Papad – pre-made and precooked flat bread made from legume flour and rice flour that needs only be immersed in hot oil to puff up instantly
Briyani – rice and vegetable dish, sometimes made with meat or seafood
Ghee – clarified butter
Vada – savory snack made of legume flour and fried in oil
Bonda – savory snack made of potatoes coated in chickpea flour and fried in oil
Laddu – ball-shaped sweet made with chickpea flour, sugar and nuts
Kesari – sweet dish made with semolina, sugar, nuts and ghee
Poori – bread fried in hot oil, completed submerged so that it puffs up