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Southern comfort

Friday, November 30, 2018

There’s much more to South Indian food than idlis and dosas as South High shows

"People think idlis and dosas are all there is to South Indian food but there are as many as 3000 dishes one can enjoy in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu," says chef Mitthu Krishnan. Mind you, he doesn't even mention the union territories of Puducherry, Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar, though we took it for granted they're very much in his frame of things.

 We have managed to coax him out of his domain into the cheery ambience of the Kamala Mills, Lower Parel outlet of the South High chain which includes the Mahesh Lunch Homes in Juhu and Vashi. Warm is the word that comes to mind about South High, which is painted in various shades of peach, pumpkin,and apricot. Pumpkin is an integral part of Southern cuisine—dig those sambars—and orange is the preferred choice of wearing apparel for Mr Krishnan. Why not white? we ask. "Because, orange is our colour," he smiles. We do too as we watch, South High patrons attack  thali meals, spread traditional style. On banana leaves. It's easy to figure most of them are office-goers because the eatery empties around half past two, but for a table or three. Manoj, the assistant manager, tells us in impeccable English, that South High is an all-day diner which opens for breakfast at 8 am. and shuts at the midnight hour. They have special offers for booze (buy two get one) which we don’t take advantage of.

Cricket is playing out on the large TV screen to our left. On the sound waves, Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhonsale are chirping Aaja Aaja Mein Hoon Pyar Tera. We know that song playbacked for Shammi Kapoor who romanced Asha Parekh (onscreen)  for Teesri Manzil which reportedly helped him overcome depression.

South High has two types of seating arrangements, high and low. Some for a  quartet, others for a dozen. Perched on long-legged stools, sipping a spicy kokum drink  and nimbu pani (for our companion)  we get a good view of the clientele and the ambience. A large artwork of India's national bird, the peacock, dominates the wall to our right. Overhanging from the ceiling near the entrance are a great many toy birds. Thankfully, no live specimens in cages. Although we are not averse to consuming the one that cackles. Ah me, Adam and Eve were vegetarian. When will we? At the risk of sounding flippant, we say, hope springs eternal.

Till then, a certain four-legged creature that Semites (and folks of some other persuasions) believe can atone for our sins goes into the cooking pot and spicy mutton sukka is its Mangalorean monicker. The SMS has a dense, coconutty gravy. We ask  for our favourite chappatis which they don't have so we settle for a Malabari paratha. It's good. Our companion orders boiled rice and neer dosa—soft lacy crepes made from rice flour and water! The neer is fabulous with the SMS and the masaledar fried fish (surmai).The rice goes well with the meen  (fish) gassi (Tulu for curry) The gassi is thick with that coastal staple, coconut and roasted spices, but of course. It's interesting that Konkanis  dry roast the spices for certain curries which are lighter in consistency than our Mangalorean neighbours.  Our pomfret gassi is bookended by fried bombil suitably swathed in semolina, and fried tiger prawns.  Any Southern repast is incomplete without a cup of filter coffee. Needless to say, we enjoyed our kapi.

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