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Review of Raj Palace – Authentic South Indian Cuisine

Summary: an authentic line-up of traditional South Indian cuisine and the reasonable prices make Raj Palace a worthwhile addition to the nascent South Indian food scene in Calgary.

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Raj Palace is one of those places that’s 5 min. away from my place but for one reason or the other, has never been very high up on my priority list. I promised a friend dinner after bitching out on him at the last minute at an unrelated event. James, who is also of South Indian descent, had mentioned that Raj Palace had a full on South Indian lunch buffets ($12.99) on Sundays, so this was the natural choice to visit on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Indian cuisine is very diverse, just like its geography and culture. Most non-Indians are only familiar with North Indian cooking, typified by the most-famous-of-them-all: butter chicken. I myself am a big fan of North Indian fare. However, the latter tends to be fairly rich and heavy and isn’t something you want to have everyday. South Indian food tends to be lighter, easier on the heart cholesterol-wise, and doesn’t put you to sleep after every meal. That said, a large part of the cuisine is rice-based, so it’s not any lighter on the calories.

Funnily enough, Raj Palace used to be Mysore Palace. However, the interior is almost exactly the same as before. Frankly, the only visible difference is the “Raj Palace” banner that sits on the exterior in place of where “Mysore Palace” used to be. In fact, the serving plates still say “Mysore Palace” on them…hahaha. So brown… 

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The interior was a bit dark for a Sunday afternoon, but very spacious, clean, and inviting. You could sit in a booth for a more intimate affair or at one of the tables if you didn’t care about privacy. The impression I was left with was that management and staff put a lot of time and effort to make this place clean and spotless…almost like you could eat off the floor.

We jumped into the buffet right away, which like J. promised, offered almost exclusively all South Indian items. Raj Palace had all the traditional South Indian offerings ranging from items such as the more traditional idli (rice cakes), dosa (rice crepes), and vada (doughnut shaped lentil-based fritters), to the lesser known items such as tomato bath and uppama (seasoned cream of wheat porridge). In addition, the buffet offered other staples such as sambar (spicy lentil broth). All in all, I was pretty impressed by line of vegetarian South Indian offerings.

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There were also a bunch on non-veg dishes which I didn’t pay any attention to. Typically Richard or Kent would cover this aspect, so I usually don’t pay attention to the meat offerings. I guess it’s my way of saying f-you to all the non-vegetarians out there.

Like Southern Spice, Raj Palace also offered unlimited dosas as part of the buffet. The dosas were fresh, warm, crispy, and went well with the sambar. However, they paled in comparison to the ones offered at Southern Spice – those just transported me back to the motherland!

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Idli/dosa/vada are typically eaten for breakfast or as a snack, so the buffet also included some main courses such as potato fry and other items. They were also tasty, but nothing to get too excited about.

The service level was also very good. Our server was very attentive, refilling our glasses constantly, or taking away used dishes. The only thing that irritated me a little was the lack of little cups (shown in the pic above) to hold the sambar or other chutneys. Those seemed to be in a constant short supply.

Summary

AFAIK, including Raj Palace, Calgary has three restaurants offering distinct South Indian cuisine. The other two are: Southern Spice and Canada Dosa Corner. Of these, Canada Dosa Corner is the hands-down winner. That said, Raj Palace is a great alternative to get your South Indian fix and offers a very authentic range of dishes at a very reasonable price. They also apparently now offer a limited selection of hakka cuisine, which is another plus (although I haven’t tried it out).

Ranking

Kiran
Ambiance 4/6
Service 4/6
Plating N/A
Taste 4/6
Originality Authenticity 5.5/6
Value 5/6
Overall 22.5/30 = 75%
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[LEARN TO COOK INDIAN] Simple South Indian Daal

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A lot of folks are interested in learning how to cook Indian food, but are intimated by the “exotic” ingredients or the perceived complicated nature of the cuisine. While both are true to a certain extent, I offer two counter-arguments: 1) It isn’t difficult to go a store and buy the required spices, and 2) Not all Indian dishes are super complicated. One such dish is the South Indian daal dish from the state of Andhra known as pappu pulsu.

Pappu pulsu is essentially a yellow lentil broth that is great for a cloudy, cold winter day. Don’t be intimated by the list of ingredients – you can get most of them at Super Store. The total cooking time is around an hour, but that takes into account the cooking time for the lentils. If you pre-cook the lentils, then this dish takes like 5 min. to make.

Ingredients

– 1 tbsp. vegetable oil

– 2 Thai or Indian green chillies (not jalapenos)

– 6-8 garlic whole garlic cloves

– 1 tsp mustard seeds

– 1 tsp cumin powder (or seeds)

– 1 tsp fresh ginger paste

– 6-10 dried curry leaves

– 1/4 tsp tamarind concentrate

– 1 cup split toor daal (pigeon peas)

– 3-4 cups water per cup of toor daal

– salt to taste

Preparation

Boil the toor daal covered over medium heat for 30-40 min. until lentils are fully cooked. Using a spoon or ladle, mash lentils to a paste.

– Alternatively, soak the toor daal in water the day before or cook in a pressure cooker if you have access to one.

Heat the tbsp. of vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the green chillies, garlic, mustard seeds, ginger paste, and curry leaves. Fry until mustard seeds pop and/or garlic starts slightly browning.

– Add the toor daal broth to the above. Careful, as mixing hot oil and water is always an interesting endeavour.

– Turn the heat to low. Add 1/4 tsp of tamarind concentrate and the cumin power to the broth. Add salt to taste. Mix well.

– Serve with rice or chapatti (aka roti)

Viola! You have now cooked your first Indian dish.

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In addition to being a relatively simple dish to cook, daal is also a great source of protein. A lot of people ask where I get my protein upon hearing that I am a vegetarian. This is it. Another great source of protein for aspiring vegetarians is chickpeas.

So, the next time you are looking for healthy, winter food, try this dish out. You will be surprised at how easy Indian cooking can be.

Happy eating!