Like training for a marathon
On my first visit to Mylapore, a South Indian food restaurant located in a strip mall in Folsom, a knowledgeable friend ordered as our group was deep in conversation. As such, I didn’t pay enough attention to notice how starchy the food was until later on my way home. So, on my second visit, I resolved to put the starchy dishes aside and instead order more vegetables. Upon perusing the menu, I discovered that 100 percent—no exaggeration—of the restaurant’s savory dishes contain or are almost wholly composed of some starchy ingredient. This variety of starches includes: whole lentils and lentil flour, rice and rice flour, potatoes, wheat and semolina flour, and combinations of all of the above.
In other words, this restaurant may not work for those still following the Atkins diet, but, for once, my vegetarian dining pal was happy: Every dish on the menu here is vegetarian, and many are vegan.
And it’s really unfair to fault Mylapore for offering the traditional cuisine of its region, so consider it something to keep in mind, and get your daily fresh-veggie intake elsewhere.
Because there is much to like at Mylapore, starting with the giant dosas. Dosas are ultrathin crepes with a savory filling. They range in size from 3-feet-long ones to 1-footers served as an assorted platter. The standard dosa is loaded up with turmeric-seasoned potatoes and onions. Mylapore also serves a “spring” dosa filled with oniony coleslaw.
I’m no stranger to the crunchy, hollow bite-sized snacks called pani puri, and I knew the proper procedure is to fill them with cold potatoes and garbanzo beans and maybe a chutney or two. What I didn’t know until I asked the server, however, is that one is supposed to fill them with the accompanying mint water and try to eat the bite before any leaks out. It makes sense: “Pani” means “flavored water.” What a fun, refreshing snack—no wonder these are a popular street food in India.
Mylapore serves an appetizer plate that includes unusual pakoras. Here they’re very lightly coated in flour, not thick and gummy as at some other restaurants. Rather, these are well-salted and extremely greasy in a satisfying way. The dish includes fried curry leaves that are clumped with the veggies and taste like the most delicious chips on Earth. I wish I could have a whole bowl of just the crisped leaves. Similarly intriguing is the masala vada, or lentil cakes. These are served as two small discs that are crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and lightly flavored with licoricey caraway seeds.
The other components on the appetizer sampler—savory lentil-flour doughnuts called medhu vadas and a lone samosa that had not seen the fryer in a while—mostly served as vehicles for dipping sauces, as did the fluffy, flavorless idlis, or steamed lentil-flour cakes. The available chutneys were a spicy tomato and a thinly grated-coconut one—a pickle chutney would have offered a welcome blast of acidity, but none was offered. Most dishes also come with a small side of sambar, a thick lentil soup.
Sambar is worth ordering as a bowl on its own. It’s creamy and comforting and within it floats cubed turnips and carrots—miles away from a pedestrian dal.
You can’t eat at an Indian restaurant without ordering something sweet—it’s just not done. If you’re not a dessert person, have it with your meal instead, served in a glass in the form of a mango lassi. It’s a good way to counter the chilies in some of the dishes. The salty lassi is equally tasty and made with no sugar whatsoever. A scoop of pistachio ice cream flavored with rose water is another good way to go.
Unless you are trying to starve yourself into ketosis at the hand of the late Dr. Robert Atkins, you’ll find Mylapore to be a singular addition to the Indian food of the region. And it could help you carbo-load if you’re training for a marathon.