Karaikudi Chettinad Restaurant opened a couple of weeks where Malgudi used to be.
I’m not quite sure when Malgudi closed down or why. They served good food and the place always seemed to be busy. And then one day, almost a year ago, it was gone.Passing its location on Oaktree Road, we used to keep tabs on it and we saw signs proclaiming that Bawarchi was opening soon. That didn’t happen and , after a further delay, Karaikudi Chettinad opened in its place. It’s a good swap as Karaikudi is definitely worth a visit.
Malgudi featured South Indian food with a preponderance of Hyderabadi / Andhra dishes. I believe its owners were from Hyderabad. Karaikudi , on the other hand, features Chettinad cuisine, the cooking of the Chettiars. It is named after one of the major towns in the Chettinad district of Tamil Nadu. The Chettiars are a community that started out as money lenders before going on to become financiers and traders , many of them migrating to do business in Burma, Malaysia and IndoChina. While abroad, Chettiars acquired a taste for the local spices which they then took back home. As a result, Chettinad cuisine utilises ingredients such as star anise in addition to home grown spices such as pepper, turmeric, cumin ,coriander and fenugreek and plenty of kadipatta ( curry leaves). It is a spicy, aromatic cuisine, not merely hot , the heat coming from pepper rather than from green chillies. Along with the Mudaliars, the Chettiars are one of the few Tamil Nadu communities that eat meat.
My wife and I went to Karaikudi for the lunceon buffet ( $ 9.95 / head) one day last week. Entering Karaikudi, we were reminded very much of its predecessor, Malgudi, because the new owners have retained many of the furnishings. The orange colored tear drop shaped lamps and the booths are still there though the buffet has been set up differently.
Let me list the buffet dishes first as I remember them. A platter of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers . Onion pachdi. Chutneys . Two appetizers : Cauliflower pakodas and Chicken 65. Two soups; a rasam and mutton bone soup. Mini-Uthappams. Parathas. Chicken Curry Chettinad. Beans poriyal. Mixed vegetable curry. Sambhar. Biryani. Plain Rice. Morkholombu. For dessert; chakara pongal ,i.e rice ,moong dal and jaggery cooked in milk.
Overall, I would rate the food as Superior. Both appetizers were excellent though they would have tasted even better had they been hot rather than lukewarm. Chicken 65 has an intriguing history. Some say that it is named for the 65 spices that are used to make it but I don’t believe it; I don’t think there are that many spices in our cuisine. The other story is that it was a favorite of the jawans who fought in the 1965 border war with Pakistan .I think this is more plausible ; essentially Chicken 65 consists of Spicy bite- sized chicken pakoras.
My wife enjoyed the rasam and I loved the mutton bone soup, spicy, strongly flavored and muttony. I had mixed feelings about the mini -utthappams. They were tasty enough but they are best served piping hot. I do wish that they and the parathas were cooked and served individually to diners. I realize that this is extra work but some other buffets, such as the ones at Moksha and Aachi’s , do offer this service. When dosas / utthapams and parathas are left out on a hot tray, they lose half their appeal.
The chicken curry was the centerpiece of the buffet. Tender pieces of chicken in a thick , delicious gravy. Very authentic. Of the rest , the pachdi and the morkholombu were the pick of the lot though the other dishes were also good. I would have preferred that at least one of the dishes was plain rather than spicy. When all the dishes are spicy ( as was the case here, except for the pachdi and morkholombu ) , there is no contrast and it makes for a one -note meal. The chakara pongal was delicious , a welcome change from the usual gulab jamuns and fruit salad that are so common in Indian buffets.
Some of my neices and nephews who were home for Thanksgiving tried out the weekend buffet at Karaikudi and were fulsome in their praise. It costs a couple of dollars more but they said it was well worth it. In fact two of them said it was better than they had had in India. In addition to the afore-mentioned Chicken Curry Chettinad, they particularly lauded the Mutton Biryani ( “Yummy!” ) and the Fish Curry. The Mutton Kurma was so-so, they said. There were more dishes and desserts at the weekend buffet but you can check them out yourself. All in all, Karaikudi is a welcome addition to the Edison dining scene.
Though the address is on OakTree Road, Karaikudi is not visible from the road,being located behind the Habib American Bank and Shezan Restaurant.
Karaikudi Chettinad Restaurant. 1671 OakTree Road, Edison, NJ 08820. (732) 516-0020. Closed Tuesdays. Hours 11;30 to 3:00 and 5:30 to 10 PM. Weekends : 12 noon to 4:ooPM and 5:30 to 11 PM.
P.S There seems to be a sudden exposion in the number of restaurants featuring South Indian food , no doubt because of a sizeable portion of the recent Indian immigrants work in the IT field and are from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. There are at least two other Chettinad restaurants that have opened here recently and I intend to try them out in the new year.