Zambar – Celebrating South Indian Coastal Cuisine
If someone had told me that by lunch time I’d be sitting in a houseboat on the backwaters of Kerala, eating from a banana leaf, I’d have been highly skeptical. After all, I was right in the middle of Delhi’s buzzing mall culture. Well, that’s where Zambar is located, landlocked in the middle of retail heaven. It is one of the fun and innovative eating spots in the burgeoning mall culture of Indian cities. It’s in Ambience Mall in Vasant Kunj and in Gurgaon.
And if you thought that food from the South means just dosa, idli, and sambar, Zambar is a delicious eye-opener. This fine dining spot celebrates the Southern coastal cuisine of four states – Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. The interiors include the aforementioned houseboat replicas, palm fronds and there’s a very jute-coir coastal touch to the decor.
The restaurant recently won the innovative retail concept of the year award in the fine dining category at the Retail Excellence Awards by ASIA Retail Congress, which promotes world class retail practices in Asia.
Crab Kurumolagu Roast, Anyone?
The menu includes dishes which many Northerners may not be familiar with – I certainly had not tried many of them before. Being a celebration of coastal cuisine, there are many seafood dishes with prawns, fish and crab. Starters include Crab Kurumolagu Roast, Prawn Thoran and Curry Leaf Tawa fish. For avid seafood lovers, the Coastal Thali may be just the ticket – it includes a seafood appetizer, fish curry, prawn curry, dry prawn, crab dish, poriyal, sambar, poni rice, dessert along with Malabar parotha.
There are also the traditional vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis (with mutton and chicken dishes) but I tried the vegetarian sampler which was a good way of getting to know the spices and new dishes: Paneer Varuval, Mushroom Pepper Fry, Chettinadu Potato Roast and Madras Onion Dal Vada. The non-veg sampler includes such intriguing names as Chicken 65, Tamil Mutton Roast, Bedaki Coriander Chicken and Mutton Kurumolagu Fry.
Mutton, chicken, seafood and lamb as well as vegetables are dressed in a multitude of styles and cooked with many different ingredients such as fennel seeds, coriander leaf, black pepper, coconut, poppy seeds, sesame masala, fenugreek, tamarind, lime, and ginger/garlic. Zambar has a large repertoire of dishes. For prawn-lovers there’s even a prawn sampler with prawn vepudu, prawn merppukaya, prawn milaku and prawn bedaki.
While seafood and meats dominate, there is a sizable vegetarian menu too which includes Zambar’s Sambar, Chettinad style, which is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. For vegetarians there is Nilgiri Vegetable Khurma, vegetables cooked in a green herbal paste with fennel and coconut ground masala; Andhra Dal Curry, Vegetable Avial, Kadalai Curry, Nelluri Mushrooms and Chettinadu Masala. The appams are soothing and fun to eat and the Malabar Parottas are rich and flaky, different from the North Indian breads I’m more familiar with.
But what happened to the dosas? They seem to have been exiled from the menu as the focus is on coastal cuisine. You can still get your dosa fix if you visit from 4 pm to 7 pm. when snacks like idli and uthappams are also served while the dinner menu is on hiatus. Besides the traditional dosas, there are also those with fillings of mushroom onion masala, mutton mince and even seafood dosas filled with crab or prawn.
To end the meal there are several payasams and pongals, as well as some offbeat flavors of ice-cream like chikoo and rose petal. All topped with South Indian coffee. And that’s topped with a dried paan which has all the flavor of a fresh paan.
This taste of the South has certainly got this novice salivating to travel to the real South and eat these delicious dishes in the home surroundings. But I’ll take the Mall in Delhi any time for a repeat of this feast!
More about Zambar on Facebook
A Taste of the South at Home
So till you get to go and try Zambar yourself, here are two recipes for you from the chef to try at home.