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Flavours from the coast

KAYAL, W-121, Firm Tower, Anna Nagar, is the second restaurant of the same name I have visited in the city. The first one was the exclusive Western seafood joint in the Le Royal Meridien. The contrast between the two couldn't have been starker.

The fledgling outlet in Anna Nagar, which opened sometime ago, promises one the taste of Kerala. The name is more suitable to this minnow from the land of kayal, or backwaters.

Snatches of Malayalam, the taste of coconut oil... I felt at home. It would be correct to say that I was at one of those ubiquitous chayakadas or hotel-cum-teashops, which dot the NH 47. But even in those places, it is possible to get a modest vegetarian meal.

The Kayal menu is a vegetarian's nightmare. One couldn't help thinking of the cholesterol level comparing the chicken, mutton and beef selections and the three measly vegetarian choices. So let's make it clear at the very beginning, this fare is more like a local dhaba food. This will also explain the presence of Chicken 65 and Ceylon parotta on the menu.

For the starter, we had Kerala chicken fry (Rs.75), which tasted more like a desi version of a Chinese fry in coconut oil.

Among the main course, the best of the pick were the eratchi olarthiyathu (Rs.25) or a dry beef preparation, and mathy fry (Rs.20), a sardine fry.

No Syrian Christian household, especially in Central Travancore, can do without the beef dish.

The Kayal's olarthiyathu did justice to the tradition. The sardine fry, another home food close to a Malayali's heart, was also fresh and tasty. But kappa (Rs.15) or roughly translated as tapioca mash, a poor man's staple which has now become ethnic chic, was not up to the mark.

In the bread section, ari puttu (Rs.15), though cold, was soft and crumbly.

The appams (Rs.8) could have been spongier. The vegetable stew (Rs.15) too had room for improvement, but considering the price, it was not a bad deal.

Though payasams, fruit salad and ice cream were on the menu, none of it was available on a Wednesday night.

The restaurant is having starting trouble on this front. Though not exactly representative of the Kerala cuisine, Kayal has a few aces up its sleeve.

MARIEN MATHEW

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