God’s Own Restaurant

Tamarind Terrace
Near Emirates Post,
Al Karama,
United Arab Emirates

29th September, 2018

Remember who you are…” – Mufasa

Ah man! Why did I have to go and do that? Now I’m tearing up! Can someone hand me a tissue? Give me one second, please! (One second later) Alright, I’m sure you’ve heard about Disney’s bold venture of releasing a live-adaptation of what is definitely (not arguably!) the greatest animated movie ever made – the Lion King! Wait, you haven’t?! What are you waiting for, then?!

What’s that? There’s no link? Well, duh! Of course not! This isn’t YouTube! There aren’t links to any trailers or movies here! This is about food and food only! So, let’s get serious, shall we?

It is who we are that defines us! Embracing one’s culture is an integral ingredient in the culinary arts. It is an ideal that defines a dish, a cuisine. The best chefs, cooking in the best restaurants, across the world are living proofs of this belief. While their dishes may literally be molecular (small, tiny, petite) in size, much to the chagrin of diners, there’s no doubting the flavour of different cultures (heritage, lifestyle) in each bite. With each dish, the chef presents us with a glimpse of his/her life – where they were born, their childhood, their families. Psychologists say it’s often best to put the past behind you, though I say once in a while it’s better than best (best-er?!) if you sprinkle just a handful of your past into every dish you cook!

With all this talk about embracing one’s culture, I think it’s time we talked a bit about mine. (Shudder!) To keep things short, I was born in Bangalore – Southern India – but am ethnically a Tamilian Brahmin (the famous tam-bram) from Palakkad. Or so I thought for 24 years! I only say that because of what happened on that one unusual, cruel cold spring’s evening. My dad and I were dining at a South Indian restaurant in Leamington Spa, UK (you’re not alone in thinking the same). It was during this seemingly uneventful dinner that I learnt something about myself. Something wholly unexpected. Perhaps, it was something I had seen coming but never imagined it to be true. It began with my dad in mid-conversation with a waiter in Malayalam (broken!); my face a modern representation of ‘The Thinker’, as my mind pondered as to where my dad picked up the language having never lived in Kerala. I decided to ask him once he was done placing our order. That’s when he hit me with the bombshell! It turns out that while, for years, we have claimed to come from Palakkad, our ancestral home lies much south-western than I care to admit. As any Indian geography aficionado would know, Palakkad lies on the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, while our ancestral home “apparently” is sat well within the confines of the border of the state of Kerala. While that doesn’t change the fact that I am a ‘tam-bram’, the blood of a million and more Keralites runs through my veins. Yup! Turns out that the famous saying that there’s a Malayali in every nook and corner of the planet does in some minimal fraction refer to me. Yikes!

With this surprising new development in place, it was time to test and embrace this newfound culture of mine. There was only one way I was going to embrace this – going to watch a Malayalam movie! I’m just kidding! I would’ve spent the entire two to three hours reading the subtitles. Of course, I was going to embrace my inner Malayali by dining at a Kerala restaurant. We (my friends and I) had just got out of the movie hall and it was close to half past one in the afternoon. My attempts to quench my hunger with a small tray of nachos, melted cheese, and jalapeños were all in vain as I was still quite famished as we made our way to the car. My stomach was growling, and I could see mine wasn’t the only one. Given that we were all quite hungry and in desperate need for some nutrition, we thought it best to dine at a restaurant not too far from our movie hall (which was Dubai Mall). What fit the bill was Tamarind Terrace – a South Indian restaurant located in Karama, one of the more Indian-centric neighbourhoods of Dubai. This wasn’t the first time I had seen the restaurant. A few nights prior to this visit, my friends and I were in the neighbourhood and what caught our eyes were the lights emanating from outside the restaurant and the hordes of South Indian patrons standing by the restaurant door.

This afternoon, however, there were no bright lights burning outside the restaurant. Instead, the sun shone brightly on a clear blue autumn sky, providing us with sufficient light for us to find our way to the restaurant’s door. We entered the restaurant and were slightly surprised to see the crowd still at its peak. Fortunately, there was a booth ready for the three of us. We slowly plopped our arses down on the seats, admiring the decor of the restaurant. As we sat down, our table was cleaned and the waiter approached us with the menu cards. Perhaps it was the trick of the light, but he seemed quite surprised by our presence at a restaurant, which is often used to a more family clientele. Nevertheless, he served us our menu cards with a smile. Before he left us to decide our order, I couldn’t help but hear him mutter something to us in Malayalam. If I could trust my feeble understanding of the language (which I wouldn’t!), I think he said that he would be back soon to take the order. What puzzled me even more was the fact that he had looked at me when he said that. Did he assume that I was a Malayali, that I was one of them? Did my subtle stubble hint at my newfound origin? Whatever it was, it surely was a topic of amusement and entertainment amongst us while we decided our order.

We were really, really hungry! While the options for us carnivores were aplenty, it was just a matter of deciding on which meats were going to end up on our plates this afternoon. But was there really a decision to be made? Did we really need to choose? Turns out, no! Chicken, Mutton, Beef, and Prawns – we had it all! When the waiter arrived at our table, he once again began spewing Malayalam like an Eminem rap beat. It took the confused looks on all our faces for him to realize that what he had in front of him were not from his part of town (his hood). With the Malayalam rapping on pause, we proceeded to place our order – the Kozhi Porichathu, the Beef Fry, the Nadan Mutton Curry, and the Prawns Roast. To accompany these four main dishes, we ordered a mixed basket of Appams and Malabar Parotas.

Before our main courses could arrive at the table, we were first provided with the plates. I know it’s slightly unusual to divert from the topic to talk about plates, but these were oh so special. Not because of the intricate blue mosaic tile artwork, which lined half of the plate, but because of the restaurant’s slogan that sat top centre. The slogan “Kerala on a plate” was certainly a bold statement to make – and only time would tell if it lived up it – but it also provided us with a source of entertainment (at least for my friends!). In hindsight, it might have not been the best decision to inform my friends of what I had learnt that evening in Leamington Spa. Nevertheless, now possessing this powerful piece of information, my friends “peer pressured” me into placing my head on to the plate – Kerala on a plate, gettit?! – and proceeded to bombard my face with constant photographs. This tomfoolery (buffoonery, shenanigans) certainly caught the attention of the waiters in the restaurant who, I want to believe, began chuckling at the sight of my head on the plate and my friend’s phone hovering over me.

 ( From left to right ): Prawns Roast, Beef Fry, Nadan Mutton Curry, Kozhi Porichathu, Malabar Parota, Appams
(From left to right): Prawns Roast, Beef Fry, Nadan Mutton Curry, Kozhi Porichathu, Malabar Parotta, Appams

Thankfully, the arrival of the waiter with our food put a stop to the childishness and the consequent embarrassment I was made to suffer. All of our dishes arrived at the same time, and so we had to make room on our table for the pots and plates. This meant lifting my head off of the plate!

The human body is known to have five sensory organs – the ears, the eyes, the tongue, the skin, and the nose. With all of our dishes now placed on the table, it was time to put four of our senses to good use (last I checked, you can’t hear food!). The first sensory organ to take over was my eyes. As my head lifted off the plate, my eyes began to feast upon each of the dishes. The crimson blanched tomato sauce in the prawns roast, the grated carrots garnished over the fried chicken, and the healthy sprinkle of green curry leaves over the mutton curry and the beef fry. If only my eyes could literally eat! With my eyes now wholly satisfied, it was time for my nose to have its ten seconds of fame. Each dish smelt so aromatic, and so tantalizingly inviting. In simple words, it just smelt like Kerala!

With my stomach rumbling, it was time to let my senses of touch and taste take over. Let’s begin with the Kozhi Porichathu. The curried fried chicken was actually the choice of a friend, who was impressed by the plating of the dish on one of the restaurant’s multiple promotional photographs on zomato. Unfortunately, the dish wasn’t as elegantly presented as in the photograph. This wouldn’t matter, however. The chicken was fried well enough, with the meat inside still soft and moist. The coating of masala on the chicken wasn’t overpowering in spice as well as acidity. In terms of the portion size, there were enough pieces of fried chicken to satisfy our three stomachs. The only drawback (if you can call it that) was the excessive and disproportionate side of onion salad.

The next dish to roll down my oesophagus was the legendary traditional Kerala Beef Fry. This was probably the only dish on the menu we were 100 percent certain of ordering. The beef fry has been a mainstay of Kerala cuisine for centuries. Should Kerala ever run out of beef in the near future, cue Homer Simpson’s ‘End is Near’ meme! Despite its iconic status, the beef fry is a tricky dish to perfect. More often than not, the dish is either overly spiced or the beef is annoyingly chewy. Fortunately for our stomachs (and our teeth!), the beef fry at Tamarind Terrace did not suffer from either of aforementioned risks. The spices were well-blended and the beef remained juicy and easy to navigate through while eating. The most surprising thing about the dish was the deceptiveness of the plating. From a first glance, I expected us to have polished off the plate with one spoonful each; instead, there were more pieces than I had originally anticipated. And we weren’t complaining!

Talking about not complaining, the third dish was probably my favourite amongst them all (yes, even the beef fry). The Prawns Roast – another staple Kerala dish, and one that I was eager to try as I had only recently learnt how to cook the dish! While the dish I had cooked and the one sitting before me were chalk and cheese, in terms of the presentation, in terms of taste, mine wasn’t too far off. The dish was certainly the hottest (spiciest) of the lot, owing to the spiced tomato base and the addition of splintered chillies inside the dish. This, however, didn’t deter me and my friend from ripping the tails off the prawns and crunching on the seafood like a couple of cannibals. It was one of those dishes that made me feel sorry that I had to share it with someone! The prawns were cooked to perfection, with each bite providing that ‘crunch’, while the tomato sauce added a much needed acidity to the dish, enough for us to avoid squeezing the wedge of lime provided to us on the plate.

The last dish left on the table was the Nadan Mutton Curry. The word ‘nadan’ means being traditional, and so this was the fourth dish (out of four) that was truly Keralite. As the other dishes on the table were either dry or doused in thick gravy, it made sense to order a more traditional curry dish. The only dilemma was choosing a protein, and since we had exhausted all possible options on other dishes, we chose the mutton curry. It wasn’t our first choice, and upon tasting the dish it wasn’t hard to see why. The delicious gravy notwithstanding, the mutton had far too much of fat on the bone, making each bite a workout (that I didn’t ask for) for my teeth and jaw! On the rare occasion, I had no other option but to swallow the entire piece of mutton as my continuous attempts to break down the meat made me look like a very skinny and malnourished cow chewing its cud.

Also a shout-out to the Malabar Parotas and the Appams that were cooked to perfection. The parotas were flaky and breaking them into pieces wasn’t akin to taffy pulling, while the appams had just the right amount of crispiness on the edges and the centre was a soft, fluffy lump.

With our main courses all but polished (save for the mutton gravy), we decided to have a look at the dessert menu. While the menu did comprise of a few Kerala classics – Payasam (rice pudding), Milk Cake, Coconut Pudding – as well as some unusual ice-cream flavours – Tamarind Honey, Jackfruit, and Coconut Jaggery, none really stood out, and so slightly dejected we had to settle for passing on the dessert course and requested the waiter for our bill.

In any city, there are restaurants that serve food of the highest quality and standards and, rightly (according to them), charge an exorbitant fee. But every now and again there stands a hidden gem – a restaurant that serves food of a similar quality (and more quantity!) and charges a relatively reasonable price. No second guesses as to which category Tamarind Terrace belongs to! Hint: Just take a look at the gif on your right.

With the bill paid and Kerala now shifted from plate to our stomach, we got up from our booth and made our way to the car. Before we could leave the restaurant, however, I couldn’t help but notice several posters of an upcoming Malayalam movie. Perhaps, a sign to indicate that it be my next step in this recent cultural exploration of mine. Don’t hold your breath! Personally, I wouldn’t put my money on this happening.

Tamarind Terrace Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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