Friday night means Curry Night for many, but for the hoard of hungry food lovin’ friends who congregate in East Ham, it’s all about the appams. We’ve left behind London’s beating heart and braved the long arm of the District Line to get our delicious-as-manna, cheap-as-chips fill of spongy, saucer-shaped South Indian pancakes; some of us for the very first time.
There are plenty of thrills yet few frills involved with dining at Thiru Ananthapuram. Walls are splashed with clashing red and pink paint, Tamil movies blare from a flat-screen television, and service is tortoise-paced. But the waiters are warm enough to make up for the draft that slips in through the door, the beer is cold, and the food is hot stuff literally and figuratively; full of fire and flavour. As is not the case with too many other inconsistent establishments, dud dishes here are a refreshing rarity.
And tonight, we seriously put that theory to the test. A dozen diners with different dietary preferences, spice tolerances and tastes means the table is soon – well, not too soon (you’ll recall me mentioning the service speed) – groaning under the weight of a feast that would quite probably feed the biblical five thousand.
If we finish it’ll be as much of a miracle as Jesus turning water into wine, but we start with divine coconut oil-fried, battered banana fritters called pazham pori, dipped into coconut chutney and devoured with the most gusto by the member of our party who always claimed to be phobic of the fruit. Donut-like vada are enjoyed with as much relish and more of that chutney, whilst crumbed fish cutlets are the spicy South Indian answer to British fishcakes, complete with crumb coating and an obligatory splodge of ketchup.
A vast platter of battered bone-in poultry pieces is enough to make anyone forget the Kentucky stuff. The Colonel could learn a thing or two from Kerala Fried Chicken, and would do well to eschew his own eleven secret herbs and spices for the masala that makes this stuff so finger-lickin’. Served with a tangle of sweet’n’crispy onions, even the family-bucket-sized serving is scarcely enough to feed our greedy bunch. And the dry fry known as mutton ulathiyathu does not linger long after its arrival.
But the ample contents of the banana leaf parcel delivered to our table next would defeat even the most insatiable of eaters – a royally huge kingfish smothered in spice paste and steamed in its casing. Once we’ve all had a good go, we take most of the massive beast home in a doggy bag – although of course it’s far too tasty to share with man’s best friend.
Fish and seafood dishes are where Thiru really excels. Nandu masala is majestic – a whole crab in a well-spiced sauce. The kanava thoran – a super-tender, coconutty chopped squid fry is already the stuff of legend at our table, and tonight it earns an extra fan in the form of a so-called vegetarian who should really be sticking to the tiny black chickpeas in her kadala curry. Paired with pittu – logs of steamed rice flour and coconut – the pulse-based dish is a traditional Keralite breakfast, but it’s just as delish at dinnertime.
The appams that have gathered us here today are also typical morning fare, but that does not deter us from ordering a few too many rounds of both the plain and egg varieties. The spongy quality of the lightly-fermented pancakes makes them ideal gravy-soppers, but when one pierces the runny yolk of the latter kind, they become the sort of self-saucing treat even the most perfectly-timed chocolate fondant can’t beat.
Eggs also make an appearance in the folded buttery bread billed as veechu roti – an entirely unnecessary extravagance at least two of us order and merrily scoff. Others get their carbs from coconut rice, potato-stuffed masala dosas, and a heaping helping of kothu roti – a hash-like hotchpotch based on shredded bread.
A ‘fish meal’ costing under a fiver is ordered between three but ends up affording all twelve of us a taste – hardly surprising when it’s comprising a mountain of rosematta rice, a papad, pickle, thick lentil parippu, mixed vegetable aviyal, soup-like and soul-soothing sambhar, thin, spicy rasam broth, the addictively sticky cassava mash called kappa, fish curry in a darkly-roasted, abundantly-spiced gravy, and sweet vermicelli payasam for pud. Did I mention it costs less than five of your English pounds?
That’s the thing with Thiru… at every visit, bank on losing a few pounds in cold hard cash and gaining a good few in bodily blubber. But after food this good, you won’t care about the latter, because all that matters is squeezing in another spoonful of that squid thoran, or an appam, or more mutton ulathiyathu. Trust me – I type from experience, with a very full belly and a great big grin.
Who are we?
Yours truly @
Paul Tomlinson @
Ashanti Omkar @
Momtaz Begum-Hossain @
Serena Kern @
Suchismita Majumdar @
Doni Brasco @DoniBrascoDJ
Alice Griffiths @AliGriff21
…And the mystery two who aren’t on Twitter
- To read more about South Indian food and Ashanto Omkar’s BBC Asian network radio show, click here
- To read about Alfred Prasad’s South Indian street food cooking class, click here
- To read about Hopper, the forthcoming appam-centric restaurant from Karam Sethi, click here
- To read about a restaurant offering over 100 different dosas, click here
- For more restaurant recommendations from top Indian chefs and foodies, click here
Image credits – Ashanti Omkar and Momtaz Begum Hossain