Take a trip to Kerala
Coconut Lagoon's South Indian cuisine adds spice to your life. Indian cooking is a fascinating and often misrepresented cuisine, a mixture of indigenous foods with historic Portuguese, French, Dutch and ultimately British influences. Curry as a powder is a British invention whose name originates from the Tamil word kari (sauce), used to describe flavourful Indian sauces served with rice. Obviously the blending of different spices and herbs for seasoning is ancient. The Dutch and British merely decided on a fixed formula for curry during the era of the East India Company: a blend of tamarind, onion, coriander, chili pepper, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, pepper and mustard.
In India, the spices used in kari depend on the dish, the individual cook, local customs and geographic region. We tend to lump the cooking practices of a particular nation into a whole, but just like France-"French cooking" doesn't distinguish between vastly different dishes from Alsace, Burgundy and Brittany-India has its own regional styles.
Six months old now, Coconut Lagoon focuses on the culinary traditions of southern India. Chef and owner Majoe Thottungal is from Kerala, and the region is reflected in the food he prepares.
We started, as recommended by the owner, with a trio of appetizers: vegetable samosas, croquettes and beef kebabs. The samosas are unlike the large ones commonly found in Ottawa, with a thick pastry crust and mostly filled with potato. Described as typical to Kerala, these were small, almost mouth-size triangles of light flaky pastry similar to phyllo, and filled with a delicious mix of vegetables. The accompanying yogurt-based mint chutney made the dish simply sublime.
Three of us dining together also quickly devoured the spinach and potato croquettes with their crispy exterior set off by a mildly spicy and very tasty chili and lime aioli. The beef kebabs-oval, meatloaf-like patties with a cardamom seasoning-were served with a cucumber and lime cuchumber (chopped mixture of cucumber with lemon juice). These were equally pleasing with a rich quality like most comfort food.
If you are looking to explore a range of tastes and flavours, the vegetable signature dish is an excellent way to do it. Eight tiny ramekins came filled with variously prepared vegetables, beans and sauces with a large bowl of rice and Parathas (a flaky and slightly spongy flat bread). While some were definitely more favoured, all were delicious.
Mutton, lamb that has grown up, can be tough and chewy, but if slowly stewed it can be succulent and tender. Such was the case with the mutton biryani: cubed morsels of lamb nestled in a mountain of basmati rice and raisins. What really made the dish was the added bowl of diced cucumber, coriander and yogurt sauce that balanced beautifully with the meat's slight spiciness.
The naddan kohzi curry-chicken cooked in a roasted coconut sauce-also came with rice, but the best way to eat this was by scooping it up with the wonderful Parathas, all very good.
The service at Coconut Lagoon was friendly, with helpful recommendations and menu descriptions, and dishes are prepared according to your desired level of spiciness, so you'll not be overwhelmed. A fine example of one strand in India's varied cuisine.
- Aaron Shaw, Ottawaxpress