Best Chettinad Cuisine Karaikudi Restaurant Penang
Chettinad Cuisine is the Spice of Life
Growing up with a curry loving dad, Indian relatives, friends and neighbors, including spices in our diet is only a natural process. My only regret is not picking up Tamil as a youngster, although Dad speaks the language fluently.
In our household, breakfast could range from bread, porridge, noodles, nasi lemak, Nyonya kuehs or dewy soft appam or two smothered in coconut chutney.
When I started working in Tanjung (the central banking district of Beach Street), lunch was a kaleidoscope of choices that ranged from Chinese style chap fun, Hainanese Chicken Chops, the Beef Noodles, Roti Canai and that satisfying meal of a Banana Leaf Lunch.
“Follow me to my favorite creamy Butter Chicken in Penang,” I often tell my friends when they suggest a Friday date night.
How do you eat in an Indian Restaurant?
In an Indian restaurant, the rice, dishes, and condiments are laid out on a green banana leaf, it customary to eat all that deliciousness with your bare hand. (Use only the right hand)
An Aussie friend Charles, who survived for months in India, described it as making love to your food. He is so right in every sense.
I always start with a bold Rasam, a bowl of spicy sourish soup prepared using kokum or tamarind juice as a base. This soup in a cup help stimulates the appetite and aids digestion.
My rice drenched in curry is a slushed with Tairu (a fresh creamy yogurt) that tempers the spiciness of other dishes.
I started with Banana Leaf Cuisine in the 80s
In the 1980s, my colleagues and I would congregate for our Friday lunches at our favorite; Susila Restaurant on Penang Street. A chicken set lunch back then was only RM2.80 before the hike to a dizzying RM3.20!
Nowadays, I have to stay far far away from the mounds of white rice drenched in a spicy curry. Although given, the lure of hot white rice and curry is simple, basic and satisfying.
Where to find Chettinad Cuisine in Penang?
Penang is a great place to experience authentic South Indian food and in particular Chettinad Cuisine. The taste is richer and spicier than its North Indian counterpart.
Karaikudi Restaurant serves a variety of Southern, Northern, and the somewhat harder to find Chettinad Cuisine.
If you’re trying to find a place for some good and reasonably priced Indian fare, my recommendation essentially is Karaikudi.
I eat there several times a month when I’m not traveling.
This restaurant is located in Little India’s Market Street, which is not too far to walk from Komtar Penang.
Karaikudi is known for its delicious and mouthwatering dishes with emphasis on spices. The restaurant serves the traditional taste of Chettinad Cuisine for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.
What is Chettinad Cuisine?
Chettinad Cuisine is the cuisine of the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu.
What is Chettinad cuisine and what makes it so special?
Chettinad cuisine is loaded with distinct aromas and flavors.
The cuisine is well known for the use of a great variety of freshly ground spices. The complexity of flavors is from cumin, fenugreek, fennel, clove, bay leaf, turmeric, and tamarind.
Traditional Chettinad cuisine uses so many varieties of spices like star anise, whole red chillis, fennel seed, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, peppercorn, cumin seeds, and fenugreek.
Even if you have the entire list of spices, to replicate the taste is another matter altogether. The magic lies in the “secret” ingredients – the dried flower pods, and kalpasi (black stone flower).
For me, it is the richness of the gravies that is addictive. They thicken the gravy with the addition of tomatoes, coconut, ginger, and whole garlic pips.
What do you eat with these great Chettinad Curries?
I eat most curries and gravies with rice and other with rice-based preparations like Appams, Idlis, Idiyappams, Adais, and Dosas.
The mild taste of the rice perfectly complements the spiciness of the dishes.
Don’t worry if you can’t take the heat, most meals are accompanied by buttermilk to bring down the heat of the curries.
What are the Chettinad signature dishes?
As the community lives by the sea, seafood is heavily featured in the curries. The popular dishes are Fish Curry, Crab Masala and Prawn Masala.
Later, the community included some other animal meats in their diet. Jungle Fowl, Kada (quail), Muyal (rabbit), and Pitta (turkey) in their signature dish list.
Is Chettinad food spicy?
Chettinad food is synonymous with spicy, aromatic food. In reality, Chettinad Cuisine has a complex blend of well-balanced flavors.
According to Chef V.R., the fiery flavors come from the use of black pepper and red chili.
How is it Chettinad Cuisine served?
Traditionally, meals served in Chettinad Cuisine are on banana leaves. The servings of rice, buttermilk, pickles, papads, and salads follow a specific protocol.
Each dish served should be at a designated space and order on the banana leaf.
Chettiars are superstitious, so they prefer to serve their dishes in odd numbers of seven or nine.
Chettinad Cuisine At Karaikudi Restaurant
In recent years, I have taken a liking having bread for dinner and dining at Karaikudi.
With all the gorgeous food defined as a taste of Chettinad Cuisine and South Indian cuisine along with Northern Indian delights, the flavorful cuisines are addictive.
Karaikudi’s Chef’s signature Chettinad dishes include the
- Mutton Chukka Varuval (mutton cooked with onions, spices, and curry leaves)
- Prawn Malai Curry (prawns with cashew nuts and cream)
Hence the weekly craving and expanding waistlines courtesy of like minded visiting friends and even Indian expatriates.
I like to recommend these for a dinner for two which more than enough, eye bigger than stomach rules again.
My favorite Delicacies of Chettinad Cuisine
After eating at Karaikudi for 6 years, I still have not gone through the entire menu.
What are the best items to order?
I seldom order a traditional Mango Lassi which is a yogurt-based drink with a blend of seasonal mangoes and spices. I find this drink too filling during meal times.
My preference is a Triveni Juice which is an exotic quick fix thirst quencher that gives a warming kick after a long day in the noonday sun or nights up late.
A triple blended juice containing Mango, Pineapple and Ginger loaded with Vitamin C with great health benefits to help lower cholesterol and improve the immune system.
A thick and tasty but filling Mango flavored Yogurt drink. I find this too filling for me.
Do you order Starters or not?
In Indian cuisine, deep or shallow fried vegetable rule the day in terms of yumminess.
From Cauliflower Fry, Pakoras, deep-fried Bitter Gourd Chips, Fried Mushrooms Masala, and our favorite, lady’s fingers or Okra – Bhindi Masala Fry.
The vegetables are elevated to a crispiness that is both addictive and yes.
Deep-fried vegetables make very good starters. I kid you not.
I think Vah Chef’s Kakarakaya Vepudu Indian food recipe using bitter gourd and spices looks tasty as he makes it with a pinch of sugar to caramelize the onions, spices and fried to perfection.
Bitter Gourd Chips (Karela)
Sliced bitter gourd marinated with spices and deep-fried best served hot.
Bitter Gourd Chips is a tasty way to serve bitter gourd good for diabetic patients who may not like the taste of bitter. These crispy chips are flavorful and addictive to munch on.
Crispy Cauliflower Fry
Cauliflower, rice flour, cornstarch, deep frying, red chili. The texture is crispy on the outside and soft inside.
Dosa, Chapatti, Naan or Briyani, what’s your carb preference?
Most times I prefer Roti, Dosai, Chapatti or Naan to mop up the delicious curry gravy. An Egg Biryani is good too as the rice is soft and fragrant; goes well with the dishes.
One of the best biryani rice I had was the sumptuous Hyderabadi Biryani reputed to be cooked in copper pots over a charcoal fire for a far superior taste.
Fluffy grains and with the fragrance fit for a King.
I remember complaining bitterly when the restaurant in I-Avenue has closed down.
They serve this tasty roti folded and rolled at Karaikudi. It thin and opens up beautifully like a large handkerchief.
This is a popular Paratha recipe from North India, made from whole wheat flour.
In Punjabi “Parat” means layer, and the beautiful layers can be seen on the Paratha when it gets cooked.
This Naan bread is dotted with cherry bits, desiccated coconut and cashew nuts which tastes great with Butter Chicken.
Best Butter Chicken in George Town
We ordered butter chicken and I fancy Karaikudi does the best version in George Town for the price.
Butter Chicken is a mildly spiced curry reputed to be created in the kitchen of the Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi, India.
With its roots in Punjabi cuisine, this heavenly dish has two main ingredients ghee and butter aside from masala spices, tomatoes, and Tandoori Chicken!
Need I say more of its thickening silky smooth curry?
Fish Curry gets tastier the day after. Normally I will order this as a takeaway dish.
The Fish is fresh and cooked in thick curry gravy with medium pieces of fish, small sliced onion, tomatoes, ginger-garlic paste, garam masala, red chili, and green chili.
Once I ordered two Palak Paneer!
Jade green Palak Paneer is a Punjabi dish of pureed spinach and seasoned with garlic, garam masala, and other spices with cubed paneer (homemade cottage cheese). Beautifully seasoned this “baby’s food” compliments the other curries as well as it is mild.
Ladies Finger Pepper Fry
Sliced lady’s finger deep fried and sauteed with pounded black pepper recommended for veggie lovers who enjoy a spicy dish.
This Indian cottage cheese dish with spinach is smooth and well flavored with ground spices and green cardamom imparting a nice flavor.
This vegetarian dish is made from potatoes and peas in a spiced creamy sauce. The sauce is cooked with garlic, ginger, onion, tomatoes, cilantro, cumin seeds, and other spices.
We do well to cut down on sweets. Think Sizzling Brownies topped with ice cream, the saccharine smoky sweetness hangs in the air and clings onto hair and clothes. It is that good washed down with Chettinad Bru Coffee.
Freshly baked chocolate brownie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate fudge served on a hot sizzling plate. Caution, the ice cream, and fudge can be very hot.
Chettinad Bru Coffee
A smooth fresh cow milk coffee makes a perfect ending to my meals.
The Masala Tea has beautiful flavors of clove, star anise, cinnamon bark, and cardamom.
I thoroughly recommend the Chettinad Cuisine at Karaikudi as one of the best food in Penang. I am certain you will add this restaurant to the list of your regular haunts.
My friends and I keep returning to this restaurant as it is one of the best places to eat in Little India.
Karaikudi Restaurant | GPS: N05″ 24.994′, E100″ 20.424′
20, Lebuh Pasar, George Town, Penang
Telephone: 04-263 1345/ 263 1359
Business Hours: Daily, 11am-11pm; closed on Deepavali