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Don Appetit! Kairali’s Spicy Southern Indian Flavours

Don Douloff, Food WriterRecently, I ventured out to Scarborough, east-end Toronto’s deliciously multicultural gastronomic zone, to visit Kairali restaurant, which opened four years ago and bills itself as Canada’s first eatery serving authentic Kerala cuisine.

The cuisine of Kerala, a state in Southern India, highlights both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes (including beef, poultry and fish). Chilies, coconut, curry leaf, mustard seeds and turmeric are an integral part of the cuisine, as are cardamom, black pepper, clove, ginger and cinnamon.

Naden beef fry.

This was my first time experiencing Kerala cuisine, and Kairali’s kitchen delivered spicy, hearty, top-notch food.

Appetizers, for example, include plump and tender shrimp crusted in crunchy shredded coconut; and expertly deep-fried lollipop-style chicken winglets stained bright red with spices that delivered good heat and flavour.

A number of other dishes showed off the glories of Kerala cuisine. Tender cubes of beef, coated in Kerala spices, were cooked with tiny chunks of coconut, a wonderful combination that I’d never experienced before.

Chicken lollipops.

Tender, moist lamb came in a thick, spicy, fragrant curry. Eggplant, sweet from grilling, and then mashed and cooked in spicy gravy, was smooth, rich and irresistibly good. I also loved the fish (in this case, pomfret) coated in a thick Kerala spice paste, wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked until its flesh was superbly moist and delicate.

Crisp dosa, the classic Southern Indian crepe made from fermented rice batter, was folded around spiced potatoes and onions, and served with mint chutney. The kitchen also sent out an excellent appam (also called a hopper), a large rice-flour pancake with a soft, thick, white spongy centre and crisp, lacy edges. I delighted in breaking off pieces of the perfect pancake and using it to scoop up Kairali’s spicy food.

Kairali Special Naan.

I also really enjoyed the Kairali Special Naan. Made fresh, it was warm and chewy, flecked with chili and dotted with melted cheese, and is one of the better versions of naan I’ve had in the city.

Ras malai.

Finishing off this Kerala feast were three classic Indian desserts: gulab jamun, those melt-in-the-mouth dumplings made from a dough of powdered milk and ghee (clarified butter) and served in not-too-sweet syrup; ras malai (delicate and rich cheese dumplings served in clotted cream); and payasam, a delicious, not-too-sweet pudding served warm and made with very thin noodles, tapioca pearls and cream.

Kairali offers various catering and group dining options. The restaurant can host parties, after-parties and events on its patio, which seats 25 people.

In addition, the restaurant can cater food festivals, and can provide catered food stations at theatres and auditoriums either following or preceding performances.

Kairali can also cater events, of up to 400 people, with either buffet-style or sit-down meals.

Catering set menus are priced per-head, and can offer customized dishes not featured on the restaurant menu.

For catering and group dining information, contact Sarga at 416-288-0994 or 416-909-0994.

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