Tuesday night I went out to dinner with George and Sally, two wonderful friends from New York. They were on holiday in Sri Lanka for three weeks and their return flight was connecting through Chennai, so we arranged to see each other thousands of miles from home. I’m still a bit awed that we actually did meet up in India since this idea came about months ago in New York. They landed around 5:30PM and by 7:30PM we were sitting down to dinner, and by 9PM they were off to their hotel to take a quick nap before catching the 4AM flight to London. They told me that during their layover in London, they’d be meeting up with another friend for lunch. What a jet setting couple with boundless energy!
I had originally thought of meeting them at the Taj Connemara Hotel to dine at the Rain Tree where I had a wonderful meal with my friend John, whom I met in Kerala (see that post here). But I found out George and Sally had stayed there previously so I chose to go to a South Indian restaurant called Ente Keralam instead. This restaurant is operated by the same people that own Benjarong, the Thai restaurant I went to a few weeks ago for a friend’s birthday (see that post here). I had such a great time at Benjarong that I knew I could trust Ente Keralam to provide a nice ambiance and good food for us.
Having gone out to dinner quite a few times in Chennai now, I can definitively say that the locals in Chennai eat dinner late (late as in New York late, around 8:30 or later, not Spain late). So it wasn’t surprising that when we walked into Ente Keralam at 7:30, we were the only diners in the entire restaurant. Straightaway we were served steaming glasses of hot sulaimani chai. It was fragrant and spicy with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns, and dried ginger, tart and fresh from the lemon juice and mint, and just sweet enough. I forgot all about the hustle and bustle of Chennai and settled down to hear about their fabulous holiday in Sri Lanka.
Since I haven’t been drinking in India it didn’t occur to me that only the five star hotels in Chennai can and do serve alcohol. As we had no alcoholic beverage options to choose from at Ente Keralam, we discussed whether the water served by the restaurant was safe (always the first topic of conversation at almost every restaurant we go to). Sally and I ordered two different vegetable curries; Allepey curry made with mangoes and mixed veg curry in onion tomato gravy, both with coconut milk, an ubiquitous ingredient for all dishes from Kerala. George had to settle with a chicken curry without wine or beer. Sorry! But I think our stimulating conversation and the piping hot parotas more than made up for the lack of alcohol…
When we last saw each other we were all at my dear friends Christiane and Jean-Paul’s apartment in New York. Christiane and JP were kind enough to have a lovely dinner party before I set off on my journey. The nucleus of the dinner group was the few of us that met through a series of Spanish courses at Instituto Cervantes many years ago. We all come from different countries, speak multiple languages, work in different fields, and vary in age, but we all have in common our spirit of adventure and the curiosity to learn more about the world. While I don’t miss New York much, I do miss their company. It was so wonderful to see George and Sally again, and to hear firsthand how everyone is doing.
Now through the Heart of Yoga program in India, I am making new friends who are just as diverse and interesting. And Ente Keralam came to serve as our venue to say goodbye to one of those new friends, Mei. It was this fabulously stylish shoe designer from Taiwan that originally introduced me to Ente Keralam, and she suggested that we have dinner there on her last day in India. My new flat mates, who are of Indian descent from Trinidad and Tobago (via Norway), and I were more than happy to oblige. This evening at Ente Keralam, the service was a bit spotty throughout our meal; at times it felt as if our waiter was hovering over us but he missed two of our orders (an appetizer and my entrée). Regardless we had a great meal that included the famous Keralan specialty of karimeen pollichathu, spiced pearl spot (fish abundant in the backwaters of Kerala). Even I took a few bites of the fish and agreed that it was delicious. My mushroom soup (Thengapaal) was light and flavorful, but Mei’s pineapple soup (Kaithachakka Rasam) was overly spicy for my taste and almost made me choke. But one person’s poison is someone else’s honey- my spice loving couple from Trinidad and Tobago practically drank the entire bowl of the fiery brew. I loved the parotas, Mei loved the puttu, and we both liked the Kadala curry (made with chickpeas) but we all thought the potato curry was forgettable. Even without the two dishes we didn’t get, we were full and content.
My time in Chennai is slowly coming to an end so I’m almost certain that I won’t be coming back to Ente Keralam again, but I will always remember this restaurant with memories of good friends from near and far…
Ente Keralam: 1, 1st Street, Poes Garden, Kasturi Estate Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600018 Tel: 044 3221 6591