Big cities and their big restaurants are always in the limelight. But there are smaller eateries that are diligently working towards either sharing and hence protecting their culinary legacies or opening our eyes to cuisines we never thought we’d have the opportunity to savour. These hidden gems need to be recognised. And this our list of favourite restaurants that are all set to be the next big thing in India.
“Mataamal offer immediate comfort as if one is seated at a friend’s dining table,” says food blogger Amit Patnaik. Matamaal means maternal grandmother or nani’s home and hence emanates that warm homely feeling. Run by Nalini Moti Sadhu and Surender Sadhu, the restaurant specialises in Kashmiri Pandit food and serves food in a shikara like setting. The Sadhu couple help you navigate the menu and will also exchange stories about their food and culture. “Their thali (Wazwan) is perfect for sampling everything; the haak and tabak maaz are worthy of repeat orders,” says Patnaik. Kabargah – lamb ribs marinated in raw milk and fresh herbs; mutton yakhni; rogan josh; dum aloo; chok vangun – aubergines cooked in tamarind are some of the other must tries at Matamaal.
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If you ask a Lakhnawi where to eat the best kebabs and biryani, their answer will often be, “my home”. This newly opened restaurant in Qaiser Bagh comes as a breath of fresh air. Run by Sanatkada, an organisation that works to preserve the art and culture of Awadh, Naimatkhana is housed at the back of the Sanatkada store. The menu has been created by the home chefs who have been a part of the annual Sanatkada Lucknow Festival. Be enthralled by the lesser-known dished from Lucknow’s homes such as kachhe keeme ke kebab, aaloo qatli (sliced potatoes cooked in spices) with roghani tikiyan (kind of flat bread cooked in butter), khatte baingan, ghuiyan ka salan, and yaqni pulao.
No more than six years old, this seafood restaurant in Mangalore runs its affairs akin to a typical lunch home. You are served a rice plate with sambar, rasam, dry bhaji, and fish curry. Add to it one of their seafood specialities caught fresh every morning. Mangaloreans love their fish during lunch and so you’ll see the eatery packed on most days. Order the fish tawa fry and crab ghee roast—a local specialty where chillies are cooked in ghee for hours and transforms into a velvety piquant masala.
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Snuggled in a small by lane of New Market in Kolkata, Kasturi is known locally for its Dhakai-Bengali food. The décor is simple, like any other family restaurant and you’re welcomed with a bowl of sliced Gondhoraj lebu. Many shades different from the biryani hotspots and gentrified Bengali haunts, Kasturi offers unique dishes that is hard to imitate—go for the kochupata chingri (prawns cooked in colocasia leaves) and bhetki paturi. If you’re new to the cuisine, the staff will happily bring bowls of dishes to show you what’s on the menu. It’s notable that not everything on the menu is available every day. If heading to New Market is a challenge, there are multiple outlets—however nothing beats the original.
This tiny Vietnamese kitchen located in Hauz Khas village in Delhi is making waves with its food as well as service. The restaurant is run by an ex-Taj chef Hana Ho (she used to head Blue Ginger at Taj Palace Delhi before it shut down) with a rudimentary set-up. The walls are adorned with bamboo hats and sewing machines double up as tables. The coloured chairs will remind you of tiny, no-fuss eateries in Ho Chi Minh City (erstwhile Saigon). The limited but more than adequate menu is a reflection of Ho’s journey as a chef. She started out at a family run restaurant back in Saigon and all her recipes have been handed down by her mother. Summer rolls, pho, bun cha, roasted pork belly are some of the favourites on the menu.
Kappa Chakka Kandhari, Chennai
A brainchild of Augustine Kurian, John Paul and chef Regi Mathew, Kappa Chakka Kandhari focuses on heirloom recipes from the home kitchens of Kerala. “The focus is purely on Kerala cuisine (with no noodles and tandoori items on the menu) that's appealing,” says food writer Saritha Rao. The trio ate at multiple toddy shops and Malayali homes to research for the recipes that have culminated in their current menu. “I love the Ramassery idli, Kandhari chilli ice cream and pineapple nendram banana masala here,” adds Rao.
Literally translating to Adam’s Teashop, Adaminde Chayakkada is designed like a teashop. With copper utensils and old radio sets as décor highlights, the restaurant has a very vintage vibe. “The place is unexpectedly pop and yet rooted embracing the Calicut teashop ethos and elevating it with a youthful energy,” says Patnaik. “The presentation is very hipster Khan Market/Pali Hill in concept but Malabari at heart. It has an interesting sit-down section with Northern Kerala classics and a cool tea-shop counter to grab snacks and sweets with your Chaya,” he adds. Pathiri, Thalassery-style biryani, meen moilee and brain fry are some of the must try dishes.
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Set inside a 130-year-old Chettiar mansion, Maison Perumal is a beautiful example of Franco-Tamil architecture. The mansion has been turned into a boutique hotel under CGH Earth property and serves local food with a gourmet touch. “A gorgeous old bungalow where you feel transported back 100 years replete with traditional taste of food and service,” says food writer Monika Manchanda who visits the restaurant every time she is in Pondicherry. “I like their Tamil seafood the most; it is their curry leaf squid I could kill for,” she adds; Karivepillai fish is a Tamil speciality where fish is wrapped in curry leaves and grilled.
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Get yourself invited to a Kashmiri wedding if you want the taste of authentic Wazwan. But, for the less fortunate who do not have Kashmiri friends, there’s Kareema. This small no-frill restaurant with chessboard floor is known for its thali-style mini Wazwan where you get to try some of the authentic dishes from a Kashmiri Muslim kitchen. The Wazwan which suffices one person comes with rista, gostaba, rogan josh, tabak maaz, methi maaz and rice.
The Korean restaurant in Aundh was set up in 2009 by Changsoo Kim and Lee Mikyoung to cater to the homesick Koreans who were working in the industrial belt of Pune. The restaurant was known as Café Maroo back then. The space is extremely cosy with low seating and pop of colour in the décor. The menu promises to offer a home-style meals that includes popular dishes such as bibimbab (Korean fried rice), kimbab (Korean sushi) and bulgogi. Keep your eye out for the fermented soy bean paste and chilli spice, a staple Korean condiment, which is made in-house and, of course, kimchi!
Image courtesy: Matamaal, Gurgaon (featured image); Kappa Chakka Kandhari
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