A good meaty curry is hard to beat. Being Austinites, most Indian restaurants that are available to us tend be of the South Indian vegetarian variety, such as Swad, or some posh caricature, such as the Clay Pit, we are lacking the meaty curry variety of Northern Indian or Punjabi cuisine. Sri Lankians like to eat meat, focusing on sea food, mutton, and chicken.
Thursday came, and I was very excited to have a go at some delicious spiced meats, and yummy breads. We drove North. Whether it was Easterly or Westerly, I have no clue. We could have driven around the same roundabout for thirty minutes, because I had no idea where we were in relation to anywhere else I'd been. We arrived in some neighborhood, that looked like every other neighborhood, found a parking spot, and walked a few doors down to the Chennai Masala.
At first glance, our restaurant of choice seemed like it could be anywhere; one of those gems tucked away in the back of some forgotten strip mall in Middle America where everything seems to have been transported from some ancient era. This place was classy, and the menu was long. Menu sections jumped between veg and non veg; a little bit for everyone. The customers seemed very civil, and elegant. We would undue this feeling in a few moments. The other diners shared plates of food, used utensils, and seemed reserved, or refined. We ordered eight dishes to split between three people, and devoured them all with our grubby hands in a matter of minutes.
We started with two fish cutlets. These were similar in texture to a vada patty, yet had the flavor of fish. The onion chutney that was served with them, was a great compliment to the fried goodness on this little plate.
After that teaser, our food started to arrive a bit faster: two mutton masala dosas, pepper fried mutton, fish curry, squid devil, chicken livers, seafood kottu, and some fresh chappati. We soon had covered our entire table in food, and were reaching across each other, through other's arms, around vessels of steaming curry, and under dishes being passed. It was madness. Hands clutched at bread, plunging into a dish soaking up gravy, and retracting with piece of tender meat between moist fingers. Very visceral, and fulfilling.
Some of the standout dishes of this affair were the chicken livers, the pepper mutton, the dosas, the kottu, and the fish curry. So that was most of them. The dosas were filled with braised mutton, potatoes, green peas, and carrots. This is a departure from the normal, samosa-like filling you'll get at a vegetarian eatery.
Both the livers and the pepper mutton featured a liberal amount of curry leaves, which impart the flavor of capsicum without all the heat associated with peppers. For me, the livers may have been the allstar; I kept plucking at them with bits of dosa or chappati. The kottu was a new one, it was similar to migas. Several types of seafood fried with cut up bread, with a heaping pile of fresh serranos and egg. I really enjoyed this plate of food. The fish curry was divine; little steaky bits of fish in a spicy, red gravy. It had us all going back just for the gravy.
In the end, our highly uncivilized demeanor fit well with our cuisine, and company. I would have felt bizarre to eat the fare we had with forks factored into the equation. The whole experience was made that much better by having my hands in the food. Sian and her mother, Shanez, were the perfect companions for such an endeavor; as well as guides through a cuisine that was truly foreign to me. Thanks ladies. I will have to return the favor in my hometown next time.