Part of the story of how Karavalli went from being something of an anomaly when it opened in 1990 to becoming the most famous restaurant in the world, serving the traditional food of the south western coast of India, lies in the bowl of Allapuzha Fish Curry placed before me says Kaveri Ponnapa. The bright red colour is deceptive, the flavours are tart and fresh rather than fiery, with tender cubes of Seer fish immersed in a smooth sauce of spice, coconut and raw mango with refreshing hints of ginger. Instead of the usual red rice, it is accompanied by delicate, moist neer dosas, perfect for scooping up pieces of fish and soaking up the sauce at the same time.
Seated in the now familiar surroundings of a Mangalorean-style home, all dark wood and heavy chairs offset by a lush, tropical outdoor space, I have eaten this curry dozens of times over two decades, but still look forward to it, enthusiasm undiminished. No matter how many times you come back to it, the flavours remain true. Oggaraneda Aritha Pundi – the tongue twister of a name – for the tiny rice dumplings steamed and coated in a crunchy crust of popped mustard seeds, urad dal, curry leaves and a dash of sugar that served as starters, have been consumed – and the rest of my choices are arranged on a thali before me. There’s Chevod Balchao, generous chunks of extremely fresh lobster steeped in Goan vinegar and pickling spices; Southekai Pachhadi; Enne Badnekai and Maavinakai Mensukkai to get through. It’s going to be a long afternoon, but a meal at Karavalli cannot be hurried. After all, they have taken their time in mastering every one of the dishes, everything is slow-cooked, often over a wood fire in spice pastes ground by hand.
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