On Sunday I went to Little India in Artesia. I wanted to make it in time for a lunch buffet, but since I had to sleep in and take care of some other things, I had to settle for an early dinner. I went to Udupi Palace on instinct--it seemed to have some semblance of atmosphere and plenty of Indian diners. That it was vegetarian didn't hurt, either.
As an appetizer I ordered kancheepurum idli since it said "weekends only" next to it. It was also the only appetizer with no description, and I had no idea what it was, so it seemed like the logical thing to order, based on Amy's theory of trying as many new foods as possible. I learned that this dish is made of yellow split moong dhal, black pepper, cumin, asafetida, ghee, curry leaves, coriander leaves, turmeric, chilies, and ginger. I was served 2 of these fluffy yet dense cakes with a side of coconut chutney and a small bowl of rasam. Rasam is a heavily spiced lentil soup wtih a tomato and/or tamarind base. My waiter seemed very intent on giving me a second bowl in spite of my protest that I needed to save room for my entree, so I let him. Honestly, I could have filled up on my $3.50 appetizer alone even before the second bowl of soup.
I ordered vegetable korma as my main course. This is not a dish I usually order, which is why I ordered it. There were 10 curries to choose. There were a lot of other things on the menu too--dosas and uthapams--but for some reason I just don't get that excited about any bread-based course, although I probably should have. In fact, I think I definitely made a mistake in ordering. I should have either ordered one of the large plates that would have allowed me to sample everything, or a dosa. I saw other tables receiving absolutely enormous, beautiful dosas. They were quite possible 2 feet in diameter, making for quite a presentation. Given that the plates were about half the size, I imagine they were a bit of a challenge to eat, but wow, they looked cool.
My generous bowl of vegetable korma was served on a large plate along with plenty of rice, raita, a wheat tortilla-like bread, a crispy flat bread, and a mysteriously lonely single lemon pickle (which was excellent, but why did they not give me more?). I was happy about this combination plate deal. However, the rice was quite overcooked and mushy. I was too full to eat much of the dish, but it was quite good, although not mind-blowing, especially given the soggy rice.
I have 2 meals' worth of leftovers and I was out the door for $13.50. The service was mostly attentive although I was kind of confused when my meal seemed to suddenly end without my having done anything to signal that I was finished. The timing was fine, because I was full, it just seemed odd. There were still plenty of empty tables. Maybe the waitress was psychic. I went to the restroom on my way out, and unfortunately there were trash cans with discarded food and trays of dirty dishes right where I had to stand to wait. That was pretty repulsive.
You, like me, may not know much about the differences between northern and southern Indian food. According to marimari.com, "the main difference between northern and southern Indian cuisine is that northern food is less spicy and more subtly spiced than the southern counterpart. Cow's milk is also used as a base in the north instead of coconut milk as in the south. Southern Indian cuisine is also distinctive in its use of curry leaves and mustard seed. Coconut milk, yogurt, and oil are used rather than cream and ghee, which are used by the northerners. Southern dishes called Korma are generally mild, although anything prefixed by Masala is likely to be hot."
I feel compelled to learn more about Indian food, since my grocery store and restaurant visits have made it painfully obvious to me how little I actually know about my so-called favorite food (tied with sushi, that is). Here are some websites I found helpful.
A "complete guide to Indian food"
A helpful glossary of Indian food terms
18935 Pioneer Blvd
Artesia, CA 90701