With a melange of spices, South Indian cuisines have more similarities than differences, but that statement can be overturned simply by the variety of food we have with such little difference. Kongu Nadu, a region consisting of parts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, itself has a variety of cuisines, but again with stark similarities. It maybe safe to say that Chettinad cuisine apart, the rest of Kongu is similar. Then Rakesh Raghunathan, a wonderful food writer and a food historian himself who is going around preserving temple cuisines and documenting them, completely refutes me. He says, no. Kongu is a region in itself and the small part of Chettinad coming there has had no influence on its food. So, I guess then Kongu food is just that.
But when I was gobbling down chunks of lamb and prawns, Amit and I had no care in the world. History and Geography were the last thing on our minds. Amit, another wonderful food writer was leaving Chennai and we were thinking of ONE good place to have a good conversation. We laughed and said, #$@#% conversation, where should we eat? This was his discovery. Kovai Alankar Vilas, Anna Nagar. In a quaint basement with bright yellow boards, this place is to Kongu Food, what Amma Mess is to Chettinad. By Chennai standards, that is.
While the Kayir Katti Kola Urundai may be the king of the kola urundais (minced meat balls), the ones with binders and 'adulterants' aren't too bad. The generous sized ones here, at two/plate were well spiced with little heat and melt in the mouth consistency. Oh, and yummy. The parathas with their gravy and our order of mutton fry were easy to polish off. The mutton was well done (oh yes, way different from the medium done mutton from a Michelin kitchen), well spiced and still easy to wipe clean. The Kongu Biriyani, competing an entirely different competition from the Chennai Biriyanis, with its small grained rice, brown colour and a whiff of roasted spice, possibly coming from the coconut or maybe even the cinnamon, the Kongu biriyani is in a league of its own. This place serves biriyani that is close to what you get in the restaurants in Salem and Erode. The one dish that stood out though was the Karuvapilai Prawns (Curry Leaf Prawns). Well cooked but not rubbery prawns tossed with generous amounts of curry leaf to overload your senses with one dominant flavour, but the spices quietly adding their value in the background, this was our pick.
Amit refused to let me pay and he foot the bill. I think it was about Rs. 900 for all of this plus two nannari sherbets and two spiced tender coconut water drinks.
Kovai Alankar Vilas is on the 2nd Avenue, Anna Nagar, diagonally opposite Saravana Bhavan with bright yellow boards that is hard to miss.