This Keralite catch-all in the Al Seeb area’s Al Bahjah Hotel is a taste of home for the South Indian population, and a familiar haunt for those craving authentic taste at affordable prices. Team Y tucks in.
Muscat’s Al Seeb Souq heaves with life when the sun goes down. Denizens of a vibrant streetscape clamour for space on streets chock-a-block with vendors offering every type of item or service available. Eye-glass shops jostle for elbow space amid oud vendors, electronic repair kiosks and juice stalls. Parking is at a premium – but it’s an area that’s best explored on foot.
Perched among its cacophony of neon signage is the Al Bahjah Hotel, a local mainstay and watering hole that’s home to Keranadu, a South Indian restaurant, the homely exterior of which evokes a sense of geographic and culinary nostalgia in equal measure. The entrance is adorned with cultural artefacts from the south of the subcontinent – hand-painted masks and pottery while the dimly-lit interiors of its family room and separate lounge areas are strung with traditional fishing nets, drums, and ships wheels that conjure the fishing culture of South India.
It’s no surprise that seafood features prominently on the menu which is, as the restaurant’s name suggests, an homage to the best dishes from the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. As we tuck ourselves behind a wooden table in one of the restaurant’s inner recesses, the electric light from the restaurant’s central fish tank emits an eldritch glow that lends the space an otherworldly ambience. We could be in the hold of a tall ship – or in the Hotel California.
Our waiter Satiesh gets us settled and started with some complimentary popcorn and fresh papadums – albeit flatter versions that are more like crispy wafers than the delicate puffs most usually associated with the accompaniment. They come served with a side of a sour green chutney and a sweeter chili version that is the clear winner.
Tonight we’re craving an easy-to-eat starter, and opt for a platter of the chicken uruval. A Mangalorean specialty, this dish hails from a little further north from the state of Karnataka and is the Indian equivalent of popcorn chicken – on flavour steroids. What arrives is a main-size portion of gushing morsels of chicken battered every so lightly and rolled in a flavoursome blend of Indian spices, tossed with roasted cashews, chilies and crispy curry leaves. Completely moreish once you dig in you won’t be able to stop popping them back.
After making quick work of the platter, a hearty helping of chicken tikka biryani arrives steaming in a copper pot to the table. Enclosed in a mountainous portion of saffron basmati rice topped with a boiled egg, are piping-hot mouthfuls of robust chicken tikka enrobed in a coating of rich spice paste. The depth of flavour is hearty and each spoonful drizzled with lashes of cooling yogurt raita are Indian comfort food at its best. We struggle to finish the portions.
Other notable Keranadu standouts are the masala dosa – easily a half-metre-long it comes stuffed with lightly spiced curried potato and sambar and coconut chutney for dipping.
Crispy, hot, flavourful and filling – job done. Lastly, no culinary journey to South India would be complete without sampling some seafood. We recommend the grilled pepper prawns which come served on a sizzling griddle and aren’t for those who can’t handle a little spice with dinner.
What Keranadu lacks in ambience it makes up for in its culinary offerings and staff who go the extra mile to make you feel like family. Because, after all, if there’s one thing South India can stake its claim to, it’s hospitality.
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