Atlanta Magazine :: October 2009 :: Spice Routes :: Southern India

Spice Routes - Southern India

Stories 1 to 5 of 7

About Southern Indian Cuisine

Right around Mumbai, which perches on the Arabian Sea below Gujarat, an implied demarcation stretches across India, separating what is considered the country’s North and South. Topography—desert, mountains, a landlocked North, and a water-encircled South—ensured that the two halves each developed unique cultures, cookery included. Southerners prize coconuts, which they value for the savory flesh, the creamy milk, and the frying oil they can derive from them. The North and South both include wheat and rice in their diets: Southerners prefer rice not just as a starch to accompany their curries, but also as flour to make steamed cakes, savory doughnuts, and the famous crepes called dosas. Atlanta’s numerous South Indian restaurants can generally be thorny to navigate if you’re searching for the fragrant, singular expressions of that tropical region’s bounty. They all integrate Northern dishes into their menus, or create dubious amalgams by, for example, slipping Punjabi creamed spinach into a dosa’s folds. Hunting South Indian flavors in Atlanta, then, becomes microcosmic: It’s all about uncovering the right dish or two in the right restaurant. Read More

Saravana Bhavan

Distress rippled through Atlanta’s Indian-food-loving community when standard-bearer Madras Saravana Bhavan closed a couple years back, and skepticism met its replacement, the similarly named Saravana Bhavan owned by a South Indian hotel chain. It may have taken a bit for the kitchen to calibrate itself, but SB is now my favorite local restaurant for a broad taste of vegetarian South India. What I specifically crave, labeled as the “special meal,” is a gorgeous thali headlined by vegetable curries made in the style of Tamil Nadu, the state at the bottom tip of the subcontinent. The flavors of black mustard seeds, herbaceous curry leaves, and pleasantly sour tamarind careen through these preparations. Go at lunchtime, when the crowd is mellow and the service is at its most attentive. 2179 Lawrenceville Highway, Decatur 404-636-4400, Read More

MGR Palace

Chef/owner Nanjunda Ram cooked dosas at Madras Saravana Bhavan, and though MGR’s menu covers a wide swath of Southern and Northern nonmeat cooking, the dramatically huge crepes still pull the spotlight. The edges of Ram’s masala dosa—a classic version heaped in the center with lumpy, almost mashed potatoes laced with cumin seeds—crackle as you break off pieces, and the crepe has a piquancy that brings to mind sourdough bread. Each bite requires a decision: Where to dip? In the sambar (a dal soup complex with tamarind), in coconut chutney, or in gingery tomato chutney? Start by sampling one at a time; you’ll likely end up triple dipping. 1825 Rockbridge Road, Stone Mountain, 770-413-1415 Read More

Amma Kitchen

This modest spot, run by a family whose patriarch is a Brahmin priest, serves a magnificent variation of dosa called pesarattu, a specialty from the state of Andhra Pradesh. Dosas are made from a fermented batter of rice flour and ground lentils, whereas pesarattu batter includes green gram (known outside India as mung bean). Its interior sports a grassy tint, and the crepe is thicker. Beyond coconut and tomato chutneys, pesarattus come with peanut chutney, a reflection of Andhra Pradesh’s bountiful peanut crop. Occasionally when I order the vegetarian thali at Amma, it will include a curry simmered with ground peanuts—a twist I’ve never encountered elsewhere. The restaurant makes fiery, complex pickles—mango, lemon, tomato—for sale at the front counter where you pay. 390 Cumming Street, Alpharetta, 770-475-7776 Read More


Zyka’s menu exhibits the sundry influences on Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh. Northern-style Muslim dishes unite with South Indian seasonings. I find Zyka’s meat and vegetable curries way too oily, but I readily glut myself on paratha made from coiled dough, goat biryani flecked with ground spices, and the scarlet, curry-leaf-strewn snack called Chicken 65, whose name has many legends but no clearly defined origin. Zyka wins the original location award: It’s housed in the former Decatur Church of Christ. 1677 Scott Boulevard, Decatur, 404-728-4444, Read More