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Malabari Kitchen isn't the Indian experience you expect—and that's why you should go

Pictured here: mashed rice and yucca, palappam, meen curry, potato stew. (And a side of fish fry.)

Pictured here: mashed rice and yucca, palappam, meen curry, potato stew. (And a side of fish fry.) Zachary Hurdle

You walk into the restaurant, mouth already watering from thoughts of the feast that awaits.

To your right, there's the welcoming sight of the lunchtime buffet—the reason you arrived. Piping-hot naan is piled high in a tower of doughy goodness. Steaming trays brim with three different kinds of lentils, pork vindaloo laced with tender cubed potatoes, chicken curry the rousing color of a summer sunset. A gastronomic map of South Asia, all laid out before you.

This is the Indian restaurant experience you were expecting, delicious and familiar.

But Malabari Kitchen in Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside neighborhood presents a rather different Indian dining experience. Instead of condensing the varied cuisines of the Indian subcontinent into one sprawling, all-encompassing buffet, Malabari focuses exclusively on the foods of the southwestern coastal region of India: the Malabar coast.

Owners Biju Meethaleveedu and Bindhu Sankar trace their origins to Kerala, the south Indian state poised on the edge of the Arabian Sea that includes much of this coast. Malabari food evokes the history of the region as a major center in the old-world spice trade; it's typically laced with chillies, coconut, cloves, curry leaves, mustard, tamarind, and turmeric, to name just a handful of ingredients that comprise this unique culinary tradition.

At Malabari Kitchen, there may not be a buffet, but you can treat yourself to an expansive spread, generously spiced and redolent of a port town dreamscape. Entering the vibrant space, the warm scent of spices simmering in oil envelops you—a delight to the senses and a tastebud-piquing preview of what's to come. The menu is replete with options—for vegetarians and omnivores, for connoisseurs and unacquainted alike.

Mashed rice and yucca, meen curry

Mashed rice and yucca, meen curry Zachary Hurdle

Start with some mango lassi or a cup of aromatic chai—the cardamom and ginger dance on your tongue—and a portion of soft mini samosas, pakoda, or savory fritters made with black gram and rice called uzhunnu vada. For entrees, you could opt for a Malabari sandwich or biryani, both familiar foods with a Malabari twist that draw on the geography and history of the coast.

Alternately, you might try crispy palappam (a type of pancake crafted from fermented rice and coconut milk) with aromatic potato stew or egg curry. Complement this with the so-called “Arabian Dinner” featuring fiery meen curry (a tomato and onion-based fish curry with kokum, a tropical fruit native to south India), served with mashed rice and yucca and a side of tangy fish fry. Finish your banquet with some fried plantains, or rice pudding dotted with cashews and raisins.

There you have it: a well-rounded Malabari meal, right in the heart of Minneapolis’ West Bank.

An artful meditation on southwestern Indian cuisine, Malabari Kitchen brings nuance to the Twin Cities culinary landscape, challenging the well-worn boundaries of Indian food and unveiling flavors that are frequently forgotten from the ubiquitous pan-Indian buffet. As Indian food becomes increasingly popular in the metro area and beyond, Cedar-Riverside’s Malabari Kitchen more than deserves a visit.

Malabari Kitchen
414 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
612-361-6777; malabarikitchen.com