Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mallu Café in Philadelphia

10181 Verree Rd
This is as good as Indian food gets in the United States.  Mallu café is no café at all—you cannot buy coffee here, and the proprietor will direct you to the 4 Dunken Doughnuts nearby for coffee.  But the Malayali food that they have, food authentic to Kerala, the sultry communist state in India flush with gulf money, high education rates, procreative “half-cylinder” lungis and steamy movie heroines, is out of this world.  Our friends A&S recommended this place, this torrid, tumid space warp of a place in a coterie of shops between two roads that form a “Y”. It is about 16 miles from downtown Philly, in a far away suburb.  If you can make the trip you will not be disappointed.

Avial, beef curry, goat pepper fry—these are the three dishes that we had with rice and layered parathas.  The curries were dry, fried with spices and grated “kvwok’nuts”, this species referred to as a “coconut” elsewhere in India.  I could discern hints of Milagai Podi, the signature South Indian mixture of spices and lentils.  The food was rich without being oleaginous, and led to none of the characteristic feeling of heaviness after an Indian restaurant meal.  Whatever little oil that was used, was infused with the fragrance released by the coconuts and spices during frying, and bound the meats in a tight clasp of comraderie.  The food was hot, but as M noted, this came from the pepper, as in many traditional Indian foods, and not the use of chilli powder.  I do not recall eating with such abandonment of restraint, since the meal at Bukhara in Delhi in 2005.

The walls are painted a Kerala red, cutlery consists of plastic plates and spoons and the dishes come in plastic containers.  The proprietor flat out ignores you till you approach with trepidation to remind him that perhaps you could also have a meal while you are there.  At which point you realize that he is a friendly fellow who then pulls up a chair next to you and chats abouts his life.  This all gets irrelevant once you start eating. The cook is from Goa but the food is authentic Malayali (as swears my knowledgeable friend).  You look at the food, at the red painted walls, at the deep shadows cast on the walls, at the proprietor standing behind the counter plastered with a poster of a Mallu “dhamaka”, and you can almost feel that there is a bicycle repair shop under a coconut tree that has materialized outside, with a kid seeking a leak in a tube by dunking it in water, and a truck with OK Tata signs and no brake lights getting repairs done by the tea shop.  The pasty curries, with their concentrated heat, and their intense deep flavors will lull you into this world willingly till you see no more that you are in Philly.  This place was--to paraphrase a stuffed shirt art commentator that we heard later in the day on a visit to a van Gogh exhibit--“utterly delightful, what a joy”.  

Mallu Cafe on Urbanspoon


  1. awesome !. i am going to mall cafe just see the "limited stop" pic.


  2. The proprietor, Thomas (originally from Kuriannur) is a friend of mine- jolly, friendly guy. The place u were at is Verree Road and Bustleton Ave, close to my home in north-east Philadelphia,