According to Wikipedia, 42% of the UAE population is made up of Indian nationals. Out of this big majority, a major chunk of UAE’s Indian population hails from the South Indian state of Kerala.
With Malayalee tea-shops and restaurants in every nook and corner of the country, you’d be hard pressed finding a UAE resident who hasn’t had Kerala cuisine some time or another.
I’ve had my fair share of dosas, chicken chukkas, and appam with chicken stew. Yet my friend Hema, a native of Kerala, kept insisting truly authentic cuisine from her state was far more diverse than that. So last Thursday, she took us to Kerala Castle; a casual family-style joint in the heart of the residential area in Al Nahda-2, Dubai.
Kerala Castle is a well-loved eatery among the Malayalee community living in this neighborhood. The restaurant has a very loyal customer base who keep returning for the variety of dishes on offer, and best of all, the prices are exceptionally reasonable.
Dishes range from AED 12 onwards, and a hearty dinner for two can easily fit a budget below AED 100.
Hema was harping on about Kerala Castle’s Kulukki Sarbath. This is the restaurant’s most-ordered drink, and our host for the night even told us of patrons who come in just to have a few glasses of this.
The Kulukki Sarbath is Kerala Castle’s very own blend of lemon juice, pineapple juice, green chili and basil seeds. With my very first sip, I could understand what all the fuss was about! Priced at just AED 6 per glass, this is a refreshingly tangy-sweet cooler that has been accentuated with the slightest hint of green chili. The basil seeds not only look aesthetically appealing, but add body and depth to the drink. My daughter insisted on collecting everyone’s umbrellas as soon as these hit the table!
Being a novice on Kerala cuisine, I left the ordering to Hema’s expertise. For starters, we had the Prawns Tawa Chili and the Pepper Grilled Hamoor Fillet.
When the starters came to the table, I was really impressed with the presentation. Given the restaurant’s low pricing structure, the style of presentation looks very ‘fine-dining’ to me!
While other Malayalee joints ease down on the spice quotient of their dishes to suit expat tastes, Kerala Castle is far from conservative on this front and sticks with the authentic spice mixes of its heritage. Both the appetizers had a serious kick of heat, yet each of them retained their individual mix of flavor.
The Prawns Tawa Chili featured fresh, succulent prawns coated in a chili concoction that had the fiery freshness of green chili accentuated with the robust flavor of curry leaves.
The Pepper Grilled Hamoor Fillet on the other hand was bursting with the heat of freshly ground peppercorn, and the fish itself is very fresh and cooked to perfection.
Most Malayalee joints I have tried in the past seem to use frozen seafood, but at Kerala Castle, all produce are bought fresh every consecutive day. The fresh, locally sourced ingredients reflect in Kerala Castle’s superior flavor offerings, and this is probably what is keeping the crowds coming back for more.
For the mains, we had three different curries; the Thani Naadan Kozhi Curry, the Vashikaran Beef Curry and the Fish Mulakittathu.
The Thani Naadan Kozhi Curry is a well-loved chicken curry from Kerala. The curry has an onion base, and cooked in the aromatic goodness of pure coconut oil. Compared to the other two curries on the table, this one was fairly mild and was enjoyed both by us adults and my 4 year-old.
The Vashikaran Beef Curry is a beautifully aromatic Malayalee beef curry that is bursting with the robust goodness of an authentic blend of spices, and the meat itself is very flavorsome and tender.
The Fish Mulakittathu was probably my favorite for the night. Not only did this fiery red curry look dramatically appealing in the earthen brown pot it was served in, but the actual play of flavors was an unexpected medley of hot and sour that I absolutely loved. The heat of red chili is very dominating, yet the playful tanginess owing to the addition of tamarind pulp makes the heat very tolerable. The fish itself was beautifully soft and succulent, but I for one enjoyed the curry even more!
We were served flaky, golden-brown Kerala Porotas to have with the curries, but these were hardly eaten as we enjoyed the Poricha Pathri even more.
This was the first time I tried Poricha Pathri. This is a thick pancake made of rice flour, but despite its density, it is surprisingly soft and acts like the perfect sponge to soak up all these curries. One pathri is more than enough to really fill you up!
We also had an order of Kerala Castle’s Mutton Dum Biryani. To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Kerala biryani. The ones I’ve had in the past were simply a bed of salted rice with a deep-fried bit of meat or chicken placed on top. Kerala Castle is a saving grace for the state with this dish! The meat has actually been cooked into the very aromatic rice. The mutton is very tender and melt-in-the-mouth, and the special small-grained rice granules used for the dish have an earthy, tasteful flavor of its own. Highly recommended!
We were very full after the round of mains, but my curiosity for authentic Malayalee desserts had us ordering in three different sweet treats; the Neypayasam, the Kappa Pudding and the Ilaneer Tart with Honey Fruits.
The Neypayasam is a decadently thick, rich rice pudding that owes its deep amber-brown coloring to jaggery. The cold scoop of vanilla ice-cream acts as a welcome break from all that richness allowing for the second spoonful.
The Kappa Pudding is a subtly sweet tapioca puree with the thick, gooey consistency of a sinfully creamy dessert. It is moreish yet not overly sweet, and one serving can easily be shared between two.
The Ilaneer Tart with Honey Fruits is Kerala Castle’s take on fusion cuisine. ‘Ilaneer’, or tender young coconut, acts as the tart case and holds a medley of honey-sweetened fruits topped with fresh coconut cream. A coulis of kiwifruit adorns the edge of the platter. Not only did the bright green streak look visually appealing, but it tasted great too! Wish we could have had some more of that tangy-sweet kiwi flavor on the plate!
To wash down this delicious meal, we ordered Kerala-style frothy milk tea. I love the drama of how the tea is poured between cups to create the froth, and I invited myself into the kitchen to take these candid clicks of caffeine expert Noufal in action. I think my presence made him a little nervous, but he did a brilliant job and was a little too fast for my camera!
In the kitchen I also met Head Chef Vishnu. Managing Director Mr Askar credits the amazing dishes to him, and he was imported into the UAE specifically for Kerala Castle.
My dinner at Kerala Castle made me realize there’s far more to Malayalee cuisine than dosas and idli. Kerala Castle prides itself for their diverse range of authentic Malayalee dishes, they use the freshest of produce, serve up in style and all at very reasonable prices. So far this restaurant has been a hidden gem among the Malayalee community living in the neighboring area. I think its time the rest of us looked it up too!
Kerala Castle is located on Amman Road, near NMC Hospital (next to Emarat Petrol Station), in Al Nahda-2, Dubai. For inquiries and table bookings, call 04 239 0940.