If you are looking for the most authentic kori rootti (ni, it is not a typographical error, that is how it is spelt) in town, you cannot do better than visit Ankur Restaurant in the old Tamarind Lane, off Meadows Street, in the heart of Fort, Bombay. It is a South Kanara speciality, juicy pieces of country (gaoti) chicken in a hot thick gravy, served on a bed of crackling crisp rice rotis.
The language is Tulu, kori means chicken, rooti stands for the crisp roti. First, I will tell you about the rootti. It is made from rice flour, like a dosa, and, once made, dried in the warm West Coast sun. It becomes like a thin papad, you can break it with a snap, crumble it in your hand. But the papad has to be fried or roasted, the rootti is eaten as it is, sun dry. You get the rootti, in packets, in a few Manglorean stores in Byculla and Chembur, but the one served at Ankur comes direct from Mangalore.
Now, the chicken curry. At Ankur, the chicken used is country, and the chicken and gravy are cooked together, to extract all the taste of the fatty meat into the curry. The curry or gravy is made with a combination of South Kanara Masalas, and, of course, coconut. Chef Hanuman Zonje, a Maharashtrian, who presides over this lovely SK restaurant, told me about the curry. He uses red chillis, dhania, black pepper, jeera, a little dalchini, roasts, grinds, adds coconut to it, makes a smooth paste. Then he fries it in coconut oil, adds ginger and garlic, a daub of deshi ghee, and coconut milk (not juice but milk, squeezed out of the grated coconut). No water is added, not a drop. And the chicken is cooked in this spiked coconut milk. It makes a pretty hot curry, a little thick, almost like a gassi. A portion, priced at Rs.125, is made up of a large bowl of the curry, with four to five substantial pieces of the chicken, plus a basket piled with the roottis. You pick up a rootti, crumble it (not powder, but flat pieces) with your hand, put it in the plate, then ask the waiter to pour the curry and chicken on top of it. I prefer a lot of curry on top, to soak into the rootti and make it soft. And this is one dish you have to eat with hand. Don't worry, the restaurant provides finger bowls.
It also provides an excellent ambience to eat in. It is a small restaurant, 85 covers, a mezzanine included, a lot of polished wood and glass, square tables, straight-back chairs, neat table mats, a well-stocked bar, trained service, a mirror on which the day's specials are chalked.
The South Kanara items are the specials, there is a lot of Mughlai food also on the menu, a dum biryani from Avadh, a few Western items, such as baked crabs, happily not too glazed in cheese, lobsters in garlic and chilli, shrimps in ginger. But this piece, my 109th restaurant in the current series, shall stick to South Kanara.
Order the Pomfret Malgudi, I do not know if it is actually from Mr. Narayan's Malgudi, but it is out of this world. It is more of a starter, though a substantial starter. You get a fillet of pomfret, boneless, naturally, and on the top of the filler are spread a mince of prawns and crab meat. A little maida and a cornflour paste with turmeric, holds the combination together. Garlic, ginger, green chillis, give it a taste. The combination is made into a pattice, fried and served. You bite through the layers of prawn, crab and pomfret, and if you have got a reasonably good palate, you will taste all three. I think that since all the three meats are tender, it gives the dish a new dimension, the texture is that of a brain, lightly fried. If you are a couple, order a medium, which is four pieces (Rs.400), if alone, get a regular, two pieces and Rs.125.
Order also South Indian Yetti Rava. Yetti is prawns in Tulu, so that should simplify things for you. They are prawns, done in ginger, garlic, rice powder, a little egg, a little lemon juice, rolled in rava and fried. A portion costs Rs.150 and they also make good and fishy starters. Or you may have the prawns done Manglorean style, with grated coconut and fried onions. You eat them with a coconut chutney, which, for some reason I have not figured out, is brown in colour. Probably, chilli powder.
If you don't want the chicken for the entree, though I suggest you have it, then you have the pomfret gassi with neer tella. Chef Zanje cooks the pomfret in an earthen pot, in a coconut-based curry, with a lot of pepper corns and the juice of tamrind got from Mangalore. The gassi masalas are double fried, and the pomfret is cooked directly in the coconut milk, not separately and then put in it. This calls for a lot of dexterity, because the fish can flake easily. It is like the Goan gassi, except that it is not that sour, probably because tamarind and not the red coconut vinegar is used. The neer tella is the water dosa, made from pure rice, nothing added to it, and it is made instantly, the batter is not kept overnight to ferment. They are like pancakes, but not sweet, though I think of them more as soft and velvety chapattis. They come folded at the centre. These also you put in the plate, then pour the gassi on them. A plate of neer tella with meen gassi (yes, I am showing off costs Rs.150, and worth every rupee of it. It is like having fish curry and rice, but with a nice substitute for rice.
There are several more dishes, plus the vegetarian section, which boasts of a vegetable gassi, but I will deal with the crab and conclude. Crab is called denji and I recommend denji gassi. Before ordering consult the proprietor, Prakash Shetty, or his brothers, Kishore and Vidyadhar. Though he serves a tandoori crab, he advises against it. The tandoor dries the crab, dehydrates the meat. Have it with the gassi, a wet crab, the meat soft, the water that comes out of the crab, as it is cooked, going into the gravy. I second the advice.
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. Booking is advised for dinner, 265 4194 and 263 0393. And, in case you are going tonight, I better give you proper directions, so that you do not go about blundering in the dark. Meadown Street is one way, so you cannot enter from the Central Bank side. You go a little further down Flora Fountain, towards the university, and enter the first lane on the left, near Kandeel restaurant and opposite the Grindlays Bank. Turn left at the end of the lane and immediately enter the small lane on the right. That is Tamarind Lane and Ankur is there. And be sure to order the Pomfret Malgudi to start your meal with.