The good news is that Apoorva, the Manglorean curry house at Horniman Circle, near the Bombay Samachar office, has started serving Kerala appams with chicken stew. And there are few foods more satisfying than appam and stew. It is available only for dinner, and there is a cook, exclusively for the appams, who comes in the evenings and makes them. I suggest, you try him out. Also, try out the appams. Most people in Mumbai are not familiar with them.
The appam is, in simplest terms, a toddy fermented rice roti. It is white and smooth, the texture of a good idli, a little plump at the cente, thinning out on the sides, slightly sour, because of the toddy taste. You dip it in the chicken stew gravy, make it soggy and eat it. Of course, you do not have to eat it with the chicken stew. In Kerala, they prefer it with mutton stew. And, at Apoorva, you may eat it with their ghassis, the thick curries that they pepare their surmais and prawns in. But best, eat it with their chicken stew. For one thing, it is prepared the Kerala way.
The chicken used is deshi. A paste of green chillis, khaskhas, dry coconut, coriander, a little tamarind juice is made and coconut water added to it. And the chicken is cooked in this, topped with a vaghar of curry pattas and rye. Yes, the chicken is with bones.
For the appam, raw rice, soaked in water for a half hour, is used, ground with a pinch of salt, blended with egg white, and the entire mixture fermented with coconut water (since toddy is not available). The paste is cooked in coconut oil in a special caste iron karai, fabricated only in Kerala. The cooking is strictly on coal fire. Only one side is cooked. How does it differ from dossa? The dough for the dossa is more smoothly grounded, and the dossa is cooked directly on gas, by spreading it on a tahva. And, of course, a dossa is a dossa, an appam is appam.You get the chicken stew with two appams, Rs. 50 downstairs in the general hall, Rs. 70 upstairs in the airconditioned place. The quality of the food is the same, the extra is for the service ... imported crockery, etc.Apoorva (postal address: Noble Chambers, S. A. Brelvi Road, Fort, phone - 287 0335) has recently been renovated, upstairs and downstairs, more tables, brighter, airier, new menu. There is a difference in price of around 15 per cent. Frankly, I do not carewhere I sit, I go for the food, not the air-conditioning.
The new menu also introduces patri, another Kerala favourite, a rice puri prepared with boiled rice and jeera, deep fried. It is somewhat like th Maharashtrian komdi wadi. It tastes like muug (chakli) and is also eated with chicken stew.Apoorva, however, like its other Manglorean couterparts in the Fort, is famous for its seafood. The fish and crab curries, pomfret, bhangda, surmai, the plump lady fish (kane), shell fish (teesri-clam), fried in grated coconut, lobster. Chandrahas Shetty, one of the cousins running the restuarant (the other is Devdas Alva), has given me tutions in distinguishing the prawns. The biggest are the jumbo prawns (a single prawn could weigh as much as 110 gms.), you get about 9 pieces per kilo; next, the tiger prawns, 12 to 13 pieces per kilo; then the king prawns,, 20 to 25 pieces per kilo. Finally, there are the shrimps, that are used in making the prawn curries (Manglorean, Goan, Parsi), the kapsi or white prawns. The larger the prawn, the more is the price. The smaller the prawn, the better is the taste. Check it out.
The seafood menu does not end here. There's oysters, mussels; oysters in curry (Rs. 75), with just salt and pepper, butter garlic (Rs. 120), garlic chilli (Rs. 120). Unortunately, you do not get oysters all the time, sometimes there is a beak of two to three months. But there is squid, Bombay duck, fish roe.
Try the squid masala (Rs. 80). It is a little like an octopus, but it is not an octopus and those who think it is are grossly mistaken. The octopus has legs all around it, the squid also has several legs, but under its head. For cooking, the head and legs are discarded, only the body is used, it is full of flesh, no bones. At Apoorva, it is cut in strips, for easier cooking, and it is cooked on a slow flame. The art is in the cooking, it can very easily turn rubbery.
The squid is an acquired taste, not so the Bombay duck (Rs. 55). There are few more tasty and digestible fishes than this which bears the `originl' name of the city. They cook it in the traditional style, pressing out the water, removing the single bone, then pan-frying it, in rava or otherwise. If you have not had Bombay duck, you are not a Bombayman, you are a Mumbaikar.
Finally, the gaboli, fish roe. The best eggs come from the boi, which you get in Navsari. At Apoorva, they use the pomfret roe. It is served with ghassi, the ghassi made first, then the roe inserted into it and gently cooked. This is necessary because otherwise it would crumble. How does it taste? Like a thousand eggs bursting into your mouth.