The brand spanking new Marina neighborhood in Dubai is not known for its ethnic cuisine. Although several Karama-based Indian restaurants have outlets on JBR walk, the food they offer is insipid, and sometimes literally watered down. However the Marina location of Simran’s Aappa Kadai keeps its integrity with a variety of robust, flavorful food.
This restaurant’s specialty (and namesake) is the appam – a rice pancake that is popular in the cuisines of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka. The batter is made from a mixture of rice and coconut that is slightly fermented and then cooked on a stone griddle. Introduced to the region by a community of Indian Jews, the appams have now earned their reputation as a staple of South Indian cuisine and a place in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.
As I sat at a booth in Appa Kadai’s cheerful interior, I noticed the menu looked slightly different. They have anglicized the names of their dishes from their Karama location. Aleppi Fish Curry is now Mango Fish curry. Chicken Chettinad, the popular Tamilian dish, is now Pepper Chicken. An initial worry that this interpretation would also be applied to a “westernizing” of the food was quickly dismissed when it arrived.
The Mango Fish curry had a rich coconut and tomato base. The kingfish’s delightful oiliness and meatiness was offset by the acidic nibble of the green mango. I was told they buy their fish fresh from the Deira Market every morning, so the type of fish used in the curry varies.
The Chicken Chettinad had an onion gravy that which was accentuated with the warm spices of black pepper, star anise and cinnamon.
But, the real stars of the show were the appams. They are crispy like a crepe on one side, and fluffy on the other. Like other fermented goods, they are mildly tart but the potential sharpness is mitigated by the sweetness from the coconut. They are also wonderfully spongy, which makes them an excellent vehicle for soaking up a vibrant curry.
A quick taste of the Indo-Chinese items were disappointing — they suffer from being “neither here nor there” rather than a true melding of that type of cuisine. Pungent coriander, garlic and tomato couldn’t save the bland hot and sour soup. And the Chicken Manchurian tasted like ketchup on top of fried chicken. I strongly suspect these dishes form a children’s menu. They were the only ones, other than myself, who ordered these items.
Aappa Kadai’s menu envelopes North Indian, South Indian, Indo-Chinese and Continental cuisines. This array makes us privy to the diversity of cuisine that India has to offer. There is an entire universe beyond chicken tikka. Although I admire their attempts at branching out, I think it’s best to stick to the bread and butter, or appam and ghee, of this little eatery. This is a place for appams and South Indian curries. Venture a bit off the lightly beaten JBR path, and you will not be disappointed.
Simran’s Aappa Kadai is located behind the XL residential building in Dubai Marina. A meal for two will cost 30 – 40 dhirams per person.