Authentic South Indian fare
Alley West, Old Market area, Siem Reap
T: (086) 217 701
Kerala Restaurant — named after the southwest Indian state of Kerala — on Siem Reap’s increasingly chi-chi Alley West is as good a reason as any to give yourself a break from Khmer cuisine and treat yourself to an authentic South Indian meal in pleasant, informal surroundings and at reasonable prices.
If the suggestion of “going for a curry” conjures up images of day-glo tikka masalas washed down with gallons of lager by drunken office workers on a Friday night, think again. Keralan cuisine has about as much in common with such orgies of MSG and alcohol as a Pot Noodle has with an Imperial Chinese banquet. For starters, Keralan food is delicately spiced rather than just loaded with chillies, so you can actually enjoy the flavours of all the ingredients you are eating. Fish and seafood are important ingredients, and vegetarian dishes also feature strongly.
Kerala does not disappoint on any of these fronts. But in keeping with the region’s multiculturalism, and no doubt the demands of the Siem Reap visitor, a good selection of meat and poultry dishes is also available, cooked in a variety of South and North Indian styles.
The restaurant itself is a single, narrow, but not over-crowded room with no more than 30 covers inside and a handful of tables spilling out onto the alley. Tables are covered in white linens, subtly lit from above by industrial-clinical style metallic lamps.
The clean whitewashed walls have few adornments, save a couple of prints of elaborately made-up Kathakali performers — a traditional Keralan performing art — and the obligatory painting of Angkor Wat. The kitchen is open to the restaurant so you can be sure everything is freshly cooked, but efficient ceiling fans means you should never get uncomfortably hot.
Every table has a neat condiment set for those all-important pre-dinner poppadoms ($0.50 for two, plain or spicy), or for spreading on your freshly baked naan ($1 for plain and $2.75 for a decadent Kashmiri). If you fancy something a little more substantial to get you started, the samosas are particularly good, served in vegetable or chicken varieties and made to order. They do come in pairs so make sure you are feeling really hungry if dining alone.
Main courses that I can recommend are the Kerala fish curry at $5.25 and the Kerala Chicken curry at $4.50. I also hear that the Kerala prawn curry is excellent. In addition, I can attest to the quality of most of the vegetarian dishes given the huge number I have managed to consume in a very short space of time. Do bear in mind that coconut features quite heavily in a lot of Keralan dishes, so if you are not a fan of the sweet white flesh, do read the menu carefully.
If budget is a deciding factor then go for one of the ultra-filling “thali” plates. A thali is a selection of different dishes all served together on a stainless steel plate that bears an uncanny resemblance to a 1970s airline meal tray. The vegetable-themed Thali is $4.00 and the most expensive at $6.00 is the fish thali. Each one comes with naan and steamed rice and is top value for money. If money is no object, the most expensive items on the menu are the Australian imported beef masala at $6.50 and the Australian imported mutton madras at $7.00.
There is a very small selection of desserts, so it’s not the place to go if you hold back on the savoury so you can have a blow-out on the sweet trolley. On the upside, the draft beer here is only $0.50 a glass which puts it right up there in the cheapest beer contest with the tourist bars on Pub Street. So maybe you will catch the odd inebriate there on a Friday night after all.
Just one word of caution: The otherwise utterly charming staff are ruthless about not accepting torn or “almost torn” bank notes, and have been known to ask for extra to cover the charge they have to pay if your dollar bills are refused at the bank. Seriously. Would that stop me from coming to this excellent Indian eatery? Never — I’ll just make sure I check my dollar bills before I go.
By Simon Hare
Last updated on 29th March, 2015.