Karaikudi Chettinad Indian Restaurant (Toronto)

I’m not afraid to admit that when it comes to Indian food, I’m a novice. I’m not knowledgeable about which dishes originate from a particular region, the spices still meld into one on my tongue, and I haven’t a clue on how to gauge a restaurant’s authenticity. Yet, it’s a cuisine I want to get to know better. Hence, I turn to the Internet and rely on “best of” lists and crowd sourced reviews before I return to Scarborough, my childhood home, where there’s an abundance of Indian restaurants to try.

As their name may give away, Karaikudi Chettinad offers Southern Indian dishes from the Chettinad region. Wikipedia hints to me that the cuisine from this region is known for their use of masala and rice (the grain even used in wraps such as dosais). Hence, it helps narrow down my choices on Karaikudi’s extensive menu (it even includes Hakka-style dishes) to those using these two ingredients.

During lunch, a great meal for one (or even sharing) is a thali, a round platter made up of various dishes incorporating all six flavours. The chicken version ($14.99) is sparse in terms of meat (two deck-of-card sized bone-in pieces), but the curry is lovely – full of flavours and spicy enough while not overwhelming.

Still, it’s the other small bowls that draws me in; urging me to dip and experiment to my  heart’s content. By all means, I have no idea what I’m having most of the time, but it’s the different textures, flavourfuls and spiciness levels that gets me excited.

One moment it’s the lusciousness of the dal (a lentil dish) or surprising heartiness of the stewed cauliflower, then I get an unexpected bitterness from an unknown vegetable. The huge bowl of what looks like lethal green chilies turns out to be refreshing crunchy string beans, stir fried with onion and bits of egg. Crisis adverted. There are just two items to watch out for:

  • A lone spoonful of thick hot sauce, a telltale sign cautioning you to use sparingly; and
  • A light coconut and cardamom tapioca dessert. If you’re not aware this comes with the meal, you may end up spooning the sweet milky liquid over rice – I may or may not have dipped papadum into it before realizing the error.
Within the thali are plenty of options to soak up the sauces: a large bowl of airy basmati rice, a crispy papadum, and a soft wheat flour chapathi. If you’re sharing, I’d suggest adding on a couple of the parottas ($1.99 each) as well. The wrap has a soft chewy texture similar to naan, but incorporates more oil leaving lovely layers … its crevices perfect for dipping into sauces.

The chicken biryani ($12.99) looks and tastes fantastic. Somehow the rice retains a light airiness but the grains have absolutely soaked in flavours. Just scoop a forkful into your mouth and leave it there … slowly the flavours come out. Similar to the thali, there’s not a lot of chicken that actually arrives with the rice, but it’s sufficient and there’s also the customary hard-boiled egg on top.

Having heard about Karaikudi’s gigantic dosas, a crispy pancake made with a fermented rice and black gram batter, the restaurant would be my first taste of the dish. Instead of table-sized version, I opted for a regular-sized masala ($10.99) that incorporates a flavourful curried mashed potato mixture in the centre. It sort of needs the potato, which adds a heartiness to the dosa; otherwise, it would have been a mere savoury crispy crepe with chutneys and gravy.

Karaikudi Chettinad was a great stop in my journey in becoming a more experienced consumer of Indian food. It’s sizeable dining room allows for reservations and the menu seems endless – thankfully, I researched ahead of time!  You start to build an understanding of how things should taste: the biryani isn’t merely coloured rice with a faint taste of spice, rather it’s evolved into a blanket of aromatic flavours that covers the tongue.  Bite by bite, my education continues.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1225 Kennedy Road

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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