I was introduced to Malabari food by my Keralite husband, and have really come to appreciate the flavourful cuisine in the past few years.
There is no shortage of restaurants and hole-in-the-wall establishments selling budget-priced Malabari food in Abu Dhabi, and having tried more than I can remember, we have found one we know we can depend on for delicious fare every time.
Tucked away in a corner of the food court in Madinat Zayed, Calicut Notebook is a sizeable, family-style restaurant.
Its exhaustive à la carte menu features a variety of vegetarian, seafood, chicken, lamb and beef dishes that pair well with the flaky and crisp Malabar porotta, soft and fluffy appams, and steamed rice.
It tends to get a little busy on weekends – for good reason. That is when it serves its thali, which comes with vegetables, two kinds of fish curries, a Kerala-style chicken curry, poppadom, rice, pickles, raita (yogurt with onion, cucumber and tomato), salad and payasam (a dessert with a milk base and either rice or lentils) – all for only Dh20.
The thali makes for a hearty meal and is delicious, with all of the elements offering unique flavours to savour.
The Malabar-style biriani, meanwhile, is one of the most popular items on the menu. Served only on Fridays and Saturdays for lunch, it comes with raita, salad, pickles, papdum and payasam, at a cost of Dh15 for the chicken variety and Dh21 for the lamb.
A sizeable portion, with big chunks of meat, the biriani is fragrant and yummy. What sets it apart from regular birianis is the addition of the “masala” – a reduced gravy of spices mixed with tomatoes and onions – which adds to the taste.
On weekdays, for lunch, Calicut Notebook offers meals for Dh12 that feature a fish curry, veggies, rice, salad and raita.
As for the à la carte offerings, I’d recommend the appams with the hearty vegetable stew (a coconut gravy with vegetables, curry leaves and spices), and the steamed spicy fish in a banana leaf.
The service is friendly, and our regular server always comes over for a quick chat and keeps our favourite poppadums coming to the table. The restaurant has a casual vibe and is the kind of place where you need to roll up your sleeves and prepare to dig in with your hands.
• Calicut Notebook is in the corner of the food court at Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre, Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi. Call 02 627 8644. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito.