Flavors from southern India

Naans, paneer, chana masala, and butter chicken seem to symbolize Indian food for every non-Indian out there. This cuisine, however, is only half of what India has to offer. People are hardly to blame for this misconception of Indian food, though. Restaurants like India Garden and the on-campus Taste of India have popularized the cuisine of north India, but have completely neglected the tantalizing delicacies of south India. An adventurous eater who really wants to know what Indian food is all about should tramp down to Monroeville and walk into Udipi Café.

The decor isn’t fancy. Plain wooden tables and chairs line the restaurant. The walls aren’t adorned with eye-catching wallpaper, there isn’t loud music playing in the background, there isn’t even steel cutlery; plain old plastic forks and knives sit on the tables. However, the plainness of the restaurant serves to draw the customers’ attention toward the most important part of the restaurant: the food. The minute the doors of the restaurant are opened, enticing smells waft out of the kitchen. A word of caution: Never go to the restaurant on a full stomach; it’s just not worth it.

Starting with the appetizers, one dish that one must definitely try is the assorted platter. Served with a variety of chutneys (Indian sauces that are spicy and simply amazing) are samples of medhu vadas, idlis, samosas, vegetarian cutlets, and pakoras. Medhu vadas are made of a batter of lentils and then lightly fried to a crispy golden color. When the vadas are dipped in sambar — a slightly watery curry made with a variety of spices — they soak in the curry, which renders a strong, spicy flavor. Udipi is famous for its medhu vadas. Many old timers at the restaurant agree that making the vadas crispy while retaining a certain lightness is an art the Udipi chefs know well. Next are the idlis, which are basically steamed rice cakes that taste great with sambar or green chutney.

Samosas are famous for their characteristic triangular shapes. They are filled with mostly potatoes and peas and go well with tamarind chutney, which is sweet and sour and adds a tangy twist to the spicy samosas. Veggie cutlets and pakoras can be best explained by comparing them to chicken nuggets: just replace the chicken in the nuggets with vegetables, add a few spices, and the result is a cutlet or a pakora.

Perhaps the best part about the assorted platter is that it allows the eater to try out a variety of dishes and choose what he or she wants for the main course. Although plates of medhu vadas and idlis are listed under appetizers, they make great main courses and are served with sambar and chutney. However, the more adventurous may want to try the dosas or uttapams. The dosas are thin, crispy crepes. One must order the paper dosa, simply because it looks very pretty. Like all other dosas, the paper dosa is a thin, crispy crepe, but what makes it pretty is its size. The paper dosa is huge. It stretches across the length of the table and can easily be shared between two. The masala dosa is less eye-catching, but tastes great. It is stuffed with potatoes, onions, and nuts and can be eaten with sambar or chutney.

The uttapams are made out of the same batter as the dosas, but are not as thin as the dosas; they could be called south Indian pancakes. The batter can be mixed with a variety of different items like onions, peas, tomatoes, and coconuts. The uttapams are great as the variety of vegetables adds a different taste to each uttapam.

Although dosas and uttapams are traditional south Indian dishes, Udipi also serves a variety of south Indian rice dishes. They serve tamarind rice, lemon rice, pongal avial (rice with lentils), and lastly curd rice, a bland rice mixed with yogurt, which is a great way to wash down all those spices.

Considering the great variety of food that it has to offer, this restaurant may seem like the best place to get a taste of India. Is it really Pittsburgh’s shrine for Indian food?

Udipi is good, but it isn’t perfect. For instance, it serves very poor quality north Indian food. If one craves the typical chana masala, India Garden is the better choice. Another drawback is the long wait until the food comes.

However, these are minor drawbacks. After tasting the food, anyone will agree that the food is worth the long wait.