Another recent trip to outer edges of the Tube map took me to East Ham, home to one of London’s largest South Indian populations. (The other is in Wembley.) With a branch of the State of India bank, a large Bollywood cinema and a number of Hindu temples, even the non-food offerings on the high street were enough to make me feel like I had gone much further than to the edge of Zone 4.
As for the food, one could dine well without ever sitting down, grazing the stands on High Street North and nearby Green Street for chaat (combinations of potatoes, chickpeas and small hollow biscuits layered with texture-adding crisped rice or fried vermicelli made of gram flour, herbs, yogurt, spices and tamarind chutney), sweets, lentil or rice-flour steamed dumplings (vada) and what are likely far superior versions of standards snacks like pakoras and samosas. (Some particular recommendations can be found here and here.) And while the grocery stores and veg stands tend to be a bit smaller and less visually impressive than their counterparts in Tooting or Southall, they seemed to be well-stocked.
I had made the trip, however, with a very particular destination in mind: Thattukada, a small Keralan restaurant known for its thalis and fish dishes. When I arrived, the front room was filled with thirty or more women celebrating a birthday or reunion. Some women had ordered dosas, but there were also banana leaves being unfurled and waiters circulating with pots of rice, curry and dhal. I was escorted into an alcove otherwise occupied by men having a hurried lunch of idly (steamed rice cakes), chutneys and sambal.
Service was confused and confusing, but there was plenty to watch, particularly as the women began to get up to take photos, revealing jewel-coloured saris and lots of bangles. Rice arrived after a time, plumper than basmati and tinged rust red at the edges—apparently a Keralan varietal. Some minutes later, a mustard-coloured dhal, mild up front with a tickle of chilli at the back, was ladled out onto the banana leaf. A warm salad of green cabbage and shreds of toasted coconut followed, along with pakora-like clusters of what I later learned was karela, or bitter melon. This assemblage, elements of which were refilled several times over, would already have been enough for a sizeable, and very good, meal, but more followed: a dry curry of a vegetable resembling okra (sahjan or drumsticks), with a slightly stringy texture, and several wet, yogurt-based ones, possibly including green bananas. There were poppadums as well, and a sharp, sour chutney. A tiny banana arrived, which seemed to signal the end of the meal, even though the fish curry had not yet arrived. The latter did eventually make an appearance, though, and it was splendid—hot, sour, creamy with coconut and full of meaty flavours from the oily, tuna-like fish.
I left perplexed but happily full, having spent just over £5 (fish thali and chai) . A follow-up visit seems in order soon. On my list to try: netholi, an anchovy-like fish deep fried and served with onions and curry leaves and spice paste-rubbed fish roasted in banana leaf.
Thattukada now has two restaurants on High Street North. The menus are the same, but the one at 229 is intended to be more family-friendly and does not serve or allow alcohol, while the original at number 241b is licensed. Both branches are open daily for lunch and dinner. Their number is 0203 6024 303.