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Aviyal is a simple South Indian curry of mythical proportions. In its basic iteration, it is a creamy ginger and coconut stew with seasonal vegetables including eggplant, potatoes, squash, peas and more. Kari leaves and mustard seeds add fragrance and a lovely texture. However, aviyal is also the subject of many a legend; some say that it was invented by one of the Pandava brothers on exile during the epic Mahabharatha, others say it was invented in a hurry in a royal kitchen to please a king who wanted to feed more people than possible. Just like so many other preparations in India, every home has its own version and today, it is another curry that most South Indians associate with home comfort cooking.
The first time I ate an aviyal was at a home stay in Cochin, Kerala. Kerala is a small southern state of India, known for its spectacular natural beauty and warming curries with vegetables and coastal seafood. I arrived late one night in a beautiful blissful home surrounded by palm trees and the salty smell of the ocean. The gracious hostess had set aside a creamy colored delicious warm curry for me to enjoy before I went to bed. It was paired with lemon rice flecked with peanuts and coconut and I enjoyed every bite of it. I was determined to create something like this at Pondicheri when I returned to the US.
After some trials and errors, we created our version of the Aviyal. It had all the romantic and emotional associations of what I ate in Kerala, however, we served it in an entirely new way. We braised butternut squash, carrots, zucchini, chayote squash and cauliflower in a white coconut, ginger, kari leaf and mustard seed curry. Then we topped it with an oil flavored with red chili peppers, ginger and cumin. We balanced the fragrant curry with turmeric rice, infused with cinnamon and finished with cumin seeds. Next to this, we placed a dollop of almond chutney (made in the same style as a south Indian peanut chutney), a small handful of purple potato chips flavored in chaat masala and a mound of kale and raisin salad. The chips add the component of fun and crunch and the kale salad added a textural and healthy component.
The aviyal curry bowl remains one of Pondicheri New York’s most popular curries; we also offer it with our house Pondicheri salad instead of the turmeric rice. And for all the seafood lovers out there, we even have a big skillet of seafood aviyal with clams, scallops and shrimp added to amp up the vegetarian aviyal. It is served with a stack of squid ink uttapums (essentially pancakes made with fermented dosa batter) and a bowl of cumin scented sautéed greens. It is intensely satisfying and is some of the best Indian food you will find in NYC.
Come to Pondicheri today and find out why we’ve been called one of the Top Indian Restaurants in NYC