Saturday, January 9, 2010

Udipi Cafe, Monroeville, PA

At the end of the 1970s, George Romero put the Pittsburgh suburb of Monroeville, PA on the map by filming his Dawn of the Dead zombie classic at the local shopping mall. Around the same time, the opening of the Sri Venkateswara temple one mile from the mall was also establishing the area as one of the country's first hubs of Hindu and Indian culture. Since the 1970s, a handful of businesses have opened in the vicinity of the temple to provide services for worshipers, including, most deliciously, Udipi Cafe: an affordable diner-style restaurant specializing in South Indian vegetarian cuisine. Tam and her family have been frequenting Udipi for years, and we make regular visits for meals.

On one recent weekend afternoon, Tam dragged me out of my thesis-writing cave to enjoy lunch there with a couple of friends. I like to start my Udipi meals with a sip of salty lassi, a drink consisting of yogurt and milk laced with salt and whole toasted cumin seeds. Can you tell that I hadn't seen natural light in days?

We almost always start our meal with the dahi vada, an appetizer consisting of deep fried lentil doughnuts which are then soaked in water, chilled, and topped with yogurt, tamarind chutney, spices, and fresh coriander. This cool refreshing starter goes particularly well with a fiery bowl of Udipi's rasam.

Tam always orders her favorite, the chana bhatura (chick peas with fried bread). The chick pea curry comes served with raw onion and a piece of dough fried in oil until it blisters and puffs up with steam to an intimidatingly large size, like a deformed beach ball. It is always rushed piping hot from the kitchen to the table in its impressive inflated state.

Piercing the bhatura with a fork deflates the bread balloon which generally gets torn apart by hand and used to scoop up mouthfuls of curry and onion.

Udipi's dosas are excellent. They are large and expertly prepared: thinly spread like a crepe on a cooking surface until crispy on one side while being just thick enough (a few millimeters) that the other surface stays slightly soft. They are served wrapped or folded over a choice of curries and fillings, and accompanied with small bowls of spicy sambar and cool coconut chutney for dipping. The masala dosa filled with potato curry is particularly good.

Udipi is a no-frills Indian restaurant in the suburbs, but it probably serves the best Indian food in the Pittsburgh area. It's definitely worth a special trip, but you might want to keep your eyes on the Hindu calendar because on holidays, Udipi can be overflowing with worshipers enjoying a post-temple meal.

Udipi Cafe is located at 4141 Old William Penn Highway in Monroeville, PA. Call (412) 373-5581 for more information.


Marc said...

Great George Romero blog entry. All the talk about food kinda got in the way though. I cant wait for your review of Day of the Dead.

hungrycanuck said...

Thanks for the comment! Maybe I'll review zombie food sources?

Human brains: how to locate the tastiest.

alauna said...

oh, i miss udipi so much!! i need to find a replacement around here and fast.

hungrycanuck said...

I hope you're having luck finding a replacement. I can't believe I wasted three years in the Pittsburgh area on sub-par Indian before Tam introduced me to Udipi...