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Kokum brings Keralan cuisine from coast of India to NYC

Posted on November 5, 2013 | by Adu Matory

Chuck Kuan for WSN

 

Kokum, the first restaurant in Manhattan to specialize in cuisine from Kerala, a coastal state in South India, opened Oct. 9.

The main man behind the operation at Kokum is owner Shiva Natarajan. Natarajan controls a miniature empire of Indian restaurants in Manhattan and each one represents a different facet of Indian cuisine — Dhaba offers typical Punjabi food, Chote Nawab showcases Mughlai cuisine and Kokum is all about Kerala.

“Many of these dishes have a southern Indian influence from my grandmother, who hailed from South India,” Natarajan said. “And it’s really healthy. We don’t use heavy oil. It’s very light, simple. The marriage of the ingredients is very good, in terms of spices.”

Chuck Kuan for WSN

The menu is mostly written in Malayalam, the official language of Kerala, but English descriptions are offered for each dish. The wide selection of vegetarian, vegan and meat dishes served can be overwhelming. However, every choice harbors true flavors of southern India. Parippu vada ($6), piquant fried lentil patties served with cool coconut dipping sauce, is one of the many enticing appetizers. Kumily chicken fry ($10), served with curry leaf, chilies and caramelized onions to complement its smokiness, is delicious as well.

For those unfamiliar with Kerala cuisine, it should be known that pumpkins, lentils and coconuts are among the most commonly used ingredients. Erissery ($13), a red pumpkin and black-eyed peas porridge, is recommended as a great introduction to Keralan food.

Natarajan emphasized the use of vegetables in the dishes at Kokum.

“You can see that many of the options are vegan,” Natarajan said. “We have a dish called theeyal ($13), which is a mix of eclectic vegetables like green bananas, yams and eggplant. We have keerai masiyal ($13), which is spinach with lentils.”

Chuck Kuan for WSN

Keralan cuisine does not typically utilize dairy products, so the Kerala chicken stew ($15) incorporates coconut milk with a medley of fresh vegetables. The result is an exquisitely creamy sauce, akin to a chicken pot pie without crust. Served with a slightly sweet rice crepe called appam, the stew warms bodies and spirits.

The lunch menu, which is attractive for college students on a budget, offers southern veg thali ($10), an assortment of small appetizers that includes breads, lentil soup, curries, greens, rice and a semolina-based dessert in small portions.

“I like [Kokum] because they offer different things than most Indian restaurants,” Steinhardt sophomore Aviv Goldgeier said. “If you want something new with that great old Indian taste … They don’t have your ordinary tikka masala.”

Kokum is located at 106 Lexington Ave., between 27th and 28th streets.

 

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Nov. 5 print edition. Adu Matory is a contributing writer. Email him at dining@nyunews.com.

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Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

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Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.

 

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Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

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Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

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