Authenticity is surprisingly hard to find when dining on Indian food in Britain. Restaurants, ground down by decades of ignorance and abuse, often give the public what they deserve with wilful complicity – rich, salty, creamy or tomatoey slop using meat that is only just a cut above rat.
Well, I don’t want to eat it. What I do want is simple – food cooked with love and confidence based on a deep faith in tradition, untainted by the perceived needs of the foreign (British) customer. In my experience this is often to be found on the street, so when I noticed the ‘El Shaddais Traditional South Indian Food’ sign on a flappy, pop-up tent on Sidwell Street in Exeter, I was hopeful.
El Shaddais might not look much with its camp kitchen and two plastic tables plonked on the pavement for the few who prefer a seat when they eat, but Alexander and Shyla Devadhas run a tip-top eatery from this basic set up. Here, you will find authentic home cooking from Nagercoil, a town in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu in the southernmost tip of India.
The menu is small but beautifully formed. I stopped to sit with my friend Gabrielle and we feasted on dosa, (a type of pancake made from fermented rice and lentil batter) with chicken curry that was heady with aroma of blended spices that lingered in layers on the tongue. In my rush to savour the dish, I broke two of their flimsy plastic forks, and soon gave up the cutlery to eat properly, with my fingers. We followed this with a tasty chickpea curry, sopped up with delicious savoury idli (savoury rice cakes) and washed it all down with milky tea infused with cardamom.
Alexander and Shyla enjoyed our relish in their food almost as much as we did eating it, and as we chatted, a few devotees in-the-know whipped up to their stand to rush away with a byriani or extremely reasonable rice and ‘cury’. “I can also cater for people who eat a wheat free or have food allergies,” explained Shyla with simple candour, “as everything is homemade from scratch.” Indeed, it is, and they sell home-made lime pickle and mango chutney in jars to take home too. Not to be missed.
‘El Shaddais Traditional South Indian Food’ is open Thursday, Friday & Saturday (weather depending in the winter). Look for the pop up tent on Sidwell Street on the opposite side of the road to Poundland and near John Lewis. They also cater for parties and events.
For events and special orders call 07878 852229 or email firstname.lastname@example.org