My wife and I usually spend our lunchtime at Malathi's almost every thursday. I have written before on Malathi's, but on breakfast , and lunch is such a treat compared to breakfast. Why Thursdays? On Thursdays, we have a choice, either normal rice or the Beriani. Malathi serves a simple, yet memorably mouth-watering Indian food for lunch.
I have stated before that there is not many Indian restaurants available in Alor Setar compared to Sungai Petani or Kulim, to me, one of the most powerful attraction to eat there is the closer-to-home taste. One might notice that the rice and dishes are not doled out in huge pots, instead they are prepared in medium and large ones. At times, if you drop by after 1:30pm, you might be disappointed to see that most of the dishes are already cleared. It is understandable as this is a family run business. The proprietors, Puspa and her husband, Maran prepares everything. The cooking is done by Puspa and her mother at their house, which is close-by. Supplies are sourced daily and cooked by Puspa and her mother. For me, the limited quantity is a plus: the taste of home-cooked is there, no mass-produced curries here. Another factor is that there are no leftovers by the time Malathi is closed, ensuring fresh start for the next day.
Some people might find that Beryani made from non-Basmathi rice can be a turn off, but for me and wife, what matters is the taste and flavor, and how well the curries and vegetables mix with the rice.
The Beryani at Malathi's might be a tad different from the usual affair, and looked much simpler. A set of Beryani has the rice, chicken in a rendang-smelling gravy, dhal and vegetables. I was made to understand that previously, the chicken was marinated and cooked with the rice, but on popular demand by customers, the chicken is cooked seperately. In a way, the chicken in its marinate gravy became a much-sought-after dish on its own. The chicken is marinated with spices and slow-cooked in a pot. It smells like rendang but has a very different taste and not spicy hot. This is the dish that usually runs out first before anything else. For me, to go there and find that the chicken dish is still available will be such a bonus. It tastes well with white rice as well.
The seperate preparations for the rice and chicken led to theorize that Malathi's Beryani is a variation of the Hyderabad Beryani, where the chicken is marinated seperately from the rice, but slow-cooked together. Then again, there are so many variations between continents, countries, regions and families. One thing for sure, this Beryani is good.
There are the basic vegetable dishes, usually 4 of them daily. The greens are usually chopped quite finely, root vegetables are usually in bite-sizes. Among my favorites are the curried or spiced pumpkin and the spiced-bitter gourd. On Thursdays, you will find combination of cucumber, onions and chilli in yoghurt, which is a sort of acar.
The curries served at Malathi's are extraordinarily good. According to Maran, his mother-in-law concocts her own curry powder. I have read that in India, you will not find curry powders in shops as each house blends their own. This makes the curries at Malathi's unique in a way as this seperates their curries from the old school Mamak shops in Alor Setar, despite both groups using no santan or coconut milk in their curries.
Basically, there are 3 types of curries: fish, mutton and chicken. The curries are not too thick, nor too watery, just perfect. The spices are well balanced, and memorable: the fish curry has that slight tangy taste of asam, the chicken curry is slightly hot and the mutton curry (actually thick sauce) is hot. The strong spices on the perfectly prepared mutton ensures a good spicy flavor without any smell from the mutton. I must say that the mutton goes perfectly with the Beryani. There's also fried fish and fried chicken. On Thursdays, there is also Ayam Masak Merah. I must admit that I have not tried it yet. I was told by my wife that the dish is good, but after kenduris where they serve Ayam Masak Merah in every one of them, my appetite for it has still not returned.
For some who loves a an additional kick to their eating experience, there is jar of fried dried chilli, available as a side dish to your rice. There is also a jar of mixed fruit acar on the table, which is a sour concoction to accompany the rice and dishes. As I have mentioned before, with the family busy preparing food on a daily basis, I find it understandable that Malathi's uses a commercially produced acar. There is always the freshly-made Rasam, the soup-like concoction made with tamarind and spices, either to have with your rice or drink it afterwards to settle the stomach.
On certain days, you will find a more Malaysian dish at Malathi's to go with your rice. At one time, I had Ayam Masak Kicap and at another, there was Sambal Tumis with Ikan Goreng. This is, after all, Malaysia.
The lunch crowd at Malathi's is a colorful mix of Indians, Malays and Chinese, usually coming in around 12:30 noon and earlier on Thursdays. At times, you'll find doctors, businessmen and even government officers enjoying the food at Malathi's.
I definitely cannot compare the ambience and the services that you might find at big restaurants and hotels, the taste and flavors Malathi offers can easily match up with them, even without the Basmathi.
Malathi is open everyday except Saturdays, with Breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., Lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 2:30 or 3:00 p.m. and at 7p.m., Malathi opens again serving light food like thosay and chapati. If you're going for lunch, try being there before 1:00 p.m.