Eat the Strip

Sundari's Kitchen

1487 Merivale Rd, Nepean, ON K2E 5P3

June 10, 2023 11:33 AM

By: Ameya Charnalia


I knew Sundari’s Kitchen was doing something special when I spotted the menu during an Eat the Strip outing at an adjacent strip mall gem.

The low-key Merivale Road restaurant with a dozen or so tables serves up classic South Indian fare, including dosas, vadas, idlis and uthappam.

For the uninitiated, South Indian food is almost entirely distinct from its North Indian counterpart. So don’t expect to walk in and order butter chicken, chana masala or aaloo gobi—staples of Punjabi and North Indian food that can also be found across the border in neighbouring Pakistan.

South Indian food, on the other hand, features a lot more coconut, heat and even gunpowder.

Yes, you read that right. There’s a Tamil spice blend called milaga podi, which is translated into English as gunpowder because of its combination of lentils, seeds and fiery red chillies.

The hotter the better, right?

For this Eat the Strip adventure, we were joined by my friend Paula Simons, a veteran journalist from Alberta with whom I had the pleasure of working with during my time at the Edmonton Journal.

Apart from her impeccable writing, Paula is also a foodie with a refined palate. I’ve had the pleasure of going on several strip mall adventures with her in her hometown of Edmonton, including our annual mango run, where we’d buy several different varieties of mangoes from desi neighbourhoods in the city and try them on her sunny patio.

Disappointed by the generic and overpriced restaurants of downtown Ottawa, Paula jumped at the chance to come to my neck of the woods and try the Tamil and South Indian fare at Sundari’s Kitchen.

We arrived at the restaurant at 5 p.m.—right in time for opening. The restaurant is open until 10 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday.

We ordered the ghee sambar idli as an appetizer and the Mysore-style masala dosa and masala uthappam for the main course. We also ordered the mini tiffin as takeout for Danielle, which at $16.99 comes with idli, medhu vadai, ghee pongal, mini masala dosa and varieties of chutney, sambar and the dessert of the day.

Idli is a type of savoury rice cake, originating from South India, popular as a breakfast food in Southern India and in Sri Lanka
Idli is a type of savoury rice cake, originating from South India, popular as a breakfast food in Southern India and in Sri Lanka

The idlis were delightful. Dunked in a generous portion of sambar and ghee, they were light, perfectly spiced and whet our appetite for the main course.

Our dosa and uthappam arrived shortly afterwards. We dug in right away. The crispy uthappam—a South Indian soft pancake made of rice and lentil—was topped with onions, tomatoes, green chillies, cilantro, curry leaves and the ubiquitous gunpowder chutney.

Dosa is made by soaking rice and lentils overnight in water and then grinding it into a batter, which is fermented overnight and then pan-roasted until crispy and served with potato curry, chutneys or sambar
Dosa is made by soaking rice and lentils overnight in water and then grinding it into a batter, which is fermented overnight and then pan-roasted until crispy and served with potato curry, chutneys or sambar

Starting to feel the heat, I decided to try the crispy Mysore-style masala dosa. It was huge—taking up over half the table. Inside was a generous stuffing of spiced potatoes. I tore apart some of the dosa, scooped up the potato and dunked it the tomato and coconut chutney, gunpowder and sambar.

Delicious.

I was gobsmacked. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t sitting at a roadside stall in Chennai. This was really here, in Ottawa, around a 30-minute walk from my apartment.

The heat from the chilli paste coating the dosa was doused by the creamy coconut chutney. The crispy texture of the uthappam was perfect after the soft rice-based idlis. This was a perfectly balanced meal, tangy and spicy with one bite, smooth and creamy with another.

Unlike a typical dosa, which is crisp and crepe-like, an uttapam is thicker, with toppings
Unlike a typical dosa, which is crisp and crepe-like, an uttapam is thicker, with toppings

Paula agreed—this was some of the best food she had in Ottawa. We were so full, but we couldn’t stop eating.

The eponymously named Sundari’s Kitchen is run by Sundari and her family. She came by our table to check on us during our meal. Originally from Madurai, located in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, she prides herself on her restaurant’s use of fresh ingredients— “nothing frozen here,” she said to us, smiling—and pointed to the numerous accolades the restaurant has received in the short amount of it has been open.

We settled our bill shortly afterwards. Our total came to just over $70—tip included.

On our way out, we noticed the restaurant had filled up considerably. I overheard one person tell Sundari his family has been waiting a for months to eat at the restaurant. They had, he said, heard only good things.

They heard right.