Compared to northern Indian food typical in the Bay Area, Indo-Fijian is much lighter. Curries rely on coconut milk instead of cream, and you won't find pools of grease floating to the top, though the latter has more to do with Chinappa's focus on health than it does Fiji. She meticulously trims the fat off all her meats so that when you bite into a hunk of pork, you only taste juicy meat.
You can try that pork ($7.50) on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Dishes rotate here because there isn't enough space to offer everything at once. There's a limit on stamina, too. Chinappa cooks everything herself with just four staff to help. The popular chicken curry ($7.25) is available every day, but others, like the lamb ($8.25), fish ($8.25), and beef ($.7.75) only appear certain days of the week.
The menu on the wall walks you through the ordering process: Choose your base and then decide what goes inside. While the currito seems like a burrito knock-off, it actually mimics a Fijian roti parcel.
"If you were brought up in Fiji in an Indian household, every Indian child knows for their lunch, their mom would make them a roti parcel," Chinappa said.
Roti is an Indian flatbread that can be rolled around various fillings. Chinappa couldn't find anyone willing to make labor-intensive roti, so she uses tortillas, which she said hold up better to the curries. The currito is the obvious choice if you're eating on the go, but the rice and salad bowls have some advantages. (You can also order half salad, half rice.) Namely, they allow you to taste each element separately and mix them as you like to create balance. For example, if a mouthful of spicy chutney leaves you sweating, you can cool off with some chopped cucumber or spoonful of raita, a creamy yogurt that Chinappa enlivens with shredded cucumber, carrot, garlic and just a bit of honey. If you order a currito, where everything is mashed together, the raita turns warm and the cucumbers soften, leaving you nowhere to turn when your mouth needs relief.
Several dishes, including the chicken curry and spinach eggplant saag puree (one of the vegetable sides), burn pleasantly low.
"I really tone down the spice," Chinappa said. "I'm south Indian. We're known to eat spicy foods. Here, I have to mindful of the customers and their needs."
That's why she offers the spicy chutney and explosive habanero salsa as optional add-ons. Unless you have a bionic tongue, relinquish your bravado and don't order them both at the same time.
Those who can't handle hot chiles will find refuge in the coconut fish curry. On Thursdays, white fish cooked in masala spices comes with coconut curry sauce the side, and on Fridays, most pieces of fish bathe in it. Despite the murky yellow color, it tastes much lighter than it looks and only mildly of coconut. One the best attributes of Chinappa's cooking is the balanced panoply of spices like masala (in itself a blend of spices), star anise, ginger and garlic that make it agreeably difficult to distinguish individual ones.
Unlike many Indian curries that make you bob for meat or fish in a bowl of gravy, here you'll find less soup, more protein. Loads of chicken or lamb preen in brothy sauces that cling to the meat almost like a rub. Chinappa uses a slotted spoon so that your currito won't drip. Most of the time, the meat breaks apart easily with your plastic fork but occasionally it doesn't. During one visit, slow-cooked lamb wafting of cinnamon was more tough than tender. That's a rarity, according to Chinappa, who said she fastidiously checks her meat as it cooks.
When you order a meat or fish curry, you choose one of three vegetable curries to go with it. Skip the meat, and you can have two vegetables ($6.75 for vegetarian only). Roasted potatoes, stained yellow from turmeric, yield a buttery texture that especially compliments the coconut fish curry. If you've only ever experienced gloopy saag paneer (Indian pureed spinach with cubes of white cheese,) you must try Chinappa's spinach and eggplant. It's not as pulverized as saag; you can still see the stems of the spinach. In Fiji, Chinappa would have used leaves from amurensis, an Asian grape, but she found spinach to be a good substitute. Black-eyed peas stewed in a tomato-based sauce depart from the Fijian custom of dry-frying them with potatoes.
"I don't do just what I was brought up with," she explained. "A lot of Indians come in and say, 'This is not typical Indian cuisine.' I say, 'I'm not trying to be in the box.'"
This flair for experimentation explains why you'll see yellow corn and shredded Monterey jack cheese as topping choices. While jack cheese on lamb curry sounds bizarre, it tastes comforting. Another optional topping looks just like Mexican pico de gallo, but this salad of chopped tomato, onion, and cilantro is actually a standard accompaniment. Chutneys are also traditional, available here as mild or spicy.
Before you leave Curry Wrapper's Delight and take your meal to one of several outdoor tables, grab a packet of spicy mango chile sauce.
"It tastes just like mango pickles," said Chinappa, whose friends make it.
Mango pickles are beloved in India, but for the unfamiliar, they taste strong and salty. Try the sauce, which is thicker and pastier than ketchup, in small doses mixed with other items on your plate.
In the future, Chinappa would like to serve passion fruit lassis, an Indian smoothie made with yogurt. But for now, she's sticking to bottled beverages.
"It's all about timing," she said. "I don't want to sign up for something I cannot handle and overload my coworkers and myself."
She already wakes up at 4 a.m. to start cooking at 5 a.m. Don't expect her to stay open on the weekends any time soon either — she currently spends those days working as a caregiver for the elderly.
Chinappa is not complaining, though. She just wants you to try her curry. Freelance writer Alissa Merksamer can be reached at [email protected]
Curry Wrapper's Delight
312 Arguello Street, Redwood City
Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m and 5-7 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-8 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Noise level: low
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