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The Pork Curries at Hoysala Are Worth the Trip to New Jersey

This menu is loaded with wonderful surprises

The cuisines of South India have arrived in the New York area in a big way, beginning with the all-vegetarian menu of restaurants specializing in dosas, and continuing with ones that meticulously craft the meat-bearing biryanis associated with Hyderabad and Bangalore. Gradually, the distinctive cuisines of Chennai, Chettinad, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala have emerged in places like Eastern Queens, Manhattan’s Curry Hill, Jersey City, and Iselin. But a lesser-known South Indian hot spot is currently underway in Somerset, New Jersey, and one of its anchors is Hoysala.

The name itself refers to a South Indian kingdom occupying parts of modern day Karnataka and Tamil Nadu that saw its heyday in the 10th through the 14th centuries. The region is known for its coconut and mango groves, as well as its coffee plantations. Somerset’s Hoysala specializes in the cuisines of those southwestern Indian states, adding food from adjacent Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. It makes a heady menu mix, with some startling dishes heretofore unseen in the metropolitan area.

Situated in a tree-shaded strip mall overlooking JFK Boulevard, Hoysala presents a towering façade that might be mistaken for a movie theater, with two large dining rooms inside, outfitted in rich greens, yellows, and reds. Paintings of the Hoysala kingdom’s famous temples line the walls. Every day a buffet provides around two-dozen dishes ($13.95 per person), including many things from the a la carte menu.

Yengai is one of them, baby eggplants stuffed with peanuts and sesame seeds bobbing in a tamarind gravy, tasting something like a tart peanut-butter sandwich. Malnad goat is also regularly found on the buffet: verdant green tidbits flavored with cilantro and green chiles, heated-up with cracked black peppercorns. Karavali chicken constitutes another specialty, poultry in a mellow sauce of coconut and sun-dried tomatoes. The menu at Hoysala is loaded with wonderful surprises.

Gojju is an unusual sweet-and-sour vegetarian curry of pineapple and green peppers from South Karnataka; a version made with okra is also available. There are dosas and idlis, of course, reflecting an aspect of southern cuisine already known in New York and New Jersey. Though if you’re interested in those, you might go on Wednesday’s Dosa Night. Turn instead to curd rice (laced with yogurt) or the mellifluous bisibele (rice cooked with lentils and spices).

Alluring as the buffet is, there are certain items you must order from the menu during dinner. One is a wonderful flatbread called akki roti. Flecked with cilantro, onions, and chiles and crisp around the edges, the batter is made with rice rather than wheat. Another non-buffet specialty of Karnataka is pork curries, three of which are available.

One day I went with a friend whose grandfather owns a coffee plantation in Coorg, also known as Kodagu, a hilly inland region sometimes called the Scotland of India. He was craving a certain pork curry associated with Kodagu that is accented with a fruit-based black vinegar, which darkly colors the curry. The fruit is kodampuli, and the chef at Hoysala makes the vinegar himself. When we tasted the pandi curry we were amazed — it was slightly sour, but rich and mellow, too. And it made us want to return to try the other two pork curries, which are sadly unavailable in New York City.

Hoysala Restaurant

2 John F Kennedy Boulevard, , NJ 08873 (732) 247-4300 Visit Website

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