The New Khiladi in Town

Sruthi Chowdary has always been breaking the rules — from cooking with meat to starting a new progressive South Indian restaurant.

Meghna Rao

August 22, 2019

The New Khiladi in Town
The interiors of Khiladi restaurant. (Khiladi)

I first bit into Khiladi’s idli nugget while Tamil-American singer Vidya Vox’s mashup of Justin Bieber’s pop-hit “Sorry” and A.R. Rahman’s Carnatic-composition “Kandukonden Kandukonden” was playing. 

The restaurant, which opened Wednesday, August 21 at the corner of 11th Street and Avenue B in Manhattan, is the latest in a cohort of restaurants attempting “progressive” Indian cuisine in New York. Baar Baar, Rahi, the recently shuttered Bombay Bread Bar — many have envisioned a future for Indian cuisine beyond the standard fare. Yet, none of the aforementioned offer uttapam with avocado, or pachadi, or Andhra munchkins. Khiladi is distinct because of its focus on South Indian food.

When my grandmother would make idli, she would ferment rice batter — sometimes with peanuts, chilis, and curry leaves — for an entire night in a cool place. She would pour the batter, when ready, into circular hollows of a steel stand from Bangalore. Then, she would gingerly place the stand inside a pressure cooker. Her idli would come out soft and fluffy.

At Khiladi, the idli nuggets are most likely prepared the same way. But while I’d make a mess eating my grandmother’s idli with my hands, dipping my fingers in sambar and chutney, Khiladi’s idli nuggets are neat — fried, coated with cumin and coriander, and served on skewers.

“South Indian food has always been out there,” said owner Sruthi Chowdary, 32, who is originally from Andhra Pradesh. “It’s just that nobody knows it.”