Makansutra: This is how fish head curry, mutton briyani should be done
Little India restaurant shows how Indian food is done
I am quite sure that India's full range of flavours is not totally represented in Singapore yet.
I have worked with non-governmental organisations in India which represent and protect the interests of street vendors (there are reportedly up to 10 million of them there) and I have seen some stunning street fare like litti chokha (stuffed wheat dough balls) and aloo tikki (spicy potato patties) at the World Street Food Congress over the years.
But taking a walk along Race Course Road and getting inundated with menus from Kashmir, Chettinad, Punjab, Kerala and Tamil Nadu can still be intimidating for me.
This is when my Indian buddies come in handy.
With a wave of their hands, they will declare: "Stay away from that (insert popular dish name here). We are not tourists!"
This is just one situation in which I feel so lucky to have friends of all colours, creeds and statuses from all over.
Another is when a friend, Kannan Chandran, dragged me upstairs to Arunachala Bhavan's quieter, more comfortable and cooler space, which I wouldn't have known of otherwise.
The first menu item that struck me was the Ghee Roast ($5). It looks like a regular crispy rolled-up dosai, but that "ghee" edge cajoled me.
For comparison, I ordered a regular crispy dosai roll and the difference was evident.
The rich clarified butter in the ghee version made this a rather hard-to-stop starter.
The rich dips - from tomato and coconut to good old dhal - were excellent.
The Gobi Manchurian (cauliflower fritters in spicy sauce, $8) was battered and fried with bits of pleasurable crunchy edges. This beats fries in any cheese or truffle sauce any time.
Then came the first of two star dishes.
My first reaction to tasting the Mutton Briyani ($11) was that it's not a mass-produced version.
The grains were soft and fluffy, and you could sense the masala in the marinade.
The mutton chunks were supremely soft and the whole boiled egg hidden within made this sin even more worthwhile.
The Fish Head Curry ($24, serves three or four) looked similar to most served in the area, which is why you should never "eat with your eyes" in today's deceptive what-you-see-is-not-what-you-get social media world.
This rendition made me remember what a good fish head curry should be - not the overwhelmingly sharp, tangy, spicy and tamarind-y version, but a beautiful balance of all that with a rich masala fragrance.
The snapper head was fresh and the curry was comfortingly thick as we slathered it on to our rice .
So go ahead and walk into any of those Indian restaurants along Race Course Road you have not tried. Each will have a few items that will surprise and please the palate.
K. F. Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets and has his own TV shows on cable. He publishes food guides and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.