You, Me, and H1-B

Udupi Palace brings South India to Bellevue.

South India is the heart of the subcontinent's high-tech industry, so in the 1990s, when Silicon Valley couldn't keep pace with its demand for computer professionals, it was South India that filled the gap. At the time, most Indian restaurants in the U.S. were (by Indian standards) expensive, full-service establishments serving North Indian cuisine. Suddenly there was a demand for inexpensive South Indianusually vegetarianfood. Udupi [pronounced "oo-Rrree-pee"] Palace opened just a few months ago, the seventh in a national chain of restaurants set up to cater to the "H1-B crowd" (named for the visa category applying to the new arrivals) and dedicated to serving good food at bargain-basement prices. It also offers local non-Indians their first real chance to savor the vegetarian cuisines of South India. The waitstaff is helpful and attentive if not overly communicative (many don't speak English well yet). You'll find most of the dish names on the menu unfamiliar, but you can learn a lot quickly by pointing at a savory-looking item being delivered to a nearby table and asking your server what it's called. South Indian dishes fall into two broad categories: Dosai, or cr갥s made from rice flour; and sappadu, various assortments of vegetables in sassy seasonings, called thali in North India. Both are accompanied by a helping of sambar, a piping hot soup made with yellow lentils. Sambar is the heart of any South Indian meal. At Udupi it is thin and hot, as it should be, and delivers a big punch of tamarind (a major flavoring in South Indian cooking) and chile pepper. It goes well with Udupi's "paper dosa" ($7.95) a long, golden brown, paper-thin cone filled with potatoes and spices. To eat it as South Indians eat at home, cut it into pieces, pour on sambar, and enjoy. But don't be shy about picking up a piece with your hands. A dosa is to South India what pizza is to Italyjust a lot spicier. Udupi's thali, too, are superb. Mine ($8.95) included okra, spicy potato curry, and mattar paneer: peas and Indian farmer's cheese served in thick curry. No way to go wrong there, though I should have asked the server to go easy on the spices. Udupi does not have a liquor license (yet), so wash down your meals with a creamy glass of mango lassi ($2.75). Oh, and for starters, don't forget to order idli ($4.25): bite-sized steamed rice cakes accompanied by several types of hot sauces. Strictly finger food. Eat with your hands.

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