I have a friend who brags about her tolerance for all things spicy. She makes a sport of cooking with and eating the hottest peppers, the kind that make you cough when you sauté them. Caution when you rub your eyes. Take that person in your life—you know you have one, the person who always brags that they’re inured to heat—to Anjappar Chettinad in Irving and have them order the roast blue crab masala. This will be the test.
Anjappar, tucked into the corner of a strip mall off MacArthur and I-635, specializes in Chettinad cuisine from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a prized cuisine evolved by the Chettiars several centuries ago in this state of gorgeous, intricate temples (interior shots of the Chettinad Palace grace the walls as part of the slightly elevated décor). Chettinad food is known for its spice blends—30, 40, 50 spices may go into the spice mix for a specific dish, a die-hard Chettinad fan may tell you with only a slight flourish of hyberbole. And when you see the roast crab, engulfed in a masala sauce so thick with spices and sweated onions it’s like a deep clay mud mask, a true gravy, you believe it. The heat will take your head off, the dish so spicy you can barely pay attention to the flavors (and I don’t mean this in a good way; it’s a test more than a culinary experience).
While you’re here, you can order other Tamil specialties, including one of my favorite, the steamed appam fermented rice pancake served with a glass of coconut milk. There’s food from the Malabar Coast, the other side of the Indian subcontinent triangle tip, a land of seafood and waterways and coconut.
But nothing I’ve tried quite outdoes the roast crab in sheer fierce break-out-in-sweats spice, which is tempered with white rice or a flaky, pull-apart parotta, buttery and rich as Croesus. These are meager relief. The best help is a peach-colored chiku milkshake made with the tropical fruit that in Mexico is called mamey. Or if you get really desperate, there is always a stop at the McDonalds conveniently located in the same strip mall for a cool, pure-white soft-serve cone. Not that any of us would do that. I’m just suggesting options.