Authentic South Indian Cuisine
BY: WILLIAM LEWIS
“Cholanad uses its identity as an ethnic South Indian restaurant to elicit authenticity through its menu, and style choices to attract and adapt to the University culture.”
- Location: 308 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
- Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM & 5 PM – 9:30 PM | Friday & Saturday 11:30 AM – 11 PM | Sundays 11:30 AM – 9:30 PM
- Contact: (800) 246-5262 | Website | Facebook
- Price: Expect to spend $15-20 for dinner, $10-15 for Lunch
- Great place to enjoy a meal with friends and family.
- Lunch specials are priced for student budgets.
- Free parking is available adjacent to the restaurant.
- You can ask to be served your meal on Banana Leaf.
Cholanad is the premier South Indian foods destination for the Chapel Hill community. In a town that is dominated by burger joints, pizza parlors, and casual dining, Cholanad has established a niche as being an authentic South Indian restaurant. Cholanad attracts people of all ages and ethnicities to its unique cuisine and atmosphere to enjoy a meal from a different culture. In a college town where restaurants are forced to adapt or die, Cholanad has held on to its authenticity by not straying from its roots.
Cholanad has occupied its Tamil architecture inspired building since it’s beginnings in 2011. Cholanad aspires to “become a world leader in the ethnic cuisine experience that includes food, ambiance, and service.” Cholanad creates its unique flavor and style by adhering to contemporary Tamil food preparation standards and promoting a traditional aesthetic that permeates through every layer of its business model. Cholanad takes its aesthetic seriously and is shown through its attention to detail in its style choices, menu in the attempt to elicit authenticity.
What is Authenticity?
Authenticity is the quality of being genuine. Authenticity in the restaurant business is the idea in the minds of customers of what they expect the culture to be defined by in terms of its food and style. Lu Fine claims that this notion of “authenticity is not an objective criterion but is socially constructed and linked to expectations.” (1) The author points out that it is important to realize that authenticity is socially constructed to adhere to our expectations of culture and ethnic foods. By understanding this, we can begin to deconstruct our notions of ethnic food and look at it through the lens of the subjectivity we place on people and food.
How is authenticity represented on the menu?
Authenticity is an issue that traditional ethnic restaurants struggle to grapple with. To please uninformed diners—and, more importantly, to maximize profits—restaurants water down recipes, substitute ingredients, and modify traditional cooking methods. In many cases, they offer items that are thought of as culturally appropriate when in reality they were constructs of the western diet. Take chicken tikka marsala for instance; chicken tikka marsala is thought of as an Indian dish but according to food historian Peter Grove was “most certainly invented in Britain, probably by a Bangladeshi chef.” (2) This point accentuates the idea that what we really want is a replica, “a true copy of our expectations” (3), our ideal of what ethnic should look and taste like.
Many guests are wary of foods that are too exotic or spicy for their taste. Cholanad does a great job of sticking to its guns regarding its menu. While the menu has western ideations of Indian cuisine such as Chicken Tikka Marsala, it overall does a great job of balancing customers’ expectations of its food with its own backbone of traditional dishes, such as Chettinad chicken curry and lamb saag, that is its true mark on the culinary scene.
Eating at an Ethnic Restaurant is a Cultural Experience
For many people, eating at an ethnic restaurant is a risky proposition. Why eat at a foreign place when there is a perfectly good pizza joint right up the street? Researchers Sukalakamala and Boyce surveyed customers about their dining experiences in ethnic restaurants and found that “customers considered going to ethnic restaurants a great way to learn about different cultures.” (4) People, especially in college towns, consider dining at ethnic restaurants as a more immersive cultural experience. For some classes, it is even required that students go to an ethnic restaurant for the purpose of examining culture and language. Cholanad’s unique menu and dining experience make it the ideal place for a cultural encounter.
Does the Atmosphere make all the difference?
Cholanad has a beautiful and stylistic building that incorporates natural light and South Indian design elements. Cholanad uses Tamil architectural elements to create an atmosphere that resembles that of a traditional South Indian setting. Tamil architecture is demonstrated through the building’s large open spaces, plant fixtures, and natural lighting. The building has large vaulted ceilings with as many skylights as normal light fixtures. The natural light not only brightens up the space during the daytime with endless amounts of sunshine, but it also maximizes visual comfort while enjoying a meal. The absence of internal lighting serves to save energy and allows for other natural elements in the space to flourish. Cholanad decorates the space with thriving trees and flowers that liven up the place.
The collective design elements of Cholanad elicit authenticity by making customers feel like they are in a culturally appropriate setting. This physical space creates a connection with their customers while they enjoy a tasty though usually spicy journey through South Indian cuisine.
Cholanad effectively captures its authenticity through a combination of factors including its menu choices and physical space to produce an environment that is welcoming to the university community. It is a model example of how to maintain the balancing act that is operating an ethnic food restaurant in a town dominated by burger joints and pizza parlors.
- Shun Lu, and Gary Alan Fine. “The Presentation of Ethnic Authenticity: Chinese Food as a Social Accomplishment.” The Sociological Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 3, 1995, pp. 535–553. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4120779.
- Chalmers, Tori. “A Brief History Of Chicken Tikka Masala.” Culture Trip, 2 Aug. 2017, theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/scotland/articles/a-brief-history-of-chicken-tikka-masala/.
- Godoy, Maria. “Why Hunting Down ‘Authentic Ethnic Food’ Is A Loaded Proposition.” NPR, NPR, 9 Apr. 2016, www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/04/09/472568085/why-hunting-down-authentic-ethnic-food-is-a-loaded-proposition.
- Sukalakamala, P. and Boyce, J. B. (2007), Customer perceptions for expectations and acceptance of an authentic dining experience in Thai restaurants. Journal of Foodservice, 18: 69–75. doi:10.1111/j.1745-4506.2007.00048.x