Most Americans are familiar with Northern Indian cuisine-the standard lunch buffet you may find at an Indian restaurant, or the menus featuring chicken tikka masala, tandoori dishes or creamy curries. Restaurants featuring the lighter and spicier fare of the south are tougher to find in smaller cities, but one opened recently on Fletcher Avenue in Tampa [address TK].
Udupi Café is a great spot to try vegetarian South Indian food. There's a good selection of dosas-crispy lentil and rice crepes served either plain or stuffed with a spicy potato mixture-that are usually eaten for breakfast in Kerala, in Southern India. If you're really hungry, go for the paper roast (ask for it to be buttered); it spans half the width of a small table. Uthappams are thicker, pancake-like versions, often containing tomatoes, onions or green chilies. Both are served with a tangy coconut chutney and sambar, a spicy lentil and vegetable stew.
If you're looking to cook South Indian food, a good spot to find ingredients is Tampa Grocery, at 805 East Brandon Blvd. in Brandon. Run by a family from Kerala, the grocery stocks a pretty comprehensive array of spices, including some not usually available at other Indian stores, such as curry leaves and molasses, and fresh fruits and vegetables difficult to find elsewhere, such as Chinese potatoes, snake gourd, drumsticks, tapioca and plantains. There are great dried and frozen snacks (try the Daily Delights beef patties or vegetarian puffs), and packets of peanut brittle, fried banana chips and imported cookies.
If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can even pick up a CD or DVD of an Indian movie to watch later.