Chef Damu makes an appeal to revive traditional food that is fast disappearing from modern homes

There is heat and licks of flames rising from stoves at Nalas Aappakadai. Chef Dhamu is in action and people, who huddle around his stall, step back, as the chef pours some more oil into the hot tawa. “ This is my signature style. I begin my sessions with this item,” he says with a wink. The chef has designed the menu for Gramathu Virundhu, a traditional Tamil Nadu food festival at Nalas Appakadai. He demonstrates the cooking of Pazhamulagu prawns. His stall is a traditional straw hut with fruit koodais, ammis and earthen lamps. “I have used only traditional vessels to prepare the dishes in the menu,” he says. He adds small onions, coriander powder and curry leaf powder into the tawa. “Now this is a very traditional recipe, and we use ripe red chillies. One signature feature about traditional cuisine is that the quantity of spice is low”. He then adds the prawns and the ripe red chillies and a handful of pepper, which he says is healthier than chilli powder. Within five minutes, the Pazhamulagu prawns are ready! The hot dish wins you over with its blend of sweet and spicy taste.

The nine-day festival features recipes that no longer frequent the modern kitchens. “But these dishes are healthier and simple to make. They are actually medicinal food, which used to be recommended by the doctors for good health,” says Damu. From the thick and tangy kozhumbus to red round syrupy thaen mittais, they are all there . Kuli paniyarams, kos puttu (puttu made of cabbage), and nei choru are the other highlights. Among the 46 dishes in the menu, there are century-old recipes such as kalaan milagu varuval and kozhi soru.

Full of flavours

The meal begins with kozhi rasam, strongly flavoured with garlic and mustard. Hot rice is served on banana leaves. Rasam, sambar, curd and a variety of kozhmbus, are served in small bowls. Nethili mangha kuzhambu, a fish curry cooked with mango and tamarind pulp, will win a fish lover’s heart. The succulent chicken pieces, coated with the paste of crushed chilli, cumin and coriander powders, and finally sprinkled with crushed peanut powder, is the perfect accompaniment to the meal. So is the cabbage carrot poriyal, which comes with a generous dose of coconut. The baingan kozhumbu has a mild spicy flavour and tanginess. Chef Damu ensures that the dry ingredients he uses in his cooking are hand pounded.

There are other vegetarian delights such as ennai kathrikkai kuzhambu, kai kari thengapal curry and kadamba kuzhambu. Hot off the tawa are kal dosai, ragi dosai and godhumai dosais and aappams, parottas and chapattis. Semiya payasam, with cashew, is the right finish to this sumptuous meal. The dessert platter also has Suiyam, appam, rava laddoos and sojiappam.

Chef Damu, who is a consultant at Nalas Aappakadai, has always taken an interest in promoting the food from the villages. “These recipes are disappearing from our culture. For convenience, we are all opting for junk food available in the market. The objective of the festival is to bring these dishes from the villagers to the cities.The eating habits have changed and the number of people who knows cooking has decreased.”

Chef Damu fears that may be 10 years down the line, there won't be any kitchens in households. He says. “We must not let that happen. We should pass on our traditional recipes as well so that the art is not lost. I request parents to teach their children cooking as it is important to good health.”

The festival is on till June 2, from 11 a.m. to 3.30 p.m., and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. The chef will also give free demonstrations of cooking the traditional dishes on Wednesday. For details call: 90947-89789.