It is a different kind of a rail journey that Parshathy J. Nath undertakes all under the roof of the Clarion Hotel

Andy Schowell Rogers, a businessman from U.K, has just tasted dosa for the first time at the Chennai Express Food Festival in Clarion Hotel. And he is head-over-heals in love with it. “The accompaniments are the best,” he tells chef Arulselvan who puts another spoon of the red and white chutney onto his plate. “I cannot decide which dip is better. Both are equally good,” says Andy as he tucks into the dosa and at the same time wipe off a tear that trickles down his cheek. “It is spicy but I just enjoy the crispiness of the dosa and the tanginess of the chutneys,” Andy declares. He is also fascinated by the way in which the dosa is prepared at the live counter.

The live food counter at the festival is designed like the compartments of a train. Vada pavs, panipuris, kathi rolls, pav bhajis, sweet polis…food typical of different states are served through the windows of the train. “This is a culinary journey that begins at Tamil Nadu, goes via Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and stops at Bombay,” smiles Arulselvan. “All our train journeys are coloured by memories of the hot, tasty food. That’s why we decided on this theme.”

His personal experience in the railway stations of India has inspired the chef to come up with an idea like this. “When you say Mumbai, images of vada pav and panipuri rush to your mind. I pay a visit to my favourite panipuri outlet whenever I get down at Mumbai.”

I travel back to my schooldays when I see the mango and guava slices sprinkled with chilly powder. These are served out of the last compartment! The guava pieces are sweet. There is also the good old kara pori and boiled peanuts.

Kadais hiss and oil splutters at the puri counter. Dough, shaped like small balls, wait in a line to fall in to the kadai. The chef serves me a puffed-up puri. It tastes just perfect with the bhindi masala from the vegetarian section.

“The best thing about this festival is that you can team up your traditional dosa and puri with gravies such as chicken tikka masala. These are combinations which you can never try in regular outlets,” points out Arulselvan.   The chef recommends the spicy Andhra pudhina chicken curry with dosa. And, it is a marriage made in heaven.

The vegetarian section throws open a wide choice of accompaniments such as pudalangai kootu, brinjal onion masala and manga varutharachathu. I polish off the puri, with the tangy manga varutharachathu.

And that’s when my nose alerts me that there is a Hyderabadi Gosht biryani somewhere down the line. It arrives in a small bowl, with the tender pieces of mutton, hiding in layers of aromatic basmati rice, flavoured in ghee. It tastes heavenly with the brinjal gravy.

If you are craving for a traditional South Indian meal, treat yourself to chitranna, Karnataka lemon rice spiced with red chillies.

I round off the sumptuous fare with sweet poli, served hot off the tawa. I relish every bit of this traditional sweet made of jaggery and ghee, silently wishing this journey never ended.

The festival is on till April 13, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. The buffet is priced at Rs. 777 for adults and Rs. 399 for children.