Revisit the days of yore at The Residency as it brings you healthy, local food you hardly eat any more

Everyone has heard of Kentucky fried chicken, but what about Bhavani nandu masala, or Dharmapuri iraichi curry? That seems the very point The Residency seems to be making through its last few food fests, where the focus has been on traditional food. This time it is from Kongunadu, the very place we live in.

Two-and-a-half years ago, while judging a cooking competition, Chef Ashok met C. Akilandeswari, one of the contestants. She impressed him with an unpretentious yet nutritious and tasty mooligai rasam made with 16 local ingredients. Akilandeswari won a prize and, at the same time, planted a seed of an idea in Ashok’s mind. “Why not have Akilandeswari over to The Residency and ask her to oversee a fest that served food she was so good at turning out?” That is exactly what has happened.

The Kongunadu Food Festival is mentored by the home cook from Dharapuram, and the result is an interesting spread. The recipes incorporate ingredients that once grew in the backyard of almost every home, but are now vanishing from the face of the earth. That is why this kind of fest is extra special. Herbs, spices, greens and even some not-so-common vegetables are used for the dishes. Some of them may be familiar from childhood, some not.

The vazhaipoo poriyal, podalangai kootu, sirukeerai kadayal and kollu sambar are immediately comforting. One feels the nourishment and love put into them. “Most of the ingredients we use in traditional home cooking have some health benefit or the other. Colds, coughs, indigestion, fever, body ache…These mooligais were preventive measures too,” explains Akilandeswari. But just because they are all good for health does not mean they are not tasty!

The shiny, dark brown uzhundhu kanji set off with a contrasting garnish of white coconut looks and tastes lovely. It is supposed to be nourishing, strengthening and full of good stuff so important to the health of a young woman. Thoothuvalai rasam, kuthiraivali idly samai dosai, varagu sadam, kambu paniyaram…the fest is all about the old fashioned, hearty and honest fare of our ancestors that kept them glowing with health.

The non-vegetarian goodies include Pallipalayam kozhi roast, Attur kozhi kuzhambu, ratha poriyal, nethili meen varuval and so on. The sweet spread includes adhirasam, ellu urundai, thinai maavu urundai, a delicious peanut laddoo, obattu…stuff which we always found inside the big steel dabbas at our grandmothers’…

The Residency’s effort to bring traditional cooking back into the scheme of things of modern families is laudable. My children had not heard of half the things served up at the buffet, yet they enjoyed them all. What a pity if all these dishes had escaped them altogether. “There are many more things my mother-her-in-law would make. I don’t know the half of them myself,” regrets Akilandeswari. But she is happy she is able to bring at least some of the old goodies back into the limelight through festivals such as these.

The Kongunadu Festival is on at the Pavilion till June 29. The buffet is available for dinner on weekdays and for lunch and dinner on weekends. For reservations call: 0422-2241414.