Flavours of the Street brings alive food in all its spicy glory

Le Meridien’s guests might not have seen anything like this in its beautifully-lit corridors. A gaudy green tubelight followed by a string of bright blue lights, hung haphazardly. But, when the hotel decided to host a street food festival, it decided to go all out to recreate the ambience of the street right inside its stylish environs.

The waiters are turned out in glimmering shirts teamed with lungis, and every now and then break into a dance to the dabbankuthu numbers playing over the stereo. Narendra Sharma is busy arranging rows of Khurja pots filled with creamy curd, chopped tomato, onion and cucumber, pomegranate, crisp boondi, papdi, sev, green chutney, sweet chutney and jeera powder.

Order a papdi chat and his gloved hands are a blur of action as he dips them in and out of the receptacles. In 20 seconds flat, he hands you a garnished plateful of chaat bursting with flavour.

Next to him is the stall selling Bengali rolls, similar to kathi rolls, but more filling. They have paneer, chicken and egg variants. Into a heated roti go a dash of sauce, some paneer and slivers of capcisum and sweet, crunchy onion. A must-try.

As I dig in, I hear the sound of clanging metal. It is the kothu parotta master at work, beating the onion-tomato-egg-masala-parotta paste into submission using a steel tumbler. “Only the tumbler can mash it well without reducing it to pulp,” he says. What you get is a fragrant spicy mix the masala just like it was made by the anna down the street, not by a five-star chef.

But that was the whole idea of the festival, says D. Balasubramaniam, chef-in-charge of Latest Recipe, where the fest is on. “We wanted to recreate the flavours of the street, but maintain the hygiene.” That explains the bottle of readymade sauce in the Bengali rolls counter and the garam masala overload in the parotta. Apparently, freshly-made sauce would have changed the very taste of the dish.

Also part of the fest are the regular dosa and idli (comfortingly soft and steaming) counters, a vada pav stall, a counter that serves noodles and Mexican beef tacos (this one’s primarily for their foreign guests). There’s a biryani stall too.

All this is in addition to the expansive regular buffet. But, the best part of the festival is that it does not overwhelm you. You pick and choose a couple of dishes, sample local flavours and move on to the main course, the buffet. The taste is near-authentic, and Bala says that’s because they got people to cook dishes they grew up eating.

In the main buffet, pastas and French fries share space with Nilgiri kurma and sheikh kebab. My vote, however, is for the Italian Rice Croquettes, a fragrant combination of rice, pepper and vegetables rolled in bread, deep fried, and drizzled with a fresh tomato-basil salsa.

Visit to the dessert counter and sample the hotel’s version of the roadside sharbat. This one’s made of cloyingly sweet orange and peach syrup. You’re too full to move but the sundal man comes ringing a bell. It’s a lovely twist to the thenga maanga pattani sundal. This one features fresh peas and groundnuts slathered with grated coconut and tempering. You just can’t say no.

But, wait, there’s more. Round off with tea from King Tea Stall. A master pulls the tea, and serves it froth and all, in glass tumblers. Take a big slurp of it before you hit the streets after all that eating!

The festival, which also features a sugar candy man and a mehendi and bangles stall, is on for dinner at Latest Recipe till June 30. On Sundays, it is open for lunch too. The buffet costs Rs. 999 (taxes extra) and Rs. 1,499 (taxes extra) with unlimited alcohol. Call 0422-2364343 for reservations.