The ‘Achi Samayal’ food festival at Hotel Fortune Pandiyan, revives many forgotten recipes

Kannathal Achi from Karaikudi is chirpy. Talking and cooking are her staples, she says. Sporting the chef cap, she pours a ladle full of batter into the hot pan and a perfectly round vellai appam puffs up in no time. The spicy molaga chutney is the perfect side-kick. “I learnt cooking from my appatha,” says Kannathal, as she dishes out varieties of appams and paniyarams at Hotel Fortune Pandiyan where along with three other Achis (Avathal, Anandhi and Selvi), she is serving up Chettinad delicacies at the ongoing ‘Achi Samayal’ food fest.

“They were particular about cooking in the traditional way and I had to go hunting for an ammikkal and an attukkal,” says Dr. G. Vasudevan, Director of the Hotel, about the Achis.

“Chettinad cuisine’s unique taste comes from the roasted spices that are later ground,” says Avathal. “And when they are ground on an ammi they are more flavoursome. There is not as much heat generated as in a mixer or a grinder and hence the flavours remain intact,” she explains.

The use of plenty of red chillies instead of green, generous amounts of cumin and less of fennel, and groundnut oil instead of nalla yennai makes the taste distinct from other cuisines, says Anandhi.

To go with the food, the ambience has also been prettied up. It feels like a Chettinad mansion. A decorated bullock cart stands in a corner and there are lanterns on the tables, adding a warm glow to everything. The Achis have worked hard to revive forgotten recipes. So along with the popular Kola urundai and Attukaal soup are the less known murungaipoo thovattal and Pizhakkai pirattal . “Some of these recipes also have medicinal value. For instance, manathakkali mandi cures ulcers,” says Selvi.

Selvi firmly believes in what’s called ‘Kai manam’ and says that experienced women of those days could tell a thovattal from a thovayal, a mandi from a kolambu and a thokku from a kootu.

Traditional snacks such as kavuni arisi, ukkarai, paal paniyaram, maavurundai, susiyam and sweet paniyaram are also served at the fest. Manokalam, kai muruku and thenkuzhal make the perfect starters.

The buffet menu changes every day. The Achis also make different rice preparations such as thengai saadham, mangai saadham, paal and karuvepilai saadham. The Aachis’ will cook for you till January 26. The festival is open for lunch from 12 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. only on Sundays, and for dinner from 7 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. on all days. The buffet is priced at Rs. 600 plus taxes for adults and Rs.275 plus taxes for children below 10 years. For reservations call 4356789.