Diverse fare from the many regions of the State come together at the Tamil Unavu Thiruvizha.
Ironically, it's easier to dig into Spanish paella than Baduga chicken curry. Even as Tamil Nadu's delicacies languish quietly in the State's fishermen's hamlets, small towns and forest villages, its city food is getting globalised. After all, survival today depends on good marketing.
Which is why the Chennai Sangamam — on in the city till January 16 — might just be Tamil Nadu cuisine's most powerful lifeline yet. A colourful carnival that brings together the State's most talented folk artistes, whether they're musicians, dancers or cooks, the Sangamam has been gaining steadily in popularity since it was introduced in 2008.
During a press conference at The Institute of Hotel Management Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition, Taramani to announce the Chennai Sangamam's food festival, ‘Tamil Unavu Thiruvizha', Fr. Jegath Gasper from Tamil Maiyam spoke about how the Sangamam works towards restoring the glory of Tamil Nadu culture, art and food.
Since the organisers of the festival work on making it bigger every year, the 2010 version will include more participants, as well as more food — if you have the energy to actually eat at all the festival venues. You can sample about 200 items, many of which you've probably never even heard of before.
A.C. Mohandas, Managing Director of TTDC, believes that this festival has the potential to draw tourists from around the world, especially considering that it coincides with the State's dance festival held in Mamallapuram, which is already a big draw. Kanimozhi, Rajya Sabha MP and convener of the Chennai Sangamam, agrees with this view, stating that all they need to be on a par with the world's big festivals now is better marketing.
In the meantime, Kanimozhi and restaurateur M. Mahadevan of Oriental Cuisines are concentrating on ensuring that the festival has a positive impact on participants.
This year, it showcases the culinary skills of 20 fisherwomen, who are being trained in food and hygiene at Winners (run by Oriental Cuisines.) Look out for them in appropriately sea-breeze swept venues such as Elliots beach and Lady Willingdon Institute.
One of the most popular features of the Sangamam is five-star food at roadside rates. This year, Mahadevan says the food will be priced at approximately Rs. 70 for a vegetarian combo meal and Rs. 90 for a non-vegetarian one. You can also pick up packaged food such as Tirunelveli halwa and Kovilpatti chikkis from the retail outlets set up at every venue.
Other highlights include Dindigul biriyani, Burmabai (famous for their pepper chicken) and creamy Madurai Jigarthanda. This year, the festival introduces the food of the Badaga hill tribe from the Nilgiris, as well as Bombay fruit ice cream.
Also, expect an extra burst of energy at the stalls, since students from nine catering institutes are showcasing regional food at every venue. Chef Damu, famous for his clay-pot cooking, has, for instance, been getting his students at the Empee IHMCT to perfect unusual dishes such as fluffy rice boiled in milk, delicate thalicha idlis and spicy nethili fish curry.
A good way to soak in the atmosphere would be to check out the White Nights planned for January 13 and 14, along Venkatnarayana Road in T Nagar. It will be closed to traffic and bustling with moving street performers and — of course — a variety of food.
It is one way of simultaneously travelling around Tamil Nadu and whizzing back and forth in time. Culinary journeys are rarely this easy.