Pamper yourself with local food at GRT’s ‘Virundhombal’

In between hot and cold sips of the welcome drinks -- paruthi paal and karupatti paanakam -- I ask the obvious question to F&B manager Dhanesh at Hotel GRT Regency. What would draw a local, who can have the same stuff at home, to pay and eat at the Virundhombal Tamil Nadu food festival? “The choice of 75 dishes everyday,” he smiles.

Ever since the food fest kicked off on June 12, the chef in-charge N.Mookaiah has been whipping up different items. “It is a challenge,” he says, and as a testimony shows the comments of an in-house guest who ate four days in a row and complimented the chef for dishing out a different menu each day.

For a Wednesday evening, the ‘Ahaaram’ restaurant is unusually packed with people. Majority of them, I am told, are in-house guests and also from outside the State whose eyes first fall on the decor and the ambience. The usher in a beautiful kanjeevaram sari, the kurutholai thoranam hanging from the ceiling, the backdrop with paintings depicting Tamil folk art specially done for the occasion on thermocol and the lilting Carnatic music in the background seem to set the mood for the traditional feast.

The choice of soup for the day is between maarkandam yelumbu charru and kaikari godhumai kurunai rasam. I skip it to preserve my appetite.

At food festivals, I find it is always easy for the non-vegetarians to straightaway dig into the evergreen items. This day it was the turn of Dindigul mutton biriyani (the chef is also preparing the famous Ambur and Thalappakatti on other days). The frequency of refills indicates it is going well much like the aachi meen chatti kuzhambu and the kongu nattu-kozhi kuzhambu. However, Chef Mookaiah recommends kaadai muttai nilakadalai masala and even shares the recipe. The non-veg main course menu also having mutton chettinad roast and meen kola vadai seems to lose out to the spread for the vegetarians. While the chef pushes for the two dry items kavipoo akhrot vada and kalan chinna vengaya vepeddu, I like the latter more along with the semi-gravy vendakai nilakadalai milagu piratal.

Some items like the varutha vendaya urundai kuzhambu and the manathakkali vatha kuzhambu, are a bit spicy for my taste buds.

The thengaipaal mundiri kuska or the idiyappam biriyani serves well with both the curries or the semi gravy dishes including inji cholam yellu vathakal and banroti palaakottai paal kathi chops.

With many of the names quite a tongue twister for a non-Tamilian, the salad bar is easy to comprehend. One can pick up the choice of dressing for the yellow and green zuchinis, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, bean sprouts, red and green corals, carrot, cucumber, iceberg and spinach. Yet, the thengai mangai pattani sundal leaves a lingering taste in the mouth.

The variety in pachadis, pickles, podis and dry condiments is exhaustive for an evening’s dining out. And not to forget the unlimited appam, dosai and kothu paratha dished out from the live counter.

“Our idea is to spoil you for choice here,” says Dhanesh. At home, you have limited items to eat and you are required to finish them all. When you come to our buffet, you have the freedom to choose the items and the quantity,” he adds. Though the items may also be made commonly at home, Mookaiah follows up, his handpicked flavours and distinct use of spices make it a celebration. He feels Chettinad cuisine has been moving fast with locals going for its spicy flavour but he daily balances the festival menu with authentic cuisines from across the State that are less spicy.

The most interesting section, if you have a sweet tooth, is the desserts. With over a dozen temptations, I narrow down to ilanir payasam, irrutukadai halwa and blueberry cream in filo cups. And quite a wholesome meal it turns out to be for Rs. 750. It is Rs.150 less for the kids. And for that complete experience of the Tamil land, wind up your meal with steaming Kumbakonam degree coffee.

Chef’s choice:

Kaadai muttai and nilakadalai masala

Ingredients:

Boiled kaadai eggs: 20; Boiled peanuts: 50 gm; Onion-tomato gravy: 250 gm; Pepper powder and coconut paste: 15 gm each; Saunf and jeera powder and ginger-garlic paste: Five gm each; Salt to taste.

Method:

Take 50 ml oil in a kadai add add curry leaves, green chillis, ginger galic paste. Saute and add the onion-tomato gravy. Spread the prepared masala over the boiled kadai egg and peanut. Add pepper coconut paste and salt and cook for a few minutes. Serve hot in the same kadai.