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Ambrosia from God's own country

Kerala's white, gold-bordered cottons are stunning in their simple beauty. And it is this same blend of richness and simplicity that SUMITRA SENAPATY finds in the delectable cuisine being served up at Dakshin Restaurant's Kera la Special at New Delhi's Marriott Welcom Hotel. What's more, the unusual pairing of food and wine makes it even more special... .

DAKSHIN, THE South Indian specialty restaurant at New Delhi's Marriott Welcom Hotel is holding a Kerala Special, as part of the kitchens of India concept. The restaurant's Master Chef Shankaran, who hails from Kannur, learnt traditional cooking at a very early age from his father and grandfather. The skill of generations of maestros is evident when you sample the menu at Dakshin - ethnic artefacts, silver thalis and a tiny lotus pool add to the authenticity of the Kerala Special. The chef takes the order himself, sometimes patiently explaining the nuances of food from Kerala. Kerala cuisine draws largely from the Arabian, Egyptian, Greek and Chinese cultures. It is an exciting blend of richness and simplicity. Think of food from God's Own Country and the first

thing that comes to mind is appams. There are few foods more satisfying than appam and lamb stew. This combination is highly recommended.

The appam is, in simplest terms, a toddy fermented rice pancake. It is white and smooth, has the texture of a good idli, a little plump at the centre, thinning out on the sides, slightly sour, because of the toddy taste. You dip it in the lamb stew gravy, make it soggy and eat it. To make the appam, raw rice is soaked in water, ground with a pinch of salt, and then fermented with coconut water. The paste is cooked in coconut oil in a special caste iron appam dish, manufactured only in Kerala. The cooking is on a coal fire and only one side is cooked.

Prarambham or appetisers include the lip smacking Meen Pollichathu - fish roasted in banana leaf with spices and button onions - and Chemeen Varuthakku, a spicy dry prawn preparation. The small dosa-like adais are served with a variety of chutney - coconut, tomato and onion, tamarind, ginger and peanut. Papads and pickles are abundantly offered to the guests at regular intervals.

Those who love seafood should try Allepey Chemeen Charu, the spicy prawn curry with coconut and red chillies. Apart from the popular appams, you can enjoy this fiery prawn curry with Idiappam or string hoppers, puttu - rice flour and grated coconut steamed together - or a long standing South Indian favourite, Basmati rice with hot ghee. Vegetarian dishes include Theeyal - button onions and aubergine prepared with tamarind and red chillies - and Thakali Vattichathu - semi ripe tomato cooked in coconut and fennel. Californian Specials from Ernest and Julio Gallo, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon go surprisingly well with the spices of Kerala and many diners were happy about this unusual wine and food pairing.

In addition to food from Kerala, Dakshin soon plans to do an Andhra Special, while this hotel's Baywatch restaurant is currently hosting the winter cuisine of the Salar Jungs. Kunwar Rani Kulsum prepares the royal cuisine of Hyderabad at Baywatch and the Begum is a descendent of the distinguished Salar Jung family and is a favourite niece of the legendary Imtiaz Qureshi. Here one may sample dishes such as Naharis, Kormas, Haleem, Shabdeg, Methi Murgh and Matar Khorma to name a few. The food will feature on the buffet during dinnertime. So, now you have two good reasons to eat out in the evenings!

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