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For that HEAVENLY DIP into coastal cuisine

Check out the food fest at The Oberoi that's happening from Monday

Chef Venu Madhav preparing himself for the task. — Photo: K. Gopinathan

IT IS common knowledge that cuisine in India changes every few hundred kilometres. What may be considered gourmet delight in the north of even a small state such as Kerala, might be dismissed as passé in the south of that same state. So, when an attempt is made to present a weeklong `epicurean delight of the Indian coast,' the first thing that comes to mind is "What a huge task!"

One, India's coastline, usually taken in bite-sized chunks by even the coffee-table traveller, is really long. Two, at the risk of repeating myself, the food in Gopalpur-on-the-Sea is vastly different from that in Kutch or even in Goa or Thiruvananthapuram or Dhanushkodi.

Chef Venu Madhav at the Le Jardin, the Oberoi is planning to lay his reputation on the line from June 14 to June 20 when he serves up a dinner buffet every evening, with food from the Indian coast.

And, that is some reputation. Apart from working at various branches of the Oberoi — from Kolkata to Mauritius, he has worked for the Peppers chain of restaurants in Bahrain and the Radisson Goa.

Passionate about serving authentic Indian cuisine, Chef Madhav takes care to see that the food served is exactly as mother would make it. Which makes his task all the more daunting.

Take for instance something as simple as the agent that lends the tangy flavour necessary in all Indian food. Tamarind takes the pride of place in the south, but the west coast, especially Goa sneers at it, preferring instead kokum. Tomatoes are used extensively in the north, but the Punjus usually prefer amchur or anardhana. Chef Madhav has decided to give us a bit of everything from the coast.

The shrimp balchao from Goa has kokum in liberal quantities, as does the mixturat nustache kodi (an interesting blend of shrimp, catfish, and becktifish), but the pesarittu rolls, stuffed with lamb are typically Andhra — delightfully spicy with Guntur chillies and tangy with tamarind.

"We've looked at a few key places and mostly familiar food," says Chef Madhav, explaining his choices. Yet, the range is extensive. From Gujarat there is the Bohra-Muslim cuisine and some Parsi dishes thrown in. Moving down, there is the Saraswat food, mostly vegetarian and some chicken and fish dishes. Goa can only be ignored at the risk of losing your job. Then comes Kerala with Moplah and Palakkad dishes followed by Tamil Nadu's famed Chettinad cuisine. Nellore from Andhra gives us a taste of fire. Oriya and Bengali dishes, too, find a mention.

If the weather permits, the bread is likely to be made on site. It would be interesting to see the Malabar parotta being given the pummelling and flipping treatment before being cooked to perfection.

Of course, given the range you can't expect all your favourites. For instance, the machhar jol of Bengal has made place for the inevitable rasagulla. But, there is simply no reason to complain. From the bhakarwadi of the west coast to the several lamb and fish chutneys of Andhra; from the avial and Malabar malakari khorma of Kerala to the paruppu urandai kozhambu or the kakarakai pulusu; the coconut rice to the sannas and appams, the bibinca to the elaneer payasam and the pPazha pradhaman, you are in for a veritable feast of all that you thought could only be made at home and not in restaurants.

Miss the festival at your own risk.


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