Ah! It's aachi's platter
The Chettinad food festival at the Taj brings together recipes from Devakottai, Pudupatti and Karaikudi
Pic. by S. R. Raghunathan
Grandma's recipes: At Southern Spice, Taj Coromandel
THEY TRAVELLED quite a distance. From the swish, well-equipped kitchens of the Taj, to the grassy forests and campfires of the villages of Devakottai, Pudupatti and Karaikudi, the Taj Coromandel's Southern Spice chefs were on a quest for authenticity.
For, although this food is dished up in hundreds of restaurants across the country, very few chefs have been able to get it right. Most of the time, Chettinad food is infused with generous ladles of sizzling oil and simmering spices. "Most chefs just deep fry and add black pepper," snorts Chef N. Vishnu Varadharajan. However, the original food, gathered from about 98 villages, became famous because of its basic, subtly balanced flavours, perfected in the place of origin. "In the villages, they use herbs, and techniques of cooking that are very different," says Varadharajan, adding that he learnt a lot about this cooking from the `aachis,' or grandmothers in the villages who use century-old recipes.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Chettinad food festival at the Taj is the fact that the chefs have managed to disentangle spicy and fiery flavours, so the food is well spiced without being torturous.
The starters include succulent prawns basking in an unusual net of flavours, roasted chicken and sun dried lamb. "They use a mixture of seasonings and herbs to tenderise the meats, so you don't need to marinate it for a long time," says Chef Varadharajan. Their herbs, which are both nutritious and medicinal, include unfamiliar names such as kalpasi, a stone fungus found on the sea shore and used as a flavour enhancer, and Marathi mukku, which looks like a miniature banana and is used for seasoning.
Besides the meats seer fish cubes redolent with cinnamon and quail, cooked on a spit there's also some very unusual vegetarian fare, of which crisp sizzling vadais, made of a blend of pulses and served with a smidgen of sweet onion chutney, stand out.
Since the people of the Chettinad region always preserved food stocks so they would never go hungry, authentic Chettinad food uses a lot of sun-dried ingredients. So there's an intensely flavoured dried ribbon swordfish on the menu, cooked with tomato, crunchy onions and huge pods of garlic. Another typical, but delicious, item is the vathal kozhambu, which is tart, spicy and peppered with tiny but robustly flavoured berries.
Dessert includes an achingly sweet payasam made with sweet potato and vermicelli, and kesari. Perhaps you could cheat at this point and wander away from the festival to plunge into an old Southern Spice favourite from the standard menu elaneer payasam, made with coconut milk, shards of tender coconut, flavoured with jaggery and sweetened with thickened milk.
The festival, which brings together recipes from Devakottai, Pudupatti and Karaikudi, is on for lunch and dinner till March 20. Call 55002827 for reservations.
Send this article to Friends by