Discover more about Telugu cuisine at The Gateway

Frankly I went uneasy seeing the promotional poster of the Andhra food treat. No prize for guessing – two red chillies. Not particularly fond of hot and spicy food, I dragged myself to The Gateway Hotel this weekend on recommendation.

The Taj group has style, no doubt. Its restaurant located atop the Pasumalai Hill, the highest point in Temple Town, is one of the most civilised places to unwind over a meal. The staff is courteous (even if you are not from the media). The F&B Manager Ramana Murthy’s smile is warm. The Executive Chef V.John Praveen’s voice is full of energy.

I liked it all instantly as I walked into the dining hall with the lighting so penumbral and a cloud of spices enveloping you. I started off as a picky eater but by the end of it the lavish dinner buffet had conquered my taste buds.

Throat quenchers

I skipped the soup and stuck to the welcome drink. With Seemandhra on the boil, on offer was the mild, soothing and cool ‘Telangana shooters’! Both, the nimmakai pudhina rasam (a melange of lemon juice, honey and mint) and puchakaya rasam (fresh water melon crush) were perfect throat quenchers and also helped in defusing the fire on the tongue during the course of the meal.

Chef John took me around a variety of small counters where traditional containers and vessels used for cooking in Telugu homes, the stone pounders and the grinders and the variety of spices, condiments and ingredients that go into authentic Andhra cooking were displayed. In another corner vegetables and gongura leaves were creatively arranged in a rainbow of cheerful colours. Combining health and taste are his top priorities. And with his maiden food festival here in Madurai, he was out to prove that Andhra food could be as complex as the finest.

I stepped into the Andhra territory with Ulavacharu, a thick extract of horse gram soaked overnight and boiled to super soft consistency and mixed with the Chef’s secret variation of ingredients, like, I guess tamarind, chillies, ginger, garlic, pepper, curry and coriander leaves. It goes best with hot rice or chapattis. If you are having it for the first time, the first bite may not go down well but the taste surely grows on you with the subsequent gulps.

Though there was the perfectly cooked Andhra style pulihorai (tamarind) rice and the Indian breads reached your table on request, plain steaming hot white rice should have also been in the buffet as one was spoilt for choice with the array of podis, pickles and pachadis (chutneys) of every flavour. It was a tough order to fill with dosakaya and kandi pachidi and the nuvvula podi among my favourites.

That was till I tasted the Seema dumpala pulusu (arbi cooked in tangy gravy), muvva dondakaya (deep fried tindli tossed with rare spices), pesarattu koora (green moong pancakes simmered in tangy gravy) and the anapakai malliga pulusu (bottle gourd in tempered yoghurt). Each tempted me into a second helping. The sambar and rasam too had a distinct taste setting high culinary standards.

Familiar tastes

The treat was like a Maharaja’s with more than a dozen dishes to choose from which also included some old familiar tastes of tomato pappu (tomato and tempered lentils), bendakai vepudu (crispy okra in Telangana spices and crushed peanuts) and vankaya batani koora (baby aubergine and green peas masala).

Master Chef Rama Krishna has specially flown in from The Gateway Vijayawada to supervise the festival. And the team has delivered with some intelligent cooking. The seasoning in most of the items was mild. For a change, my eyes did not water. Only the mouth did as the meal satisfied the craving.

Some dishes, said Chef John, were spice-laden too. The menu was divided into categories that reflected the varied taste of Andhra cuisine, particularly in the non-veg section. An amalgamation of the hottest dishes like the Rayalseema mutton biriyani, the Guntur Chapla pulusu (fiery fish curry), Telengana Mamsam vepudu (spicy mutton) or the kothimiri kodi koora (a delicate combination of chicken with coriander) can have steam coming out of your ears. But if you are a lover of spices and would like to tickle your palate, then this is it.

For desserts I finished with a tidy pile of paper-thin mouth melting pootharekulu (candied rice flake), bobbatlu (jaggery and lentil stuffed pancakes cooked in ghee), paravannam (rice and milk pudding).

The sumptuous spread helped me count more charms and vanquished my initial fear. Chalk up the treat for Rs.750 per adult and Rs.400 per child plus Taxes. On till October 14 between 7.30 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. Ph: 6633000/2371601

SOMA BASU

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