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A taste of Sangam Age

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Jacob Sahayakumar Aruni. Photo: Swahilya
Jacob Sahayakumar Aruni. Photo: Swahilya

Swahilya

Master chef waxes eloquent on ancient food varieties

CHENNAI: As one chats with chef Jacob Sahayakumar Aruni in the antique environs of Sri Krishna Sweets, Purasawalkam, it is as if time rewinds to the 2nd century A.D. of Kongunad and Nanjilnad.

As the `Panagam' is served in a copper-plated tumbler, the master chef waxes eloquent on the food varieties of the Sangam age when there were no tomatoes, onions or garlic. Coconut, coriander seeds, tamarind and pepper were the main ingredients.

The Principal of the Catering Wing of the Cheran College of Arts and Science, Kangeyam, Mr. Jacob Aruni did research on Sangam Age cuisine from sources such as the Tamil Peragarathi, Thamizhar Unavu, Bhojana Kuthukalam and Nalapakam. The effort was aided by Tamil University and the Saraswati Mahal Library.

Biriyani history

"The credit often goes to the Moghuls for introducing the biriyani. But there was a second century version of the biriyani, the `Oon Soru,' which was served as a feast for victorious warriors," he says. It wasn't until the 16th century that onions, tomatoes and spices arrived in these parts, he adds.

The Panagam is an energy drink made with palm sugar and tamarind juice. "A little tamarind quenches one's thirst and `karupatti' gave farmers the energy to work for long hours in the fields." An array of curries use turmeric and sesame as the base spices.

Mr. Jacob Aruni chose to study and later popularise the Kongunad recipes as Tamil Nadu seemed to be known only for its Chettinad varieties. Since childhood, his mother Vimala Aruni was an inspiration, once presenting him a `kadai,' that was too big for the five-year-old to hold.

Mr. Jacob Aruni speaks with great enthusiasm about the Sangam Age food fest recently organised at GRT Grand. He counts, among his inspirational figures, the executive Chef of GRT Grand N. Seetharaman Prasad and Chef Soundararajan, general secretary of the Indian Federation of Chefs Associations.

Mr. Jacob Aruni now cooks delicacies with flowers lilies, chrysanthemum, marigold, jasmine, rose, hibiscus, banana, neem and pumpkin.

"The thumb rule is, if the fragrance is acceptable, then the flower is edible.," Mr. Jacob Aruni says.

His recipes have the twang of aroma in their names... rose petals paniyaram, jasmine panneer, flower salads, fruit juice biriyani and much and much more.

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