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Italian cuisine turns ‘favourite'

Pizza passion Girish Mathai. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Itty's (in Panampilly Nagar) at lunch time, or let's say slightly later than lunch and a bit earlier than tea time. A couple discuss their love life over spaghetti and pasta; two girls exchange notes on the same topic over pizza.

So, Girish Mathai, the man behind ‘Favourite', one of Kottayam's eateries, was bang on target when he decided to start an Italian eatery. Those who have eaten once at ‘Favourite' are converts, says Itty and that was the reason why when he contemplated Itty's he wanted Girish on board. Till recently ‘Favourite' at Itty's was open only from 4 p.m. onwards, but now you can feed that craving for Minestrone soup or Spaghetti a la Bolognese for brunch or lunch for that matter. So will he start a stand alone here in Kochi? The answer is a ‘not now' – but he is expanding to Thiruvalla, “places where I can reach fast.” Itty's it will be for sometime.

Cheese in moderation

Over a meal of Quatro Staggioni (Rs.250) and Pasta al Polo with tomato (Rs.170) Girish talks about how his speciality restaurant came to be. First the pizza, it is different from these assembly-line pizzas we are used to (for want of options perhaps!). Quatro is four, and it is four toppings for one pizza – chicken, mushroom, asparagus and cherry tomatoes. Toppings as in segments, not layered.

Girish informs that traditionally pizza has two crusts – thick and thin. Ours has a deliciously thin crust. There is ample cheese, not a surfeit mind you. The too much cheese on a pizza is a completely American tradition/addition. “Traditionally Italians do not use too much cheese on their pizza, it is always in moderation.”

Also, the Italians used buffalo mozzarella which is more ‘watery and has a stronger flavour' than cow mozzarella which he and others use. Why?

It is expensive and hard to find. He adds that the dough is freshly made (no preservatives!) the base is made once the order is placed and what is charming is the slight (visual) imperfection of the pizza. But one bite, and who cares?

Girish has been to Naples, the birthplace of the pizza and visited and sampled pizzas there, so he knows his penne from fusilli (two kinds of pasta). Talking about pasta, we move on to the pasta, ‘al Polo with Tomato'. It looks as beautiful as it tastes.

The spicy version is what has been recommended, so that it shall be. There are cherry tomatoes, there is basil, there are cubes of chicken, all with a coating of spicy tomato sauce – just the thing to tease your taste buds and lead you to gorge on it. It tastes as fresh as it looks.

A degree in hotel management followed by a couple of stints abroad – at a Dubai-based Italian restaurant ‘Da Vinci' under an Italian chef Ciro Palma and the second abroad a cruise liner ‘Oceana' at its Italian restaurant ‘Toscana'. As part of his stint on Oceana, he got to travel to parts of Italy for four months during the Mediterranean stretch of the cruise.

“At ‘Da Vinci' most of the diners were Indians. Italian food is similar to the kind of food that the Indian palate is used to. It is spicier unlike the bland French cuisine. Not as spicy as ours but spicy all right,” he says. Italian food is a personal favourite and that's why his speciality eatery is called Favourite, “nothing else,” he smiles.

The wonderful meal done, Girish offers tiramisu…it will have to be another day. By the way, there is a lot to choose from, be it pasta, lasagna, spaghetti, pizza and even some sandwiches and desserts too.

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 4:59:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Italian-cuisine-turns-lsquofavourite/article15124952.ece

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