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The lesser known food of Muthuvan tribe

The Muthuvan thali

The Muthuvan thali  

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The simple, flavourful cuisine borrows from both Tamil Nadu and Kerala cooking styles

Chef Vellu Murugan’s pursuance of the hill tribe of Muthuvan in Madurai wasn’t as easy as perfecting the preparation of a biryani by a novice in the kitchen. His several attempts included trying to reach them directly, approaching researchers who are studying and documenting the tribe, and when everything failed he, made his father make a few calls.

“My father knew one of the families in the Muthuvan tribe. With that contact, I reached their settlement, which is usually deep in the forest and requires long and arduous hours of trekking on a predominantly single route jungle trail. However, once you reach their settlement, things are different. The people aren’t nomads or people living on tree tops. They are people who follow their own rules and governance and are extremely shy,” adds chef Vellu.

Chatting with us at ITC Kakatiya in Hyderabad during a week-long ‘Masterchef Chronicles’ food promotion, Chef Vellu presents the cuisine of the Muthuvan hill tribe. There , diners can choose from three options of thali — Saivam (veg), Asaivam (non-veg) and Matsyam (seafood).

Chef Vellu

Chef Vellu   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Before he presents the food, the chef warns, “This food is very simple. It’s made using spices that are available to the tribes naturally and those which they can grow. However, there is a generous use of green chillies, ginger, raw turmeric, cinnamon and lemon grass.”

Discussing more about how to reach the tribesmen of Muthuvan, he says, “since the village falls in the Tamil Nadu and Kerala border, one has to approach the government of their respective states for permission. Usually, researchers and those who are keen in knowing and understanding their lifestyle ask for permissions. The settlements are not open to tourists all year round and when there are visitors, they are mostly hosted and greeted in their village square by men. The women stay in a sort of ‘purdah’ system for strangers.”

Taking the food discussion forward, Vellu says that within a limited menu, he has done his best to divide the menu into categories of soups, starters, main course and dessert. The tribals mostly eat what they grow, so farm to fork is their way of life. “They have a rasam called Setsoop, that comes loaded with vegetables. The meats are mostly one-pot dishes. They eat freshwater fish and livestock includes hens, goats and pigs. Goat milk is used in a number of their curries and gravy preparations. They are consumers of millets and ragi, and often depend on red rice for their staple food. Use of coconut milk and water in cooking and fermenting shows their Kerala influence. It took chef Vellu several trips to interact and learn about their food and then tweak it a little to present to urban diners.

Dishes like chundum payarum (banana flower with whole green moong), meen varuthatu (fish smeared with spices, rolled in betel leaves and fried) and kodi uppukadi (chicken in fresh spices) were indeed new to taste and flavourful. In the mains, the tangy puzha meen curry (river fish curry) and erachi milagu curry (runny lamb stock pepper dish) with the aatu kari choru (mutton keema rice) was sublime. The steamed rice cake with slivers of lamb was slightly sweet and aromatic. The keema pulao and nei payasam (red rice and jaggery payasam) were divine.

The festival is on till November 24 at ITC Kakatiya, Begumpet, Hyderabad.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 2:46:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/a-food-fest-in-hyderabad-puts-the-spotlight-on-the-indigenous-specials-of-the-muthuvan-tribe/article30026508.ece

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