'Mango Tree' has grandma’s recipes, from Chettinad to Chennai

If delicious, muted Chettinad isn’t on your radar at all, go to Mango Tree anyway, just for the desserts

Chitra Ramu’s pet peeve is people describing Chettinad food as “spicy”. Instead, as she serves you her mother’s true-blue Chettinad recipes at the Mango Tree, the term that will dominate your mind is, “so, so soft”.

The paniyaram is delightfully fluffy. The meat dishes melt in your mouth. The mutton dosa comes apart the second you take a bite. Flavourful? Yes. Spicy? Not so much.

This, precisely, is Chitra’s raison d’etre in Chennai’s culinary circuit. Tired of self-proclaimed Chettinad restaurant chains playing it fast and loose with spices in the name of her region, she decided to show the city’s foodies that Chettinad has more to do with pepper than chillies, and that the spices, far from being the protagonists, “are only used to bring out the original flavour. In real Chettinad food, you taste the actual vegetable, and the meat, instead of the sauce or gravy that dominates most preparations.”

Chitra’s homely crusade is ably reinforced by her venue: an old bungalow whose age she isn’t sure of. “Around 70 or 80 years,” she shrugs. Even more than the mango tree at the entrance, the charm of the place lies in the imposing rafters on the polished wooden ceiling, and the red stone floor, oddly reminiscent of grandparents, gardening and bedtime stories. Sparse wooden furniture and a smattering of Chettinad artifacts complete the ambiance that does not go far enough to make a statement, but does soothe you at the end of a long workday.

'Mango Tree' has grandma’s recipes, from Chettinad to Chennai

A simple eeral mangai soup starts the meal off on a happy note, with a strong mutton flavour and a hint of zing at the end. In contrast, the flavour is not too strong in the kari uppu kari mutton starter, the mutton chop, or the mutton dosa; even those who usually shy away from red meat would enjoy all three.

The corn bonda and vadai are nothing to write home about, but the paniyaram definitely is. The beetroot kola urundai is a delicate little surprise. Bengal gram in the recipe serves the dual purpose of giving the dumpling an unexpected consistency, and winning over beet-haters without changing the taste. The eraal varuval — served with onion rings — is an attempt at a non-thematic option, as tasty as generic batter-fried prawns can be.

The star of the main course — if you aren’t a meat person — is the thalicha idiyappam, made and served two ways: with buttermilk and with coconut milk. While it’s easy to see how the latter, prepared with jeera and split green chillies, would appeal to certain taste buds, the former with its mustard seeds and red chilli flavouring is a personal winner. Both are served with kathirikai kosumali.

If you are neither an idiyappam person nor a meat person, if delicious, muted Chettinad isn’t on your radar at all, go to Mango Tree anyway, just for dessert. Aadi kumaayam is a dal-based halwa served in a tuile of sweetened biscuit that will definitely transport you to grandma’s kitchen. The paal paniyaram could be soaked a mite longer, but is nevertheless a delicious combination of paniyaram and sweetened milk. However, the kavuni arisi, Burmese sticky black rice served with coconut shaving, is not suited to everyone’s taste.

And then, there’s this mousse. This tender coconut mousse, served in a raw coconut shell, a signature recipe of Chitra’s chef, Dhanashree Anand. It has a slightly thinner consistency than a regular mousse, but is a happy fiesta of coconut and just the right amount of palm sugar. If for nothing else, go to Mango Tree for this mousse.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 2:13:08 AM |

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