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How chef Damu went around Tamil Nadu in 60 days

Chef Damu tasting participants’ food at Puducherry

Chef Damu tasting participants’ food at Puducherry   | Photo Credit: T Singaravelou

Over the last two months, Chef K Damodaran travelled to 15 cities in the State, tasting hundreds of dishes participants brought in as part of the second edition of The Hindu’s Our State Our Taste cookery competition. From biryani and arisi paruppu saadham, to ragi kali and munthiri kothu, he tried some interesting local fare. But his top favourite is something called meen karutha kari or the black fish curry a woman from Nagercoil had made. “It was black owing to judicial usage of pepper and cumin and was said to be ideal for pregnant women and new mothers,” he recalls. “The recipe is supposed to be dating back several decades.” The dish was just the kind he was looking for: it was traditional, tasty, and fell under the crucial ‘food as medicine’ category.

Apart from the range of local delicacies, Chef Damu got to meet some enthusiastic cooks. “A participant from Coimbatore had brought 30 kinds of payasams alone,” he says. Then there was another from Nagapattinam who placed on a table varied non vegetarian fare. “In Madurai, in which we had 380 participants, over 70% of them had cooked over 40 dishes for the contest,” he adds.

Chef Damu interacting with the participants in Madurai

Chef Damu interacting with the participants in Madurai   | Photo Credit: R Ashok

The best part about the experience, according to Damu, is that he got to learn from the participants, each of whom had something interesting to share about their local culture. “I got to revisit some forgotten recipes too,” he says. In Coimbatore, he bit into soft chunks of meat in the watery mutton thanni kozhambu. Tangy viraal meen kozhambu awaited him in Tiruchi. A participant even presented a 45-dish spread that included those served for breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, and supper. Madurai floored him with super soft idlis and fish curry, not to mention some inventive thogayals and the trademark ayira meen kozhambu and kari dosa. Various kinds of biryani and seafood ruled the roost in Nagapattinam.

“The second best city was Karaikudi,” says Damu. “A participant served a vegetarian meal that consisted of 32 dishes, starting off with paruppu urundai kozhambu and ending with the soft vellappam.” Chennai, with 650 participants, presented kadhamba saadham with plenty of vegetables, with 50% of of them bringing over 20 dishes. “I had a biryani feast in the city,” he adds. Damu says he had a tough time picking the winners. “If I made a note about a particular dish being the winning one, the next table had something even better,” he laughs.

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2020 4:44:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/how-chef-damu-went-around-tamil-nadu-in-60-days/article29308732.ece

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