Sangam age saapadu

Forgotten flavours: Recipes from a different era by Chef Ram Prakash at the newly opened Sangam Saga in Madurai   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

The pleasure of good food begins with the preparation and is further enhanced by the affection of the people serving it. You will find both in abundance at Sangam Saga, the newly opened signature restaurant planned and executed by Chef Ram Prakash. Celebrated for his world record for whipping up 2089 traditional Tamil dishes in 50 hours of non-stop cooking in 2016, he has now brought in 96 items to the table under what he describes as ‘gourmet tamizhan’.

Chef Ram Prakash has attempted at redefining the food culture of the Sangam Era by choosing whole wheat over maida, cold pressed oil over refined oil, palm sugar and jaggery over white sugar, fresh fish and meat over frozen, organic fruits and vegetables over genetically modified crops. He pounds, powders, grinds or makes a paste of cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, cloves, black pepper, mustard seeds, turmeric, cumin in different combinations and proportions, to create a variety of masalas. Each of them differs in taste, aroma, flavour, and texture.

“Red and green chillies are banned in my kitchen and every item is cooked on slow to medium direct fire in earthen vessels and bamboo stems and customers eat on banana leaves,” he tells me, as I sip the welcome drink - water melon juice with a pinch of jaggery.

As an assistant to the popular food historian Chef Jacob for six years, Ram Prakash says he learnt all about ancient Tamil food culture that is known to have medicinal values. Disturbed by the food fabric of yore getting destroyed, he studied Sangam literature to stir up recipes that date back over 2,000 years. His hand crafted masalas and cooking style are evoking postive feedback and feel good responses. So much so that the 56-seater restaurant, is set to increase by another 24 seats in less than a month.

It starts from the water served in clay glasses. “We boil the water with vetiver root and cumin seeds, filter and cool it in earthen pots,” he says and suggests I try the nellikai (gooseberry) pepper soup. I am bowled over by the mild tangy and peppery taste. I soon polish off banana fritters, the kalan milagu, and pepper-sprayed scrambled paneer, served in small earthen bowls.

You learn about the culture by how the meal arrives to you and I can’t wait for the main course now — betel leaf and smoked garlic biryani. Steam-cooked in a hollow bamboo stem with jeeraga samba rice mixed with chef’s biryani masala, it arrives steaming hot and is gently tapped out of the bamboo on to the banana leaf. It is a deliciously complex layering of textures with the aroma of every ingredient perfectly seeped in. Also available is a variant with vegetables marinated with turmeric, ginger, garlic and coriander. The non-vegetarian version is made with mutton, chicken or prawns.

There is a charm in discovering the royal treats here. There is a wide range for meat lovers and the soft wheat parottas go well with an array of curries. Starters not to be missed are the mutton chukka that has a liberal dose of pepper, and the aranmai kozhi — country chicken pieces marinated in peanut and cashew nut paste and fried to perfect crunch. It is served in horizontally sliced bamboo stem lined with banana leaf. For those who want noodles, they get the millet version. Dosais made with varagu, samai, thinai and paniyarams made with kambu are a must too. The desserts are irresistible. Try the paal-paruuthi halwa (cotton seed milk boiled with palm jaggery, rice flour and ghee to a consistency you will love) and elaneer amirtham (a pudding made of tender coconut water and A2 milk boiled with palm sugar, elaneer slices and agar agar for proof.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 2:13:51 AM |

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