Padayal, a restaurant in Coimbatore, serves completely raw meals

At the ‘no oil, no boil’ restaurant in the city, everything on your plate is completely raw. Yes, there is vadai and payasam too

January 30, 2023 03:36 pm | Updated 05:26 pm IST

A full-fledged vegetarian lunch complete with vadai and payasam at Padayal

A full-fledged vegetarian lunch complete with vadai and payasam at Padayal | Photo Credit: Siva Saravanan S

The rice is not hot. Neither is the sambar, puli kuzhambu, or rasam. The poriyal feels cold, so does the kootu. But I dig in anyway: my rather unconventional lunch at Padayal features a full-course south Indian meal that is completely raw. The restaurant’s tag line is ‘no oil, no boil’, and true to it, everything on my plate, including the vadai, is raw.

The restaurant, that is two years old, bears wall paintings of people such as agricultural scientist G Nammalvar, and farmer and activist ‘Nel’ Jayaraman, reflecting the founder R Sivakumar’s philosophy that ‘food is medicine’. “The minute someone mentions health food, it is salads that come to the mind,” says the 42-year-old. “I wanted to change this.” Today, Sivakumar has 2,200 recipes that range from biryani and sandwiches to pongal and puttu, all of them raw.

R Sivakumar, who started Padayal, also trains people in cooking with raw ingredients

R Sivakumar, who started Padayal, also trains people in cooking with raw ingredients | Photo Credit: Siva Saravanan S

My lunch consists of aval (flattened rice) with slivers of shredded carrots, served in the place of rice. Finely chopped beetroot tossed with shredded coconut is the ‘poriyal’; the ‘pachadi’ is made of minced bottle gourd. The sambar is thick and creamy and does not taste like the conventional version of the dish. The puli kuzhambu does not swim in oil like it usually does, and the gooseberry rasam is tangy and watery but does not have the zing that one associates with rasam. But, I eat my way with fascination: the meal works, to a certain extent.

The vazhaipoo vadai, made with a mix of powdered nuts and finely ground banana flowers, is soft, leaving a mildly sweet aftertaste. The ‘buttermilk’ has coconut milk and ground pumpkin seeds and goes well with the aval. The raw ‘curries’ gradually warm up to me and I realise how I have been conditioned to certain tastes and textures. This is exactly what Sivakumar wants to challenge. “I want to show that healthy, raw food can be tasty too.”

Sivakumar has been involved in the R&D for Padayal for the past ten years. It all began 16 days after the death of Nammalvar. “I visited his Vanagam centre in Karur for the mourning. The gathering had organic farming pioneers from across India. For lunch that day, we were served a full-course raw meal,” he recalls. “I was drawn to it,“ he says, and adds that he started gathering information on the technique. His search took him to various places across Tamil Nadu, and Sivakumar gradually started formulating his own recipes. “Every dish on my menu took me at least five years of R&D,” he says, adding that he is working on a raw version of the dosa.

The secret ingredient, Sivakumar reveals, is cashew and coconut paste. “This gives the curries their consistency,” he explains. Sivakumar also does outdoor catering and has cooked for various events over the years, some of them for as many as 3,000 people. “I am willing to share my recipes and techniques with anyone interested,” he says, adding that he is doing so through his Padayal Academy.

Coming back to my meal, I finally arrive at dessert: a thick payasam made of ground almonds. It is not cloyingly sweet, and has a nice, grainy texture. The full meal, to my surprise, does not leave me feeling full. It is light on the stomach and I walk away making a note to come back to try their noodles sometime, and their fried rice. Yes, those are raw too.

Padayal is located at 418, Link Rd, GV Residency, Uppilipalayam. It is open for breakfast, lunch, coffee, and dinner. A meal for two is priced at ₹400. For details, call 8637410022.

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