A taste of temples

Tell people that they should go to a no onion, no garlic, vegetarian food festival, and they’ll probably give it a pass. Either they already eat like that every day and it doesn’t sound like a big deal to them, or they love their non-vegetarian too much.

But Hyatt Regency’s latest food promotion has attempted a different take on it: The Pilgrim’s Palate is a curated offering of dishes from various temple towns in the Southern states. Put together by Chef Balaji Natarajan and food traveller and TV show host Rakesh Raghunathan, the aim is to explore and celebrate the link between food and culture.

In a preview dinner, Rakesh and Chef Balaji take us through the intricacies of making the well-known Kanchipuram idli. While the rice and black urad dal batter has already been prepared, we learn that even in a commercial oven, a small basket of the dense idli takes a little over an hour to cook. Traditionally, these idlis are made in wicker baskets that are six inches in diameter and 1.5 feet high; once done, they are cut into circles and served. “The mandharai leaf, which is used as a lining in the basket, adds a wonderful fragrance to the dish,” says Rakesh. This fragrance mingles with the aroma of warm ghee and freshly-ground podi that are on the table, and the tangy smell of thakkali (tomato) rasam that is served as the first course. This is followed by the Kanchipuram idli, which goes down smoothly with podi, and even better with Chef Balaji’s special puli inji. Selvar appam from Srirangam (raw rice that’s soaked, ground and fermented, then fried in a mixture of oil and ghee) and Azhagar Kovil dosai (made of batter that’s similar to the Kanchipuram idli and shallow-fried on a tawa till it’s crisp on the outside and soft on the inside) accompany this.

“The dishes are not meant to be cohesive as a single meal. In the buffet, people can choose what they want to try,” says Rakesh, as the next few dishes are served. This includes a refreshing mangai kosamalli, followed by ven pongal and Chidambaram gothsu (made with a specific type of country brinjal). It’s not the mushy mess of pongal that’s usually served: separate grains of rice are seen, and when it’s doused with ghee, you have to have seconds. The tart and sweet combination that is puliodarai and a jaggery-infused karamani kuzhambu from Kethandapatti is one of the most unusual flavours of the evening.

Ending things on a sweet note, we have akkaravadisal, poori payasam and therali kozhakattai. While the familiar food itself is refreshing, it’s the stories behind them that are more interesting, showcasing the fact that the simplest of meals with the humblest of ingredients can make a fulfilling meal.

Hyatt Regency’s The Pilgrim’s Palate is on from January 27 to February 5, as part of Spice Haat’s dinner buffet at Rs. 1,550 plus taxes per person. Tel: 6100 1234

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 10:36:15 AM |

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