I have always been drawn to cuisines that entail a bold usage of spices. Chettinad cookery, the gastronomy of the Chettiars, a merchant community hailing from two southern districts of Tamil Nadu Sivaganga and Pudukottai is one such cuisine. It is characterized by an abundant use of spices like chilies, black pepper, bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and curry leaves. This culinary style boasts of some of the most lip-smacking non-vegetarian preparations comprising of seafood, fowl and mutton.
Master Chef Bala will be giving Mumbaikars a taste of this mouth-watering cuisine during the Chettinad festival that will take place until 19th June at the South of Vindhyas restaurant at The Orchid Hotel, Mumbai.
Here is a look at my gluttony with some of the dishes being churned out for this interesting food festival:
- Rasam of the day
The meal for the evening was initiated on a stimulating note with a steaming hot lentil broth comprising of tomato & onion chunks. All attributes of this rasam - the tanginess, the seasoning, the portion size were spot on.
- Nalli Soup
The waft of aromas from this soup entailing lamb shanks was simply mesmerizing. The meat was succulent and falling off the bone. The broth too was toothsome and had imbibed flavors of ginger, garlic, coriander, turmeric and whole spices used in its preparation.
- Eral Varuval
Chettinad cuisine is known for its fiery creations and this appetizer of prawns was a true representative of this gastronomy. Prawns were wok tossed with a generous quantity of curry leaves in Chettinad masala that bore evidence of use of black pepper, coriander seeds, cloves, red chilies, coconut etc. The spices and prawns had gelled well with each other to give a lip-smacking starter.
- Kozhi Vattal
This was the star dish of the appetizer course. Boneless cubes of chicken were cooked on a griddle in an amazing spice mix that was chef's secret recipe. My palate tried to decode a few of the ingredients of this spice mix. These included garam masala, fennel, red chilli paste, garlic, ginger, onions and curry leaves.
- Karuveppillai Meen
This dish comprised of huge slices of King fish that were grilled with garam masala and curry leaves. I was left a bit underwhelmed by this dish for many reasons. Firstly the fish and the spices stood as two separate components on the plate rather than unifying into a beautiful preparation. Secondly, the spice mix had not cooked thoroughly and left a very unsavory taste on the palate. Thirdly, the texture of the fish was chewy and not luscious for my liking.
- Kuzhi Paniyaram
This vegetarian Chettinad delicacy comprising of spheres prepared from a steamed batter of rice and urad Dal (black gram) was delicious and addictive. The exterior of the spheres had a lovely crunch while the interior had a silken texture.
- Cholam Vadai
These were your quintessential corn and lentil fritters. The flavors were not very extraordinary but the texture and seasoning were impeccable.
NON-VEGETARIAN MAIN COURSE
- Chettinad Meen Kozhambu
This fish curry was a riot of flavors and a visual spectacle. The fish was cooked to a beautiful texture in gravy that packed a punch in terms of a prominent tart flavor and perfect amount of spice. Paired with appams this dish was a delight to the taste buds.
- Nattu Kozhi Curry
This was a coconut based chicken gravy flavored with red chilies and garam Masala. The use of spices was not blatant and this yielded a delicately spiced dish.
- Kaadai Roast
This was a delicious pot roasted quail dish. A layer of spicy Chettinad Masala coated the quail aptly to make it a luscious dish.
- Kotthu Parotta
Layered, refined flour flat bread or parotta was cooked on a griddle to arrive at a lovely flaky texture. This cooked parotta was then shredded and mixed with chicken mince, onion, tomatoes, curry leaves and spices. This dish a staple in the Karaikudi region was recreated well in the kitchens of this restaurant.
VEGETARIAN MAIN COURSE
- Vellai Kuruma
Butter beans and vegetables like green peas, carrots, and cauliflower were cooked in curd based gravy in this preparation. I did not enjoy this dish at all as it was absolutely bland and lacked any kind of flavors or seasoning.
- Marakari Chettinad
This was the Chettinad version of vegetarian korma where a mixture of diced vegetables were cooked in an oil laced, spicy, coconut based gravy.
- Poriyal of the day
A minimalist preparation of chopped green beans were sautéed with grated coconut. A tempering of mustard seeds, curry leaves and chilies added an uplifting touch to this simple dish.
- Eral Biryani
Juicy prawns adorned this spicy rice preparation. The sweetness of the prawns cut through the heat of the spices with finesse.
- Thengai Sadam
This was the humble coconut rice preparation that could be paired with any of the aforementioned curries. The dish had subtle flavors derived from use of coconut, curry leaves, green chilies, mustard seeds and urad dal (split black gram).
When you are eating spicy food a chilled drink is your savior. I ended up consuming a very refreshing tropical fruit based mocktail called Chettiars delight. This was made of mango, orange and pineapple juices mixed with coconut milk. One can safely call it the Chettiar's rendition of the virgin Pinacolada.
- Semiyan Payasam
This was a very simple yet flavorful, warm milk-based sweet dish comprising of vermicilli cooked in sweetened milk lightly flavored with cardamom powder.
- Godhumai Halwa
The mere sight of the dessert was very interesting. This sweet of broken wheat cakes was not overtly sweet and had a soft gelatinous texture.
This Chettinad food festival is running at the South of Vindhyas restaurant until 19th June 2016.
So, do check out this festival and let me know about your experience.
Till then, HAPPY EATING...
(PS: The dishes were served as part of special bloggers’ table so actual portion sizes and preparation may vary. However, my review is subjective and unprejudiced.)
- Regional Indian Food & Travel enthusiast