Spices: Tamil Nadu Style

The state of Tamil Nadu has an interesting pattern when it comes to cuisine. You can go from the bland Pongal to the spicy Chettinad Chicken; or experience a wide variety of vegetarian delights cooked by the Iyers and Iyengars to the fiery non-vegetarian dishes made by the Chettiyars – a community that hails from the Chettinad region of the state.

So when the Waterside Café at the Taj Banjara decided to host a festival titled the Flavours of Tamil Nadu, I decided to visit because this dichotomy I mentioned above has always intrigued me. The Taj group always does things authentically, so they had flown down Jabaraj T, the master chef in the South Indian kitchen at the Taj Hotel in Chennai – the capital of Tamil Nadu.

Having learnt the secrets of this cuisine from his family and his seniors at the hotel, Chef presented an elaborate spread of true Chettinad food. When a five star hotel serves you food that tastes like it is homemade, you know they have it right. No artificial tweaking to suit a wider clientele, no compromising on ingredients and spices ensure you get the real McCoy.

Before I get on to what we ate and how I liked it, I would like to relate a tiny anecdote. When I recommended this festival to a friend, he in turn informed the R & D Head of his company about it. That gentleman hails from the Chettinad region, has his ancestral home and still visits family living there. So, he is as true blue as you can get. Now, said gentleman took his wife and daughter to the festival for dinner. They loved it! He raved about the food to my friend, specially calling to thank him for letting him know about it. That should give you an indication as to how good and authentic the festival is. If people who relish the dishes they cook in their own homes at a food festival, it must mean that the food was good.

We sampled Kozhi Roast and Vazhapoo Vada – the first being a spicy roasted chicken where the masalas were freshly ground and the chicken well cooked with the spices. The Vada was a lentil mix typical of the state and often served at festivals and weddings.
The main course was the winner of this festival though. Every dish a star, from the Kozhi Melagu – the Chicken Curry; the Ambur Kozhi Biryani – a briyani very different from its Hyderabadi counterpart; Urulai Roast – potatoes cooked with spices and Kai Kari Kadhambam – a mixed vegetable curry. I liked the biryani the best as it was full of flavours delicately balanced. There was also the Kothu Paratha counter where the chef made it live – a lavish and dramatic mixing of a paratha with egg and vegetables – teppanyaki style almost – and served as a side dish. Though this is a popular street food snack in some places down South; it was not spicy and freshly made, quite tasty. Dessert included an unusual Ashoka Halwa – made from lentils and an apt finish to the meal.

It is on till the end of August and for those of you who like their spices – not only pepper and chilli that is – this is one food festival you must experience.

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