We are a gourmand couple who love to discover new places and eat our hearts out. Follow us for a guilt trip along the food road.
Ok. Time for some candid confessions from us Guiltless Foodies duo. Our Love for a Splendid South Indian meal was always on a dormant stage. In fact appreciating the subtlety and comfort level attached to it comes to us naturally. But with time we had somehow lost, but not forgotten about this simple yet flavourful fare. With the rise of the new and upcoming modern Indian cuisine we couldn’t find ourselves heading to devour this tasty wonder. Or, so we thought.
Who doesn’t like a good spread from the south. The tangy and spicy Rasam, Curries with hints of coconut, unlimited servings of Pappadams, to the comatose dessert called Payasam. And if this spread includes dishes curated specifically for meat lovers…
Welcome to Paradise!!
We headed to Dakshin Coastal- ITC Maratha for their Chettinad Food Festival. Little did we know that we were headed to experience something that will just sweep us off our feet. Trust us when we tell you that it was the most elaborate and exquisite meal that we encountered in recent times. With Chef Sundar specially flown down from ITC Grand Chola, Chennai to curate this extensive Chettinad Menu, it was indeed the most memorable experience. Wanna know why? Read on (without drooling, if possible)
PRARAMBHAM (The Start) was ‘Rasam’. The most delectable Rasam we’ve had. And to add to our surprise there was a vegetarian – Takkali (Tomato) and a non-vegetarian – Kozhi (chicken) Rasam. This was served along with a collection of dishes called The ‘Iyers Trolly’, inspired from various parts of the South of India. It consisted of ‘Kuzhi Paniyaram’, which is also commonly referred to in Chettinad as ‘Paddu’ or ‘Gunta Ponganalu’, made from steaming black lentils and rice. It’s a soft and Tasty but a spicy version of the Sweet Paniyaram. With hints of finely chopped fried onions and green chillies, it was quite difficult to let go off these.
‘Carrot Adai’ which was served alongside was indeed a healthier version of having Lentils and Rice in the form of a Dosa with finely chopped carrots and veggies. The mini versions helped in a way of not being heavy on our stomachs. Though not a Adai fan, this would still pass any day for breakfast.
The third dish from the Iyers Trolly started working wonders even before it was served. There was a faint grin on faces when they heard ‘Cashew & Banana Dosai’. Now before you make that face, let us tell you that if Pancakes can be had with various toppings and mixes, this could very well pass to be really tasty too. We simply loved it. All these were accompanied by a range of lip smacking Chutney’s like Coconut, Carrot, Coriander and Tamarind.
Next came the ‘Karamani (Cow Gram) Vadai. Crispy and spicy Vadas perfect on taste and texture with immense flavours from aniseed, asafoetida, coconut, ginger, onions and curry leaves. The only problem here was that we were served a portion which was gobbled up in seconds, and we had to call for more.
What came next was something seafood lovers will never forget. The ‘Vanjara Meen Varuval’ Vanjaram also known as Neimeen is nothing but Seer Fish or as we commonly call it as Surmai. This shallow fry delicacy had the true Chettinad spicy marination. The soft and succulent fish was flavourful or rather tangy and spicy to the last bite. This is when people like us lose control, let go of all table etiquettes and overindulge like there is no tomorrow.
The non-vegetarian line-up after this is just mind blowing. Up next was The ‘Kozhi Sukka’ (Chicken tempered in coconut gravy. This Mangalorean inspired dish with a Chettinad twist was one of a kind. We have relished Chicken Sukka at the best of places. But this by far was the best twist to the regular one. With the right amount of Coconut, This stood out with the slightly sour and spicy after taste. Craving for a portion right now.
On the vegetarian side we were served the ‘Semagada (Colocasia/ Arbi) Varuval’. This was quite a simple fried preparation compared to the lavish spread that was served. But that didn’t come in way of the taste. Perfectly made.
SARVOTTAM (The Best) is what we’d like to call what came next. We were served the mains one by one. Needless to say. It just kept getting better and better. The vegetarian side had ‘Vellai Poriyal’. Again a simple preparation of Double Bean Lentils and Cauliflower. Bit sour on taste and lack of overall Spice. Had to give this a miss.
‘Meen Kuzhambu (read Ko-Yam-Bu) is a village style Fish Curry which took us back in time when we had visited the Heritage Town of Karaikudi in Chettinad. Having the Meen Kuzhambu was indeed a trip down memory lane. The Spice just hits you at first then mellows down to an acceptable level. Please note that this is for people with a Fiery Palate. The flavours are so abundant that it will keep your taste buds tantalised for a long time. Truly an exceptional preparation.
Another dish that stole the show was the ‘Nattu Kozhi (read Koi) Kuzhambu. The Village style Chicken Curry. This was just legendary. The country chicken was succulent and enlivened by the pungent gravy which was indeed a hit. Consisting of freshly ground spices, this piquant creation was somewhat less spicy than the fish curry but just about perfect for a chicken curry. Really fascinating.
Up next was ‘Urulai Vathakal’ Baby Potatoes fried with abundant spices. This is a common dish with every South Indian household. Though the actual version is quite simpler with lesser amount of spices, this in fact had a strong and powerful Chettinad twist of spices and flavours.
The vegetarians weren’t left out when it came to serving them a masterpiece too. The ‘Pundu (garlic) Kuzhambu’ was served. The quick aroma of garlic, fresh roasted and ground spices and shallots were enough for the non-vegetarians to pounce on this the moment it came. The combination of garlic with the spices was relished to a different level.
Next was the ‘Kari Milagu Kuzhambu’. Mutton curry with pepper. Now things just got real. Authentic Chettinad recipes contain enormous amounts of Black Peppercorns. When we say enormous, we truly mean it. Imagine using a handful of peppercorns in a gravy apart from the other spices and chillies. Sweating already? This winner of a preparation was perfect in every aspect. The right use of Pepper, fennel, cloves and fenugreek. The overall flavour was so rightly adjusted that the meat couldn’t have tasted any better.
Then came The ‘Avarakkai (Broad beans) Masala’. Fresh, Tender and Simple dish commonly had with Steamed Rice, Sambar, Rasam or with Roti. With a lineup of blockbuster dishes served before this, Our Palate had reached a different horizon alltogether to appreciate this preparation.
Apart from the meaty treats South Indian food is also about “Love your Beans and eat your Greens”. It’s imperative that pulses and green vegetables are a part of your meal too. So to detox from all the food that we had, we were served the ‘Keerai Kootu’. A lovely and soft flavoured gravy that can be mixed with Rice or had just like that. Perfect ending to a wholesome meal. All these were had with either a perfectly made soft and fluffy ‘Aapam’ Perfectly flaky and Crisp Kerala ‘Paratha’ or aromatic ‘Coconut Rice’.
MADHURAM (The Sweet) was next. Eager enough to end this epic gastronomic journey on a sweet note, we waited for the desserts to arrive. First we were served a unique dessert consisting of ‘Kadal Pasi’ ‘Rose Water’ And ‘Pistachio Icecream’. Kadal Pasi which is also known as China Grass or Agar Agar is commonly used as a vegetarian substitute for gelatin. The Sweet jelly like texture with Pistachio Icecream topped with Rose Water was indeed heavenly.
The final item on the list was a traditional dessert inspired from Kerala and a integral part of the Onam Sadhya Feast. ‘Ada Pradhaman’. Made from Rice, Jaggery, Coconut Milk, Cashew Nuts, Raisins, Cardamom and Ghee. It just tasted divine. There was no way we could’ve stopped at one serving. But the extraordinary meal stopped us from doing so. Well, there is always a next time.
Perfection – Is a lot of little things done right. And perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things. But in doing ordinary things, extraordinarily well. The Chettinad menu at Dakshin Coastal – ITC Maratha is one perfect example of how perfection is achieved.
If this review didn’t make you drool, you can move on. If it did, you know where to head.
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