There may be food festivals galore but when it comes to cuisine from the southern peninsula, my gastronomic antenna gets activated as it recently happened when I was invited by The Orchid Hotel and Master chef Bala of the specialty restaurant South of Vindhyas (SOV). The Chettinad food festival, on till 20th May for lunch and dinner, is sure to attract avid gourmets from all over the city.
Chettinad food is a hand-down of the community of traders called Chettiars from the Coromandel Coast who settled in Tamil Nadu. They use salted vegetables, sun dried meat and freshly pounded masalas in their cooking. Spicy and feisty, the dishes are prepared with star anise, black pepper, dried flower pods, and garlic.
The entrance to the restaurant has fishing boats, a Chettiar cut-out, and real seafood on a bed of ice. With three types of sit-down buffet like the veg (Rs.1300+), non-veg (Rs.1500+) and seafood (Rs.1800+), our vegetarian platter was earnestly awaited. The table was set up with papads, curd chilli, various chutneys, pickle, raita, and gun powder or molgapodi, as it is called down South.
Appetizers of medu vada and black gram vada were brought in separately first. The scrumptious vadas were crisp on the outside with soft centres.
Banana leaf on a plate with steel bowls filled with a variety of vegetable preparations, salad, curd rice, and curd arrived. SOV is synonymous with Chef Bala, the soul of the kitchen as he knows the pulse of his discerning guests who visit from as far as Tony Island city to Borivili and beyond.
The main course is to the accompaniment of appams and rice. The live-station-on-wheels whizzed towards us to serve soft and fluffy hot-from-the-pan appams.
The Chettinad dishes of drumstick in gravy had sambar undertones while morkozhambu had us drool over its curd-based preparation with white pumpkin cubes.
Another unique item consisted of a kootu of potato, eggplant and black chana. On the dry front, suran curry with coconut shavings and beans poriyal took forward the culinary taste. When it came to rice, masala bath, and steamed rice with sambar vied with one another.
The sweet and happy ending came in the form of payasam (South Indian kheer) garnished with nuts.
As one dessert is not enough for my ever-sweet-craving palate, Chef Bala obliged us with two more – the soft and sugary coconut barfis and sabudana kheer in coconut milk with mango topping!