When a meal transports you straight to a little town in south-eastern Tamil Nadu, especially when it is a cuisine which has been brought back from the verge of extinction, to culinary limelight, you know it is a moment to be savoured. I encountered such a moment at The Park hotel, where I had gone to attend the launch of Sumeet Nair and Menakshi Meyyappan’s book on the Chettinad cuisine called The Bangala Table: Flavors and Recipes from Chettinad. What followed after the book release was a Chettiar style sadya (feast) where traditional food was served on banana leaves. Even though I was in the heart of the capital, such was the ambience and the hospitality of the Meyyappans, Priya Paul, Sethu Vaidyanathan, Geetanjali Kashyap, M.V Subbiah and the entire team at The Park that I could well have been at The Bangala, a heritage hotel at Karaikudi, in Sivaganga district, two hours away from Madurai in Tamil Nadu.
The Bangala Table is the labour of love of three years of painstaking research by Sumeet Nair (who incidentally is a Punjabi by birth), a documentation of the food served at the Bangala and comprises of the secret family recipes of the Meyyappan family which he convinced Meenakshi Meyyappan to part with. The result is indeed a collector’s item, a must have for every home chef. It is illustrated with photographs by Rohit Chawla, who used only natural light while shooting to keep the focus solely on the food. The guests at the gathering got a chance to taste many of the dishes mentioned in the book.
Though Chettinad cuisine is touted as the spiciest and most aromatic in India, the spices are all subtle and not fiery like the Andhra cuisine. Talking to Meenakshi Meyyappan or Aachi as she is called, I came to know that coriander is the most used spice followed by goondu maligai (berry shaped round chilles). Other important spices are maratti mokku (dried flower pods),anasipoo ( star anise), kalpasi a lichen known as “black stone flower. In the original cuisine cinnamon and tomatoes were not used, but now the cooks cannot do with them. Tamarind and peppercorn are indispensible, while pork and beef are taboo and the Chettiar cooks will not even touch them. The spices are always freshly ground which imparts a unique flavour to the cuisine.
There is a lot more to Chettinad food than Chicken Chettinad which most North Indians are familiar with. I got a chance to try out many of the dishes which so far I had only read about. The festive menu Sappadu which was served on banana leaves to more than 300 guests present at the book launch had delicacies like Zucchini fritters, Pomegranate Thayir Pachadi, Green Beans and Brussel Sprouts Masala Poriyal, Sweet Mango Pachadi, Soya Bean Kurma , Pineapple Curry, Chicken Chettinad Pepper Masala, Tamarind Fish Curry, Uppu (dried mutton) Kari, Pepper Curry, , Vathal and Almond Halwa. It goes to the credit of Executive Chef of the Park Chef Abhishek Basu that he, along with cooks who had come from Chettinad, managed to create a spread so authentic and flavourful, that a lucky few will remember this feast for a long time.
Those who missed this delectable fare need not despair. The above mentioned dishes along with many more Chettinad delights from The Bangala Table like Prawn Masala, Crab Rasam, Spinach Maiyal, Chettinad Mutton Fry, Nandu Rasam, are available at both lunch and dinner at The Park till the 30th of August. Four special Thali Menus, ranging from Rs 695 for a Vegetarian Thali, Non Veg for Rs 795 and Seafood for Rs 995 to a special Palakaram Thali for Rs 995 have been curated for this special Chettinad food promotion.
The book Bangala Table is available on Amazon and in all leading bookstores for Rs 1699.
Disclaimer: This review was done on an invitation from the restaurant. Due judgment and care has been applied by the author to remain objective and unbiased in the review; however readers may exercise their own discretion.
– Lavina Kharkwal