While there are numerous local cuisines in Tamil Nadu, Chettinad cuisine is arguably the most well known. Chettinad cuisine is known for its bold flavours that are characterised by dark spices like Kebab Chini, Marathi Moggu, Patthar ka Phul, Star Anice, and Peppercorns. The ‘Taste of Chettinad’ festival at Westin Hyderabad promises to offer patrons a taste of the best that this distinctive cuisine has to offer. The festival is being helmed by Chef Jadagadeesh who hails from Karaikudi and is currently stationed at Westin Chennai. I was invited to a tasting session organised for media and bloggers.
The delicacies from Chettinad have taken over the Indian section of the elaborate Seasonal Tastes buffet spread. The menu will be rotated in every meal, each showcasing over fifteen dishes from Chettinad. “The magic of Chettinad food is that it is spicy yet healthy and easy to digest”, explained Chef Jagadeesh, as we began our meal with the super addictive Chettinad style fried potatoes (Krulai Kuchi Varuval). In each of the appetisers, the flavour of the spices and herbs dominated and defined the dish. Whether it was the crispy fried prawns in curry leaves (Karuvepillai Era Masala) or the coriander marinated fried chicken (Kozhi Malli Varuval), it was the traditional mix of Chettinad spices along with herbs that made all the difference.
Rasam, which is traditionally consumed with rice, was on offer as a soup. I was harbouring an itchy throat and the piping hot, mildly spiced Okra Rasam (Vendai Rasam) was just what I needed. This simple, light soup was soul food at its best; the kind of food that always brings a smile to my face. There were several live counters, which were serving grilled fish (Basa and Pink Perch), Kothu Paratha (Veg, Egg, and Chicken), and Kal Appam with Kadala Curry.
Chettinad cuisine is well known for its rich and varied non-vegetarian dishes. But, Westin also featured a fair share of vegetarian fare from the region including Pepper Cauliflower (Kavi Poo Melagu Perratal), Pea Augerbine (Vathal Kolmbu), and Mix Veg in Coconut Gravy (Kai Gari Khorma). Tamil Nadu has several regional variations of Biryani, and some of them will be featured in the festival. I was excited to see Kootyur Kari Chor, a Mutton Biryani that originated in the Kootyur palace. This Biryani uses as many as twenty-one spices, including Patthar ka Phool, Cinnamon, and Jaiphal. The large number of whole-spices lent the Biryani a very distinctive flavour. It is easy to envision something with so many strong spices going wrong very quickly, but the Chef had adeptly balanced the various spices. I suspect that the Mutton Pepper Masala (Kari Melagu Curry) is ideally paired with white rice. However, since I was fast running out of appetite, I paired it with the Biryani and was pleasantly surprised by how well this combination also worked.
The desserts counter featured a couple of dishes that were new to me. Pal Paniyaram, which was humorously (but not entirely inaccurately) described by another blogger as Paniyaram in Rasmalai. Suyam is also a deep-fried dessert, but here the grated coconut and jaggery flavours dominate. This dessert is traditionally prepared during Diwali.
‘Taste of Chettinad’ will be available every day (Lunch – Rs. 1487 AI, Dinner – Rs. 1720 AI, Brunch – Rs. 2527 AI) until February 12.