A little street stall has sprung up inside Regency Madurai by GRT Hotels. As part of the ongoing Thennattu Samayal food festival, a corner of the plush lobby is converted to resemble a typical countryside eatery. It’s named Achi paniyara kadai and a diminutive woman from behind the counter, dishes out fluffy kuzhi paniyarams steamed to a perfect golden brown and energising ginger tea.
But Executive Chef Andavan suggests that I start it with the sweet-sour karupatti panakam with a hint of mint. So, leaving behind the Achi kadai, I step into the Aharam multicuisine restaurant decorated with traditional festoons as peppy folk songs fill the space. The aroma of coriander and chilly is overbearing and I trace it to the bright red vendhaya kara kozhambu in a clay pot. The colourful buffet counter leaves one spoilt for choice.
karaikudi kadai masala
However, the nattu kozhi charu is the customary choice to begin the meal. The thin soup with an liberal dose of turmeric, cumin and pepper sets the appetite just right and I slurp it all in one go. There’s also the bland vazha thandu soup for those who don’t like much spice. But isn’t Tamil cuisine all about spices? “Not always,” says Andavan, who has undertaken a culinary tour across the State. “For instance, there’s much difference between the Chettinad chicken curry and Kongu kozhi kozhambu. In the former, spices are freshly roasted, grounded and added to the curry and it’s cooked in groundnut oil, whereas in the Kongu region, the curry is milder with less spices and a good amount of coconut.”
The idea of the festival is to discover the unknown varieties in Tamil cuisine, he says. “There’s always much to explore beyond just idli and dosa. There are slight tweaks that make even popular dishes taste different. The Ambur and Dindigul styles of biryani are a good example of this. The menu is rotated everyday so that we cover as many dishes possible.” It’s indeed an impressive spread with over half-a-dozen items for non-vegetarians including Karur kozhi kurma, Karaikudi kadai masala, Virudhunagar kudal curry, Dindigul mutton biryani and Kanyakumari nethili fry and vaval meen kozhambu. “Vegetarians often feel left out as local Tamil cuisine is meat heavy. But, we have taken effort to make some offbeat recipes for them,” says Andavan. Apart from traditional veggie recipes like kovakkai varuval, brinjal masala, beans paruppu poriyal, senai podi thooval, vellari pachadi, paruppu kadaiyal and ponnanganni keerai kootu, there are also some fusions like soya chunks vadai and paneer milagu pirattal.
A spicy poondu rasam, pudina sadham and the sharp kara kozhambu, apart from the tangy fish gravy and piquant kudal curry are some of the not-to-be-missed items. The dessert counter features ellu urundai, paal kozhukattai and seerani mittai alongside sweet coconut stuffed samosas, pumpkin halwa and dhoodh jalebis.
The festival is on till November 11, 7 pm to 11 pm. For reservations, call 0452-2371155