(A monthly column published in Car N Style magazine).
Rich Andhra came to town
By Ravi V.Chhabra
Southern India is overwhelmingly rich. Its ancient architecture, dances, crafts, temples, landscape, serene backwaters, gold jewellery, spices and the cuisine are unparalleled the world over. Andhra cuisine is distinct and being low on fat, it is healthy. The major styles emanating from the south are: Kerala cuisine, Chettinad (Tamil), Andhra cuisine and Coorgi (Karnataka).
Andhra cuisine is the spiciest among the southern cuisines with a liberal use of chilli powder and tamarind making the food hot and tangy. A majority of the dishes are vegetable and lentil based butthere is no dearth of their versatility with meats as well. The Andhra cuisine is a mishmash of Telugu and Hyderabadi cuisine. Spices are the common thread between these cuisines. Rice is eaten in a myriad forms and is the mainstay of the diet. Traditionally, Andhra food is eaten on a banana leaf with fingers.
The Delhi bellies’ two famous haunts to savour authentic Andhra food on a regular basis have been the sombre Andhra Bhavan near the India Gate and the Andhra stall at the open food court in Dilli Haat opposite the INA market. The Andhra Bhavan is famous for the Andhra thali and chicken biryani with houseful during breakfast time and during weekend lunches, while the latter is patronised for the dosas, idli and uthapam.
Photos Copyright: Right Impact Media Inc.
The Andhra Food Festival that concluded in November at the Cafe Uno coffee shop at the Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel, was decked up to perfection. With instrumentalists-duo from Andhra playing typical Carnatic music, the coffee shop was imaginatively decorated with marigold garlands, rose petals, banana leafs and green coconuts that were a feast for the senses. An open stall stood tall for doling out a variety of freshly done dosas that were a part of an elaborate buffet priced at Rs. 1850 plus taxes for adults and Rs. 999 plus taxes for children. The aura inside the coffee shop transported the Andhra food connoisseurs to the state’s finest dining experience with diverse delicacies prepared by two of the hotel’s most experienced chefs, sous chef Prashant Das from Bihar and chef Chinna from Tamil Nadu.
The aura aroused my hunger and within minutes of finishing a glass of Budweiser Light, I started my session of tasting the buffet laid out beautifully in front of the open kitchen. I began with the Lemon Kotmir Rassam (lemon and coriander rassam) followed by the Royyala soup (prawn soup).
I realized instantly it was the finest rassam I had ever had – perfect consistency of lentil, tamarind and lime, extremely aromatic and tangy. For starters, I had the Medu Vada, Kodi Vepudu (deep fried chicken) and Endumirapaki Mamsam (dry mutton masala). The Pongal Patty (cooked rice vada) and Pasara Pudina Punukulu (moong dal and mint patty) were among the vada varieties.
The live counter doling out dosas on order came with seven different chutneys and powders including the famous ‘gun powder’ which I dabbed frequently on my dosa for the ‘special effect’, the Bhendekayi Sambhar (ladies finger sambhar) was not so great though. The green dosa batter was made of green moong dal which gave a coarse texture to the dosa. Chef Chinna was courteous and brought the special conical dosa on my table, which was a hot favourite among the few kids who were accompanying their parents for dinner, as it resembled the witches’ hat!
The chutneys and condiments were rich in colour and included the Andhra homemade variety of chutneys - sweet mango chutney, homemade pickles like Avakaya (made from raw mango) and Gongura (made from red sorrel leaves), besides an array of podis, pachadi, papadum (appadam) along with curd rice and Sadam Annam (steamed rice).
The vegetarian section formed an eclectic range like the Vankaya Nuwala Masala (stuffed brinjal curry), Anapakaya Senga Pappu Kura (bottle gourd cooked with chana dal) and Garelu Paneer Pulusu (lentil and cottage cheese curry), while the non-vegetarian section included among others Kodi Guddu Pulusu (whole eggs in tangy tamarind curry), Andhra Zupa Pulusu (traditional Andhra fish curry with drumsticks and whole red chillies), Kodi Pulusu (chicken curry) with exotic Royyala Biryani (prawn rice).
The outstanding Andhra dessert was certainly the Rava Halwa – made with semolina and coconut milk, besides North Indian Mithai (sweets), western desserts like chocolate pudding, a rich spread of cakes and tarts and fresh fruits. Other Andhra sweets included Doodah Pak, Coconut Payasam, Kajalu, Sweet Pongal, Atukulu Payasam (Poha kheer).
I learnt the exquisite show was put up with the help from two specialty chefs flown in from Andhra and one from Tamil Nadu who carved the dishes here while all the recipes were crafted by South Indian chef Chinna and were supervised jointly by Café Uno’s Indian sous chef Prashant Kumar Das. Chef Chinna hails from Tamil Nadu and is a specialist in cuisines from the South - Chettinad, Andhra, Hyderabadi, having an experience of over 9 years, having worked with the ITC group as well.
Speaking to fnbworld, chef Chinna said, “We have put in the best of our efforts into dishes like Rasam, Medu Vada and Royyala Biryani. We have used tamarind and tomatoes elaborately along with dry red chillies and curry leaves. As Andhra Pradesh is predominantly coast, we have used many seafood delicacies such as crabs, prawns and silver cup fish in our dishes.”
The biryani was distinctly different in taste and aroma. Being low on grease it had ample fresh, succulent prawns. This was unlike the traditional Hyderabadi biryani that is done as multi-coloured rice made with mutton, lamb or chicken. With winters finally setting in Delhi, it is ideal time for people to splurge on food outdoor. I hope there will be more states-centric food shows. Delhi-wallahs surely have a craving for more variety than the staple stuff offered by the drab state bhavans.