Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala is round the corner. Like with any other harvesting festivals in India, the celebrations of Onam would not be complete without feasting and food forms the most important part of the festivity. This is also the time when the authentic food of Kerala cooked with age-old ingredients and recipes starts emanating from the kitchens.
I being a South Indian food lover, I could not contain my happiness when I got an invite to ‘The spice of South Indian fare with Chef Ajith Kumar’ organized by Hotel Hyatt Regency, Gurgaon. While the review bug within me was gearing up by putting my taste buds into action, the joy of enjoying authentic South Indian dishes and flavours also meant a different experience for me.
What first caught my eye when I got off at the hotel was the girl dressed in traditional attire, welcoming every guest at the entrance. She applied a tikka on my forehead and with a gentle smile showed me the way in.
The rest of the guests followed and we were ushered inside Lavana, the newly renovated restaurant of Hyatt Regency that was closed for guests for some time. The restaurant has still however not opened for general public yet and the media has been the first to be invited to view the renovated Lavana. I remember visiting the Kitchen District the last time I came to the hotel and enjoying a sumptuous lunch.
Lavana was beautifully decorated on the day of its opening. Though this restaurant is famed for serving Awadhi food, it tried to recreate the magic this time with food from the region of Kerala. Every single detail inside was planned to bring the essence of the South Indian experience to life and it familiarized the guests with the traditions and rituals practiced in the Southern part of the country. At the entrance were two men who stood with a tray offering South Indian welcome drink and greeting everyone. They were clad in the traditional dhoti, shirt and the golden bordered Angavastram draped over the shoulders. In the corner, there was an idol of Ganeshji placed, ornamented with different varieties of fruits offered to Him.
Once inside the room, the interiors looked quite overwhelming with sparkling diyas lighting the room. We were asked to sit at the tables as banana leaves (on plates) were being laid out before us. We were then served with banana chips, dry chillies, chutnies and papad and coconut water. The main attraction for me was however “Beetroot pachadi” or you can say beetroot chutni as it looked appetizing and also different from the rest of the normal chutnies. It is made of finely pasted beetroot, coconut and mustard seeds. I also tasted a pickle called Inchi Puli which is made of made of ginger, tamarind and Jaggery.
I being a vegetarian, I tasted everything available in the vegetarian menu. In the main course, I had rice, rasam, sambar, Moru curry (made with yogurt) and Malabari parantha. For dessert, we were served with Paruppu Payasam, a delicacy from Kerala which is made of jaggery, raisin, coconut and lentils.
The food fiesta however did not stop here, as I also got an opportunity to talk about the South Indian fare to Chef Ajith Kumar, who is the main brainchild behind putting the concept together. He is an amazing personality to talk to and by far one of the simplest and the finest chefs I have met.
Ajith told me the South Indian names of food which we had and the traditional ingredients used in it. He also mentioned about the Non-veg South Indian thali that served Mutton, Chicken, prawns and Tawa fish. Traditionally, as Ajith pointed out, non-vegetarian menu was never a part of the original feast. But with newer generations coming in, new items kept on adding and non-vegetarian food also came to be included.
India Food promotion in Manila…
Chef Ajith also spoke about his experience of having represented Indian food at Hyatt in Manila (Philippines) where he along with another chef from Hyatt promoted both Indian and South Indian food. “The response was awesome. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive of whether our Indian food would be liked by them or not. We cut down on the amount of spices that we normally use in our food and prepared it as per their tastes. We did manage to win their hearts as they loved having the Indian food. In fact on one of those days we served almost,” said Chef Ajith.
Well, this was the not the first time that I was attending a South Indian food festival, but the experience like always had been very enriching. The best part was relishing such exotic food which most of the people is not aware of or is not served in the South Indian restaurants here in Delhi.
– Samrita Baruah / Anjali Sethi Joshi