Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A clan's classy cuisine (The Hindu's Metro Plus)

Note: I had written this for The Hindu's Metro Plus supplement. You can find the original review article on The Hindu's site here: The Hindu Metro Plus - Coorgi Food Festival review

Coorg stirs the imagination with its exotic location and unique history. For those who haven't yet made the much-recommended visit to this hilly country, there's a rare opportunity to sample authentic and traditional Coorgi delicacies closer home.

Taj West End is hosting a special Coorgi food festival until October 2 at its poolside barbeque restaurant. An a la carte menu is available for lunch and dinner during the festival. Sandeep Kachroo, Executive Chef at the barbeque restaurant who earlier set up the Taj's Vietnamese restaurant, is passionate about the need to explore lesser known but rich regional cuisines in Karnataka and offer them in an authentic style.

Soothing ambience

We arrived at the Taj West End early in the evening and made our way past the lovely lawns to their elegant poolside restaurant. A live band playing gentle rock numbers offered a soothing ambience, although the music was occasionally a bit loud. Parvati from Coorg, currently mentoring the Taj chefs during the festival, gave us a vivid cultural primer about the Coorgis. As it is in many other parts of India, food is often closely linked with weddings and key festivals such as Kail Podh and Huthari. While a typical daily meal may consist of simple rice and chicken-based dishes, the festivals are celebrated with special lamb (yarchi) and pork (pandi) delicacies. A spice unique to Coorg is kachiampuli, an extract from the fruits of the garcinia tree. It adds a distinct colour and flavour to the meat, reminiscent of tamarind, but more earthy in flavour.

We started our meal with two dry starters, the yarchi bartad and pandi bartad. They are prepared by frying the meat with powdered spices in coconut oil, and are best had with a beer. This was followed by the main course of yarchi nad kanne (lamb broth), pandi curry (chunks of tender pork) and koli curry (chicken). These were served with noolputtus (similar to idiappam) and sannas. We were impressed by the juicy and tender meat, literally melting in our mouths. The food was medium spicy and the flavours of kachiampuli and pepper were well tempered with other spices. We also tried the pooputtu, a steamed rice preparation that is cut into square pieces. One of the two well-known dishes which we did not get to sample but would recommend are the bimbale curry (baby bamboo shoots) and akki otti (rice-based roti).

Limited desserts

Coorgis aren't big on dessert, and we topped off dinner with a light haalbai, a variant of kesari bhath with a stronger milk base.

Bottomline: This fest serves the best kept culinary secrets of the Coorgi meat-eating warriors in traditional style. Bringing veggie friends? Have them plan on an early supper on their way in!


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