Thursday, 24 July 2014

Food Festival: Colorful Flavors of Chettinad @ Dakshin, ITC Windsor, Bangalore

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Chettiar - a successful business community from the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu are a social community that specializes in the preparation of food. High on spice and aromas, use of traditional spices to bring in the flavors and distinct colors to each preparation, famous for their meat preparations (comprising of mostly chicken, lamb and a variety of seafood) is my way of describing the cuisine that is gaining a lot of popularity. 

It is true - Food is an expression of flavors, colors, love, culture and more. One such dining experience I had a few days ago was at the ongoing food festival 'Colorful Flavors of Chettinad' being hosted by Dakshin - a quintessential South Indian restaurant at ITC Windsor, Bangalore. This festival, on till 31st July is a great way to experience the cuisine and its flavors. Though high on spice, Dakshin is known to cater to the diners palate and tune the levels of spice based on preference yet maintaining high emphasis on flavors and authenticity. 

We were guided to our table and as we took seat, I looked around to see most tables occupied with foreign nationals. As a tradition of Dakshin, women here are welcomed with Jasmine (Mallige / Mogra etc in different parts of the country) flowers. 

A special a-la carte menu has been crafted specially for this food festival and includes the classics and signature dishes that represent the cuisine. Presenting quite an elaborate listing for a food festival; right from starters, mains and accompaniments to dessert, there is enough for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. I couldn't wait more to get started and when it did, I was clueless of where it would stop.

For those who relate to South Indian cuisine as not more that idli, vada, dosa, chutney and sambar; you've got to visit this restaurant to get a real feel of the diverse food that South India has to offer. To get a feel of the kind of experience you will have, continue to read on as I take you on a food journey through the region of Chettinad. 

What We Ate:
Our start was with assorted poppadoms, mini banana dosai and 4 different types of chutneys. Each chutney distinct in flavor and color. This a customary start to the food on every table at Dakshin and forms a good company as we wait for our food to arrive.
Chutneys (L to R): Tomato Pachdi, Coconut chutney, Mint chutney and Tomato & Peanut chutney

Settu Soup was the first to arrive - A lentil based broth made with tomatoes and cauliflower, this soup was rich in spices and got a lot of its flavor from the use of peppercorns. Nice and hot, this was indeed a good start to the chettinad cuisine.

For starters it was 'Kuzhi Paniyaram'; dumplings of rice and urad dal batter seasoned and tempered with mustard, onions and green chilies, cooked in paniyaram moulds and 'Sundiah' - lovely shredded lamb ball cooked in a blend of special spices, caged in banana stem fibers and deep fried. Both were excellent but my preference tilts towards the delicious 'Sundiah' for its subtle flavors and perfect tenderness. Accompany this with the fabulous tomato-chili chutney and it is a melange of flavor.
Kuzhi Paniyaram

Mains was an absolute feast - both in terms of flavor and spread. Starting clockwise from the bottom, on my plate was 'Malabar paratha', 'Chettinad Kozhi', 'Keerai Kadayal', 'Vella Poriyal', 'Attukal Kari', 'Meen Kozhambu', 'Chettinad Chops' and 'Kozhi Tharakkal' right in the center. Do you want to picture that? Okay.. Here you go - 

Dining on this table was an absolute feast to each of the senses. 'Attukal Kari'; a lamb curry was rich in both texture and flavor. The chettinad spices brought out a wonderful aroma and the boneless lamb chunks in this dish were tender and juicy. 'Meen Kozhambu' was a tangy fish curry and a perfect example of exquisite flavors and perfectly cooked fish. 
Meen Kozhambu

In vegetarian, between 'Keerai Kadayal' - tempered spinach curry and 'Kaikari Mandi' - a combination of vegetables in a gravy of tamarind, chilis, and garlic tempered with mustard and curry leaves, my pick will be the latter for its sweet and tangy flavor. This flavor was quite unique and beautifully showcased the diversity of flavor in Chettinad preparations.
Kaikari Mandi

There was more on the non-vegetarian front - 'Kozhi Tharakkal' a semi-dry chicken dish with tomato and ground cashew as the base. This was mild, subtle and delicious in flavor. 

The highlight in terms of spice for the evening came from the 'Chettinad Kozhi and chops'. Kozhi is chicken and chops - of course lamb chops. High on spice and flavor both these preparations were wonderful and went very well as both a side; all by itself or in mains with the Malabar paratha. 

We were served Malabar paratha and Appam to go with the mains. Malabar paratha was flaky and soft. Looks like Dakshin can never go wrong with this. I say this recalling a memory of lunch with the famous American Chef - Christopher Koetke who needed no time to fall in love with their paratha. Appam was nice too and made for a good pairing with the fish curry. 

There was rice as well but I was so stuffed for this evening that I had no space even for desserts. in fact a very rare scene - I had non-vegetarian food left in my plate. Yet, going by the feedback from the table, I did give it a try and glad I did. It was 'Aadikkumayam', an urad dal based sweet and 'Kavani Arisi', a pudding made sweetened wild rice and coconut. The former was really rich in consistency and quite sweet on the palate. For those who like mild sweetness, it is the 'Kavani Arisi' that will shine.
L: Aadikkumayam; R: Kavani Arisi

The menu for 'Colorful flavors of Chettinad' - a food festival is available till the end of this month. An average meal for two will cost around Rs. 3500 plus taxes and charges. This dining experience is definitely memorable for each dish served is so distinct from each other and really appeals to the taste buds. 

I must tell you, "ITC Windsor takes its food and hospitality very seriously and I can say this from the numerous visits I have made to this elegant hotel." For this food festival specifically, wild rice for instance has been imported all the way from Europe into the kitchen of Dakshin to make the 'Kavani Arisi' dessert.
L: Wild Rice; R: Kavani Arisi

Quick Tips:
Go experience the extravagance of Chettinad on a plate in a setting that is very welcoming and hospitality that will have you coming back for more. 

Address: Dakshin, ITC Windsor, 25 Windsor Square, Golf Course Road, Near Sankey Road, Bangalore
Phone Number: +91 80 2226 9898

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