Flavours of Sri Lanka at Vasco's

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The hoppers that Chef Tulitha Neranjana brings to the table are fluffy; the scalloped edges look like the petals of a flower. The only difference between them and appams from Kerala is that the centre of the hopper is not as thick as an appam's. However, it is soft but I can't taste what it has been leavened with. He tells me that it's because it has no leavening!

Hoppers

Known as the Pearl of the Orient, Sri Lanka's similarities to South India surprised us. Driving from Colombo to Kandy a few years ago, lush green paddy fields and swaying coconut trees reminded us of Kerala. And like the food of Kerala, rice, spices and coconut are the backbone of Sri Lankan cuisine.

Chef Tulitha Neranjana

Sri Lanka's cuisine has been influenced by the Dutch, Portuguese and British who colonised the island nation. Dishes like lamprais and frikkadels have Dutch origins, the Portuguese introduced chillies and pao or bread while the English influence resulted in cutlets, puddings, meat and of course the love of tea. They too have appam but call them hoppers, there's also string hoppers or idiappam. Chef Tulitha says though they use the same spices as in India, SL curries taste different because their curry pastes are wet, whereas Indians use dry curry powders.

Kothamalli saaru - a delicious digestive
made with coriander, ginger & lime juice 


Seafood curry soup



"The Flavours of Sri Lanka" is on ongoing food festival at Vasco's. In the two weeks that he will be here, Chef Tulitha, from Hilton Colombo Residences is showcasing his country's vibrant colours through authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. The bright red seafood curry soup was so flavoursome but the taste of curry was missing. The coconut roti with grated coconut  served with a trio of condiments was lovely and made up for the soup.

Coconut roti

Must try condiments esp. the caramelised onions

Sri Lankan pork curry

While Chef Tulitha busied himself with filling little bowls with the curries, I had a quick look around the buffet spread. There were many achars, condiments like seeni sambal and surprisingly, an almost black pork curry. It looked like the Coorg-style one but minus the kachumpuli or kokum.

Stir fried prawn and squid

From top: fish stew; lime pickle; cucumber curry; okra; beef curry; beetroot, sambal & chutney; veralu & yellow rice

Sri Lankans love rice and curry, grains of turmeric coated, mildly spiced rice took centre stage. Around it, like colourful satellites, were bowls containing delicious yellow fish stew, Malabar cucumber curry with a hint of mustard, okra fry, a beef curry, beetroot fry and more chutneys. There was also pickled Ceylon olive or veralu. The marble-size fruit was pleasant to bite into. Strips of rice sticks, reminiscent of papads are always served with rice. 

Desserts - watalapam; coconut taffe; kalu dodal; bibikkan

The watalapam is delish but what takes the cake is the halwa-like kalu dodal. Made with rice powder and jaggery, it can take something like 14 hours to make.

Back in college, we had a Sri Lankan girl in the hostel who used to bring us delicious milky toffee every time she came back from a trip home. I mentioned this to the chef and he disappeared only to return a couple of minutes later with some toffee and coconut candy. How touching was that!

Milk taffee; coconut candy

Flavours of Sri Lanka will be on till July 24th for dinner only at 1845/++ per head.
Vasco's is at The Hilton Chennai.

*This was an invited review 

An evening with OMG!

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OMG! It's not what you think - it stands for Oh My Ganna!! Hilton Hotel Chennai and OMG! curated an event that starred ... yes... sugarcane juice.

What's in a bottle of OMG!

Sugarcane juice is what childhood memories are made of. But back then, it also came with dire warnings of the unhygienic way in which the juice was extracted and served. And it was a seasonal indulgence to boot. Not anymore because Nurticane Beverages has done plenty of R&D and come up with a way to extract the juice, bottle it and give it a shelf life of 6 months without refrigeration.

Mocktails; Karumbu Chaaru; OMG Magic; OMG Jelup

Cocktails: Puli Tithipu; OMG Magic; OMG Cooler

Dipin Kumar, Director and Co-Founder of Nurticane Beverages told us his company was able to bottle this natural thirst quencher, thanks to the FreshFusion processing technology it employs.

The bartenders at the Vintage Bank were up to their usual tricks. They created 6 drinks, 3 cocktails and 3 mocktails, each with a base of OMG's sugarcane juice. Additional flavours came from ingredients like lime, ginger, basil leaves, black salt, pomegranate juice and even cotton candy! In the case of cocktails, we found that vodka and rum and sugarcane juice make great cocktails.


OMG Magic with Absolut Blue vodka, OMG sugarcane juice,
pomegranate juice, basil, lime juice and cotton candy

Chef Manish and his team has been equally busy creating finger foods to go with the drinks. We nibbled on dainty food on sticks like chao tom, meen kaidina, lamb pinwheels and asparagus Caroline.

Veg mantou buns; asparagus Caroline

Lamb pinwheels

Chao Tom on sugarcane sticks; meen kaidina

Methi pappad ki seekh



OMG! has 3 variants - Cumin Crush, Lemon Love and Ginger Groove. They come in sleek bottles and are best when chilled. Priced at 40/, they are available in select stores in the city.

OMG Cooler. Served with a paper straw.

Flavours of Thailand at Chap Chay

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Fresh herbs and spices are the hallmark of Thai cuisine; that and the balance of the five tastes that Thai food is known for.

Chef Joy

Visiting Thai Chef Siriporn has brought the flavours of Thailand to Chap Chay, along with plenty of ingredients. Invited to review the festival, we learn she is also known as Chef Joy. Ever smiling, friendly and capable, we left the choice of menu to her. You could choose from her set menu or go à la carte.

Crudites, crackers and sliced mango with dips

Tom khati kha min

With the right ingredients, it's pretty simple to replicate Thai food at home. But good Thai food is not only about ingredients, it's also about balance and harmony between ingredients. The soup, Tom khati kha min looked just like the usual coconut milk soup with chicken and straw mushrooms. What was different was the addition of turmeric. At first, it was an odd flavour but as we drank it, became less obvious and actually pleasant. As for the broth made with thin coconut milk, it was a fabulous harmony of those five tastes and did not leave us feeling heavy.


Satay gai

Po pia kee mow

Starters were Satay gai, chicken satay with a light dip and Po pia kee mow, vegetarian spring rolls. Both were pleasant enough with no wow factor.

Yum tom orn tanatawan

What impressed us was Yum tom orn tanatawan, a sprouted sunflower seed salad. The sprouts had been tossed in a lime, chilli and coconut milk-based dressing, with more sunflower seeds and crisp fried wantan skins for crunch. The dressing was deliciously tangy.

Gaeng phed ped yang

If you like the Thai red curry, don't miss Gaeng phed ped yang which has tender roasted duck slices in red curry sauce. Creamy and spicy, the sauce also had lychees, pineapple, pea and green eggplants and cherry tomatoes and it was spectacular. Plain Jasmine rice is the best vehicle to carry all those flavours.   

A selection of proteins, noodles & veg for stir fries

Noodles with XO sauce

Chap Chay is known for its Asian stir fry bowls where you choose from a variety of meat/ vegetables /noodles or a combination of all. You get to choose your sauce and the chef cooks it for you. Continuing with the Thai festival format, Chef Joy has a dozen Thai flavoured sauces. My friend chose the chilli garlic basil sauce, not very spicy but aromatic with herbs. Mine was the XO sauce and the flavour of shrimp paste was delish.   

Bua loy sam see

Glutinous flour is used extensively in Asian desserts. Chef Joy's recommendation was tiny balls of tri-coloured Bua loy sam see, flavoured and coloured with pumpkin puree, pandan and the third left plain. Along with shreds of tender coconut in a "soup" of pandan-flavoured warm coconut milk, it was a lovely end to a fabulous meal.

Catch Chef Joy at Chap Chay till July 15th. It's on for both lunch and dinner. A meal for 2 would be around 1800/++.

Chap Chay is at The Raintree, St. Mary's Road.

The tale of Kappa Chakka Kandhari

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When toddy shop cuisine [sic] gets a makeover, the result is what is served at Kappa Chakka Kandhari. The name of the newest restaurant in town translates into three ingredients grown in almost every Kerala backyard - tapioca, jackfruit and bird's eye chilli.

The KCK team: John Paul, Chef Regi Mathew, Augustine Kurian

Fronted by Chef Regi Mathew, Augustine Kurian and John Paul, the restaurant at Haddows Road serves "neo-stalgic" food, the food that reminds many Keralites of their mom's cooking but with a modern, hygienic interpretation. The three men grew up in Kerala; when they settled down in this city, missed their moms' food so much. It is a fact that once out of Kerala, it is difficult to enjoy a proper Kerala meal in a restaurant setting in Chennai. So they did the next best thing - decided to start their own. But before that, they spent 3 years familiarising themselves with the cuisine which involved travelling around Kerala and going into the kitchens of many a home cook to learn the specialities and nuances of food of these regions.

Watch out for this signage on Haddows Road!
Refreshing buttermilk

Eco friendly too - clay water bottles on each table

All the ingredients that are used at KCK come from Kerala and the food is made by home-cooks and cooked in small batches so as to replicate that home-made flavour and keep it authentic. It may be time consuming but they have the integrity down pat! It's something that I can vouch for as the beef curry we tasted was just like what my aunt used to make.

From top left: fried kozhuva (Indian anchovies); fried yam; kakka irachi; koorka ularthiyathu

While I am familiar with the cuisine of South Kerala, my niece is very knowledgeable about the food of the North Kerala-Malabar region and other places like Allepey, Palghat and Trichur so I got a quick lesson in the differences in the ingredients and cooking styles of these regions. What's nice is that the food is served tapas-style - small servings and plenty of variety. The coconut shell serving spoons put us right into the mood. The flavour that coconut oil adds to all the dishes is truly the taste of home. The starters in small plates came in quick succession.

One of KCK's signature dishes - boiled tapioca with kandhari chutney - awesome!

Tapioca bajjis
Idiyirachi - dried and pounded meat

Unda puttu (savoury kozhukatta) with a gingery mushroom filling

Unexpected pairing - beef curry with banana fritter

Kanji payar with pappadam and chamanthi

Steamed prawn and coconut parcels

Soft Ramaserri idlis with sambar


For mains, there are kappa, pathiri, vattappam or the famous Ramaserri idlis that are served steaming hot along with sambar, beef or chicken curry. They even have a cook from Ramaserri and all he does is make those idlis!

Pazham sharbath flavoured with sarsaparilla

Parippu payasam; ada pradhaman; chakka ice cream

Desserts were ada pradhaman and parippu payasam. Both were delicious but we were floored when they served us kandhari ice cream. Flecks of fresh, wickedly red kandhari chillies had been churned into the ice cream. We tasted it in trepidation and luckily, are still alive to tell the tale

Well, we had tried kappa and kandhari in the tasting menu so we asked the team how come they left out chakka. They probably expected that question because in no time, we had bowls of jackfruit ice cream in front of us. And let me tell you, that was simply stunning. Smooth creamy ice cream studded with bits of fresh jackfruit. Sheer bliss!

The KCK team were busy but made the time to talk to us on what made them decide to start the restaurant. John Paul's story involved a mysterious flight with Augustine to Kochi, a visit to a particular toddy shop there and other intriguing details. Alas, we had to promise to reveal no more.

Kappa Chakka Kandhari is at No. 10, Haddows Road, Nungambakkam. They are open from 10 am - 11 pm. Call 044 28201010 for reservations.

Kakka irachi

 
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