Oktoberfest 6 at 365 AS

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It's the 6th year that Oktoberfest is being celebrated at Hyatt Regency Chennai and it's only getting better. The familiar blue and white striped canopy hung overhead, jars of mustard and other condiments were arranged on each trestle table and there was a large crowd of folks that had been invited to bring in the festival. German Consul General Achim Fabig did the honours by tapping the keg and golden brew flowed into a pitcher held underneath the tap.

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At the exact same moment, our beer mugs were filled by the service crew. The beer was cold and there was no other way to quench a mighty thirst.

Mustard selection

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German music and familiar pop songs in German kept the crowd on its toes. Every now and then, train dancers would snake around the tables, pulling in more people and everyone joined in with gusto. Chennai's version of the Bavarian beer and sausage festival was absolutely fun.

Pretzels, salads & sourdough slices


The pretzel tree




Beer-roasted chicken & mashed potatoes

Veg delights -mushroom & spinach strudel; roasted veggies

Sausages & sauerkraut

There were salads to start the meal with - cheese and ham and green bean amandine. Yummy breads like sourdough and pumpernickel were arranged beside them. And of course, deliciously chewy pretzels studded with salt flakes At the counters, there were plenty of main courses and how could it be Oktoberfest without the bratwursts, frankfurters and snail sausages?

Snail sausage and sauerkraut

Roasted pork belly and the works!

The pièce de résistance was a beautifully roasted, delightfully tender pork belly with accompaniments... so died-and-went-to-heaven good!

Bee sting cake

Apple strudel; chocolate pots



Yummy pancakes with cherry compote

Do leave some space for dessert, they're really really good.

Oktoberfest is on till October 7th and it's  a good idea to make a reservation.

Prost!!

Pic: Hyatt Regency Chennai

Wharf 2.0, Temple Bay

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The five elements - earth, water, fire, air and space, are contained in everything that exists. When the elements are in sync, it's a perfect life.

Chessmen

It was my first time at the Temple Bay resort and having arrived alone, was unsure of which direction to take to go to the Wharf. Friendly staff directed me to the buggy stop and when the next one trundled along, I hopped in. It took a winding route, along manicured lawns and flower beds, past the cottages and chalets and finally came to a stop near the restaurant where I got off. But I had seen something interesting and walked back to a life-size chess set. 2 young men were playing a game and didn't mind me taking a picture.

Sun, sea and earth

Temple Bay, run by the GRT group, is a beautiful resort at Mahabalipuram. The Wharf, its beachside restaurant had been in need of a makeover and so it was decided to completely refurbish it. And when the work was over, how better to launch the new space, the new name and the new logo than to have a beach party? The new thatched roof with its streaks of blue that sometimes matched the colour of the waters of the Bay was particularly appealing. Beach shacks line the sea-front edge of the property.

Wharf 2.0

Wharf 2.0 must be at the crossroads of the 5 elements. The grass is lush, just beyond is the sea whose restless waves caress the shore and coconut palms sway in unison.  A cool wind blew through the crowd of both locals and expats who had assembled in the lawn. Friends met up, strangers became friends and the drinks flowed like the waters of the sea.

Tender coconut anyone??


Welcome shots

There was still light in the sky when the welcome drinks in test tubes were offered. As darkness fell, we could see a ramp has been set up and lights directed at it.

Cheesy tikkas

Mushroom en croute


Appetisers were served, deliciously cheesy chicken tikkas and mushroom parcels. There were lots of other things but by then, we knew that plenty of food was being cooked on the grills.

Models

Staff

The logo

The ramp was lit up and in a perfect photo op moment, the moon appeared between 2 coconut trees. There was a fashion show by models showcasing designer Prajanya Anand's creations. After that, Vikram Cotah, COO of GRT Hotels and Resorts unveiled the new logo of Wharf 2.0. It was now the turn of his team to strut on the catwalk. Pop music from the 80s played over the system and everyone knew the lyrics as they sang and swayed along.

Grilling the night away

A barbeque area had been set up in one corner and the aroma of fish, prawns, paneer, vegetables and kebabs being grilled was simply irresistible. More food was served in the restobar and the lineup of desserts was incredibly tempting. (P.S. I've heard that Temple Bay's forte is its desserts and I'm inclined to agree.)

Temple Bay and Wharf 2.0 are certainly deserving of a second visit especially since I like my seafood grilled. A meal for 2 without alcohol is 2000/++. And something tells me that when I go, it will be the perfect night.

(The Wharf has had a bit of a checkered past. In December 2004, when it was all set to open, the Indian Ocean tsunami destroyed much of the property. After repairs, it was relaunched in February of the next year.)




Yum yum dim sums at Stix, HRC

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It's the Yum Yum Dim Sum Fest happening at Stix, HRC's Sichuan restaurant. Our group of 4 who had been invited to review the promotion, had plenty to catch up with while cute little baskets filled with little dumplings made their appearance at the table at regular intervals.

Dim sums are bite size morsels of food wrapped in a thin dough wrapper and steamed. Or fried, pan-fried or even baked. Then again, they may not have a wrapper. The ones served at Stix are a modern interpretation of the popular snack made and served in fancy restaurants or even street stalls around China. The best thing to wash them down with is jasmine tea.

I love dim sums, especially those served in speciality dim sum restaurants abroad. Restaurants compete with each other to innovate shapes and fillings and thereby woo patrons. Getting those sort of ingredients is a huge challenge in Chennai but restaurants like Stix do make the effort to give the diner a different sort of experience. Stix has innovated by putting a modern twist to the fillings though the final appearance does look old school.

Seafood dumpling soup

A bowl of delicious seafood  put us right in the mood. Vegetables and a dumpling that enclosed a seafood filling floated in the almost clear broth. Yum!

Pan-fried veg bao


We got to try some of the vegetarian versions as well, the pan-fried bao was stuffed with vegetables and it was quite nice too. The bao covering was soft and fluffy and the filling was moist.  

Spinach and corn dumpling

Spinach and golden garlic dumpling

Asparagus, bean and pine nut open dumpling
Edamame, wasabi and cheese dumpling



Other vegetarian offerings included spinach and golden garlic, an open dumpling filled with beans, asparagus and pine nuts and the not-to-be-missed edamame, wasabi and cheese dumpling. Stuffed with mashed edamame, the wasabi lent a mild bite while the cheese added a touch of exotica. 

Prawn and water chestnut

Lamb kothey

Shanghai chicken soupy dumpling, a take on xiao long bao 



Sea bass dumpling

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The chefs showed us how to shape a seafood dumpling. Nimble fingers shaped and pinched the edges closed into a standing triangle and then, magically, a frill appeared.

Sticky pork bao

The best was definitely sticky pork bao. Hoisin sauce had been slathered inside the bun and on it lay slices of fatty roast pork, shredded carrots and coriander leaves. Pretty to look at and it tasted fabulous.

Two sauces were served with the dumplings - coriander-spring onion and crispy chilli paste. I would have preferred a nice, red, spicy chilli sauce. The fillings were tasty but some of the wrappers like those that enclosed the Shanghai soupy dumpling, prawn and water chestnut and the open dumpling wrappers were rather thick and dry.

Yum Yum Dim Sum Fest is on till September 17th and only for dinner, from 7 - 11.30 pm. Stix's regular menu has other Sichuan specialities. Vegetarian dim sums are priced at 588/++ a basket, non veg at 688/++.

The menu

An Onam sadya at Enté Keralam

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Around August / September every year, Kerala and Malayalees all over the world, and their friends, get ready to welcome the festival of Onam. Essentially a festival that could span 4 - 10 days, it celebrates the return of the mythical Asura king, Mahabali to earth and also coincides with the harvest festival. The best time to visit Kerala would be at Onam to watch the vallamkali - snake boat races on the Pampa and other rivers, the elephant procession and fireworks at Trichur and of course, feast on an Onam sadya.

Mahabali, as legend goes, was a popular ruler. The people were very happy under his rule and the land flourished. However, the gods felt threatened by his fame and plotted to bring about his downfall. Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a poor dwarf, Vamana, and asked Mahabali to grant him a small piece of land, an area that could be covered in 3 strides. The king thought it was an unusual request but agreed nevertheless. At this, Vamana grew back into his original size and his first stride covered the whole earth. With the second stride, he covered the sky and Mahabali realised that the only place left for the third step was his own head and he offered it. He was banished to the underworld. Pleased with Mahabali's devotion, Lord Vishnu granted him a boon. All Mahabali asked for was to be able to come back to earth once a year to see his subjects. That day is Thiruvonam, the most auspicious day of the festival when the land welcomes back their much-loved ruler.  

Pookalam

Selfie corner!

We had been invited to the Alwarpet branch of Enté Keralam to review the Onam sadya. A pretty pookalam decorates the floor at the entrance of the restaurant, this flower arrangement is another aspect of the festival. Petals of nine kinds of flowers (the only ones I recognise are hibiscus, lantana and ixora) are laid out in a beautiful pattern.  There is also a selfie corner where you could wear the crown and have a friend hold the umbrella over your head and click a picture.

Nannari sherbet

There is seating on the ground floor but we preferred to go up into one of the rooms on the first. Buttermilk is usually served as a thirst quencher; I opted for a refreshing nannari sherbet since some of the sadya dishes would be made with curd.


From left: karangalli water; mor kachithu; sambar; rasam. On the plate: curd; thoren; avial; erissery; pineapple pachadi; kichadi; olen; kaalan, parippu; pappadam; rice; banana; 4 kinds of chips; injipulli; lime pickle; tender mango pickle; inji thayir & payasams. Pic courtesy: Yogita

The sadya is served on a banana leaf placed on a steel plate. The placement of each item of the sadya is important; the order of eating too is. One starts with the chips and there are 4 types - banana, jackfruit, yam and jaggery-coated banana. Put a dab of the injipuli (a sweet and tangy ginger chutney) on your tongue and that will activate your taste buds. The portions are tiny but when you have 28 items on the plate (some of them are outside the plate), small portions are more than enough.

Mix a little of the nei parippu (lentils seasoned in ghee) with the rice, crush a pappadam over and munch on. A second serving of rice, sambar  and kaalan is next. The kalaan, a mash of raw banana, yam and curd, is slightly bitter because of the fenugreek powder added at the end. The olen, made with ash gourd and black-eyed peas, has the lovely flavour of coconut oil and is a palate cleanser.

Rasam; mor kachiathu; sambar

The meal has been curated by Thirumeni Unnikrishnan Namboodri, a chef and practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine. He is also a temple priest. Chatting with Chef Jayaprakash of the restaurant, he told me that this type of cooking is Trichur-style and in accordance with the principles of Ayurvedic cooking, no onion or garlic is used in any of the food. The vegetables used and method of cooking does not leave the diner feeling stuffed at the end of the meal.

All the ingredients used in cooking the sadya are brought in from Kerala. Both the cabbage thoren and erissery are quite different from what we south Kerala folk make. Even the avial is a dry preparation, no curd is used in making the gravy. The pineapple pachadi and kichadi are deliciously tangy, the latter has diced Kerala cucumber for a bit of texture. The pickles - lime, citron, whole baby mangoes and ginger-in-curd, enhance the flavour of the meal, a beautiful balance of the five tastes. The thick-set curd the restaurant serves is definitely not to be missed.

From bottom left: wheat, ada prathamam, parippu & nei payasam

Four kinds of payasams are served to round off the meal. We're told to start with the light ones first but somewhere along the way, we forgot those instructions. The restaurant makes its own ada (steamed rice sheet) and they are so beautifully made and cut evenly. The best was nei payasam, cooked with dark jaggery and it glides down the throat effortlessly.

Enté Keralam will serve the special lunch sadya only till September 5th. There will be more items on the menu, including their special payasam. The cost of the sadya is priced at 799/- per head (all inclusive). Or you could also buy just the payasams if you like.

Enté Keralam is at 1, Kasturi Estate 1st Street Poes Garden, Chennai. The other 2 branches are at Wallace Garden, Nungambakkam and Annanagar.
Call 7810044874 for reservations and that's highly recommended.

Onasamsakal to everyone!

Creation of a food festival: The making of A Syrian Christian Fare

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Four months ago, I was at Hyatt Regency Chennai to do a food review. While chatting with the PR Manager, she confided that the hotel was planning a Syrian Christian food fest and asked if I knew any Syrian Christians who could help them design the menu. I nearly fell off my chair in excitement, thought over her words for exactly one second and then slowly told her I was one. Well, she nearly fell off her chair in shock! She called Executive Chef Vikram Ganpule, explained our conversation and asked him if he could come over. He did so immediately and asked me to name 8 popular SC dishes. Eh? It had been quite a while since I had made a naadan dish and my mind went blank. Then I recalled the table at home, my parents and I having lunch together and I started reeling out names when Chef Ganpule stopped me and said, "I asked you for 8 and you've already named 12!"

Beef oliarthiathu, one of the most popular dishes in the cuisine

The 10-day festival was to be held in August. Chef Senthil, chef-de-cuisine of Spice Haat was in charge of organising the menu. My job was to make a list of recipes, let the chefs know of any ingredient that may not be easily available in Chennai so they could source it and then turn up at the restaurant kitchen in August when the food trials would start. Spice Haat had a couple more food festivals in the intervening months where the team explained the format of food planning and service during promotions. Huh! August was still months away.

Chef Senthil

Chef Pandian with demi-chefs de partie

The team

Or so I thought when in June, I realised that I still hadn't come up with a single recipe. And they wanted 40!

Parippu with coconut; kappa vevichathu - served with red fish curry

Back home, my mother had a stack of Malayalam cookbooks and while I couldn't read the language, as ingredients were being assembled, I had a fair idea of what she was cooking. Lunch at home would usually be a typical Syrian Christian meal of rice and curry.

Meen mappas - tangy, coconutty and perfect with appam

Among my wedding presents were 2 cookbooks on Syrian Christian cooking by the late Mrs. KM Mathew, the first editor of Vanitha and a prolific cookbook writer. She was my mother's cousin and I was always grateful to her for the thoughtful gift. Her recipes had been tried and tested by many over the years and I followed them blindly; everything I tried came out pretty much like what Mum made (at least I thought so).

Crisp beef cutlets

Still, a little something more was needed and that's when I asked my aunt, Dr. Sare Paul to share some of her recipes. And tips! She wrote out a stack of recipes and comparing them with Mrs. Mathew's, I found they were quite similar. Interesting, because the recipes and methods of making this cuisine did not vary much over generations, towns and families. Thanks to my aunt, I also learnt interesting facets of the cuisine and after each cooking session, we would do a mini review of the day's events.

Meat ball curry, great with paratha, appam and rice

In school, we had Domestic Science classes where we were taught Fish Moilee and beef ball curry. Fascinating isn't it that heritage recipes from Kerala were being cooked by 14-year old Singapore schoolgirls. Food really has no boundaries.

Delicious curries of a meat-based cuisine

As children, whenever we visited my father's family home in Kerala, the array of food that came out of my aunt's kitchen would amaze me. The kitchen was out of bounds to me but I would find ways to sneak in. And run out almost immediately as the cooking was done over firewood and it was difficult to see and breathe with all that smoke. The family was large, visitors were enthusiastically welcomed and urged to stay on for a meal. The dining table would be groaning with food, there would always be a fish curry and one other meat, some vegetable dishes, rice, buttermilk, sambar or dal, theeyal, ginger curry, pappadams and pickle. And bananas!

Only a part of A Syrian Christian Fare spread

So what is Syrian Christian cuisine? I'm no expert on the matter but it comes across as a predominantly meat-based cuisine. There's beef, pork, chicken, mutton, duck and thanks to the long coastline, abundant seafood. Kodampulli, a souring agent, is an integral ingredient in fish curries. Another point is that the food is served as combinations - kappa (tapioca) and meen vevichathu (red fish curry), rice with mor kachithu (spiced buttermilk), beef oliarthiathu (beef fry) and cabbage thoren (cabbage with grated coconut) and appam with meen moilee or stew. Fish would be made in many ways - peera pattichathu, pollichathu, vevichathu and there would always be ulli (shallot) theeyal and inji (ginger)curry. Vegetables were cooked with grated coconut (thoren), in coconut milk or as mezhukkupuratti or fried.

The heights they go to to shoot a pic!
By early July, I submitted a list of 60 recipes and then some more. Eventually it was whittled down to about 40 that we could use for the festival. Some of the recipes were already familiar to the chefs so there was no need to try them out. We started the food trials a week ago. Spread out over 3 days, we cooked 6 dishes every day between the kitchen's lunch and dinner service. We worked on one side of the display kitchen while life went on as usual on the other side. Once our food was ready, they were transferred into little earthen pots and the F&B, PR and Marketing teams would arrange them artistically and shoot pictures to be posted on social media. The whole team would then taste the dishes and Chef Ganpule would suggest changes. On the last day, the chefs planned which dishes would be served on each day of the festival, keeping in mind colours and textures and the combination of dishes that would work with the rest of Spice Haat's buffet menu.

Table arrangements for the photo shoot

Aval vilaychathu to be eaten with bananas

On the final day, we tried out a selection of desserts. And they were delicious, not too sweet but each of them distinct in taste.


Avalose oonda, kids refer to them as cannonballs!

Having been invited very often by HRC to review their various food festivals, it has been quite an experience to be on the other side of the counter for a change. The hard work and coordination between departments is obvious, planning is meticulous and the results are there for all to see and taste. And thankfully, there are no Mr. Ramsey-esque moments!

The Syrian Christian Fare food promotion is on from August 18th - 27th. The pictures are a sneak peak of some of the dishes that will be served and I do hope that I've managed to whet your appetites. Do come on over and experience the food of the Syrian Christians. Vegetarians, do not despair for there will be a selection of dishes, especially for you.

There will also be a cooking workshop on August 23rd where recipes of some yummy dishes will be taught.

For reservations,  the number to call is 044 6100 1234.

A selection of sweetmeats - ada prathamam; wattayappam; ethakkappam; oonda; elayappam 
     

 
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