Treasures from an Andhra Kitchen @ Aloft

Andhra food is known to make grown people cry. Tears of happiness, no doubt, if you fancy spicy food. We were told the management preferred that we go for the food festival at lunchtime. That sounded ominous so I did the next best thing - took along a large box of tissues!

Aloft Hotel sits at the Sholinganallur junction on the Old Mahabalipuram Road. The 6 year old 3-star property has become a landmark of sorts over the years.  We had been invited to review the ongoing Kitchen Treasures - Andhra Food Festival at dot.yum, the buffet-style coffee shop.

Strings of marigolds hang across the doorway leading to the cafe and it's a nice way to announce the presence of a food festival - sort of puts one in the mood. There are also blown up posters of a young and dashing N.T. Rama Rao from his acting days. Later, he went on to become the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.

dot.yum cafe is a comfortable place to be in on a summer afternoon. The staff were busy setting up the buffet counters but not too busy to bring me a cold and refreshing glass of watermelon juice while I waited for a fellow blogger. We were soon joined by F&B Manager Karthikeyan and Executive Chef Ashokkumar who took us around the buffet. 70% of the dishes on the menu are festival-based so someone who wants to have a bite from the regular buffet will not go hungry. Some of the names of the dishes sounded familiar - I had lived at Hyderabad a long time ago. Nostalgia hit me and I decided to concentrate only on the Andhra fare.

Chef Suguna Rao

Chef Suguna Rao is the culinary expert behind the festival that features star dishes from Vijaywada, Guntur and Tenali. She was not very comfortable speaking in English, so Chef Ashokkumar doubled as translator. I have yet to meet a more self-effacing person and the adage "let the food do the talking" could not be more amply demonstrated. The chef told us that to keep the food authentic, she had sourced all the ingredients, right from those deadly chillies, tamarind and turmeric from AP. In addition, she and her husband are entrepreneurs who make  podis, pickles and pachadis at home which are used by many star hotels in the city.

Andhra chilli chicken;  royalla vepudu

There are 6 veg and 3 non-veg starters. Royalla vepudu, a classic fried prawn dish was a good way to start - it brought on tears but was oh-so-delicious and I finished my portion. Loved the freshness of the prawns, the bite from the chillies and the zesty freshness of coriander leaves. The Andhra chilli chicken was not as spicy and the cubes of chicken were very tender. Gunpowder squid, while not an Andhra dish, was another stunner. The rings had been coated with red, spicy masala and fried crisp. Of the 6 veg starters, 2 were food festival specials - aaku vadalu - tiny little vadais and oats masala punugulu, deep fried lentil and oat balls that were served with a peanut chutney. Surprisingly, none of the starters were oily and and were light on the stomach.

Oats masala pungulu; aaku vadulu; gunpowder squid

Peethala charu
We were served peethala charu - a crab and pepper soup, almost like a rasam. Just the thing if you have a stuffy nose. Perfectly balanced flavours of crab, pepper and other spices which only enhanced the 2 main flavours - that of the crab and pepper.

Bobbarla guggillu  which is quite like a sundal. Healthy too!

Thottakura mamsam; miryala kodi kura; chepala pulusu

There were three meat based main courses - miryala kodi kura - the Andhra version of pepper chicken, a delicious thottakura mamsam - super-soft pieces of mutton with amaranth leaves in a thick gravy. Amaranth leaves added a tinge of astringency but they worked well together; and chepala pulusu - a  pleasantly tangy fish in gravy. Each one of the dishes was made with distinctly different spices. The fish gravy was so delicious that you could pour it into a bowl and drink it up. And lick the bowl clean.

Munagkai pulusu; bangala vepudu; dondakaya kobari kura; mamadikaya pappu

The vegetarian side was equally brilliant - munagkai pulusu - a delightful dish of drumstick in a thick gravy, bangala vepudu - stir-fried potatoes with chilli and dondakaya kobari - gherkins cooked with coconut. Gherkins are a very popular vegetable in Andhra cuisine. There was also mamadikaya pappu - a deliciously tangy lentil and mango dish.


We had pesarattu - a dosa made with green gram that had diced onions as a filling. It was served with ginger chutney and the combination was delightful. And do not miss another classic Andhra speciality - pulihora (tamarind rice). Plenty of peanuts in this one. In case you like Indian breads, don't forget to order the one stuffed with cheese.

Perugu vadulu - the batter for the vada is different from the ones made here; also, the vadas are not soaked in water but directly into beaten curd, allowing the flavours to permeate 

Gongura, gooseberry, mango & ginger pickles; podis; pachadis

What's an Andhra meal without pickles, podis and pachadis? The gongura chutney was a pleasure to eat, and the Andhra mango pickle was finger lickin' good. So were each of the podis. Chef Suguna's husband told me to sprinkle some of the coriander-based podi on the curd vada. As predicted, it was ethereal. Special mention must be made of the dosakai pachadi - if you like the taste of cucumber on a hot summer's day, you will lose yourself in the flavours of this one. Help yourself to some fragrant steamed rice, a spoonful of ghee and any of the podis. Bliss!

Pooterakulu; bandar laddu; poornam boorelu; jeedi pakkam aka cashew chikki

More desserts: paalakova; gummidikaya payasam; layers of pooterakulu

Six Andhra-style desserts are on offer. Only the pootarekulu had been outsourced. Loved its flaky, ghee-laden layers. Everything else had been made by Chef Suguna and all of them were delish. I'm nitpicking here but the only one I didn't enjoy was the pumpkin payasam as it was far too sweet for me.

When you cook with love, it shows. Every single dish had been crafted with care. Except in a couple of the dishes, the spice levels were tolerable and that was because the chef had been asked to keep local palates in mind. For me, none of the food tasted like it had been made in a commercial kitchen - no excess use of oil or seasoning. In fact, it tasted like a good home cooked meal. And that box of tissues - I took it back home unopened.

F&B Manager Karthikeyan, Executive Chef Ashokkumar,  GM Krishnakumar

Kitchen Treasures - Andhra Food Festival is on till 19th June at Aloft Hotel and possibly beyond for both lunch and dinner. Cost of the buffet is 850/++ per head.

Aloft Chennai OMR-IT Expressway
#102, Rajiv Gandhi Salai,
Sholinganallur, Chennai 600119.

Do call 9551691676/ 90947 83123 for reservations.


Post a Comment

  • Bake Tales © 2012