Flavours of Coorg at Food Exchange


The Kodavas are a people who live off the land. Rice is their staple food, their curries are made with seasonal produce; coconut and pepper are used extensively in their dishes. At one time, they even used to hunt wild game for meat. Even before gluten-free became a fad, that was their diet.   

The chefs

The week long Coorg Food Festival, curated by food expert and home chef, Smitha Kuttayya and Chef Gopi at Novotel Chennai Chamiers Road bears testament to this. Under the cloches, the kumbala (pumpkin) and kommu (mushroom) curries glisten. Oyster mushrooms have been used to make the kommu curry; they have a chewy texture and give the gravy substance. There's also thoppu palya, a dry spinach preparation.


Akki roti

Kumbala curry

Kommu curry

Koli nallamalu fry

Koli curry

To celebrate pepper which grows abundantly in the region, there's koli nallamalu (chicken pepper fry). It's not an overdose of pepper, rather a gentle warmth and the tell-tale dark colour to announce its presence. It's a dry dish and goes perfectly well with the thin akki roti or the rice dishes. The koli curry has ground coconut to thicken the gravy; ground cumin adds to the earthy fragrance. 

Coorg yerchi pulao; nei kool

Nei kool - ghee rice - has a wonderful fragrance. The rice is small grained and aromatic. Yerchi pulao is the Kodava version of biryani, chunks of mutton are cooked along with rice. It's a tad oily but the mild flavours allow it to be paired with any of the gravies.

Pandi curry

Pandi roast

If there's one dish in Kodava cuisine which has superstar status, it is Coorg pandi curry. At one time, it was made with the meat of wild boar which they were allowed to hunt. Smitha uses chunks of meat with fat. Spices are toasted till dark, ground to a paste and added to partially cooked meat. What gives it that special colour, taste and tanginess is kachumpulli, a kind of black vinegar made from a fruit. Making kachumpulli is a painstaking process but no Coorg kitchen will even be without a couple of bottles of this. This dish pairs well with just about all the breads and especially with sannas. There's also pandi roast, a dry version with no fat but equally tasty.

Neer dosa 

Nool puttu with chicken curry

Neer dosa, a thin crepe, is also made with rice. It's light and pairs well with each of the gravies. The nool puttu maker is an interesting contraption. The puttu is a little different from idiyappam - here, the rice paste is cooked before being pressed out. No further cooking is required.

Sardines are marinated in a little kachampulli before being fried 

Coconut chutney; jaggery water; ginger relish

Do look out for these little pots. Balla neer or jaggery water is fabulous with both neer dosa and nool puttu. To add another dimension, taste it with a tiny dab of the inji pajji which is like a ginger relish. Your taste buds will sing in delight!

Desserts - akki payasa; khas khas payasa; kuvale puttu

The food at the festival is delicious, homely and a good representation of what comes out of a Kodava kitchen. It's on till November 18th at Food Exchange and only for dinner and priced at 1400/++

*This was an invited review 

South Indian flavours at Aadhirai


At Aadhirai, anything that is served in a glass is worth relishing. The panagam granita is fabulous, the karupatti coconut even more so and the rosemilk is to die for. Even the desserts are served in cutting chai glasses.

The restaurant is housed in a beautifully preserved 80 year old building at Nungambakkam. And since it was once a residence, the seating area is spread over a couple of rooms on the ground floor and there's more on the 1st floor including one called the Buddha Room that has a beautiful mural. 

A beautiful brass knocker; old fashioned room layout; a painted window; the mural

Red oxide floors, slatted windows and old fashioned but beautifully polished teak furniture give the space a rustic feel. At one time, this property was known as Mango Tree, (there is majestic mango tree that stands tall in the compound) but ever since The Mad Chef aka Kaushik Shankar took over as chef consultant, Aadhirai has positioned itself as an authentic South Indian restaurant with a few twists thrown in, just for fun!

Dagamukti; panagam granita; karupetti coconut milkshake; rose milk

It would be a shame if you asked for plain drinking water because they have dagamukti and jeera water (served warm) and cucumber water. These flavoured waters help with digestion and have a host of other benefits. My dagamukti, made with pathi mukam, nannari and vetiver was the colour of a golden sunset. The panagam granita, laden with jaggery and dry ginger was absolutely sensational. Coconut milk and palm sugar is a standard pairing in many Asian desserts but the karupetti coconut milkshake was something else. Why was the rosemilk special? Because the humble beetroot was used for colouring it and no, there was absolutely no taste of the beet. What it did have instead was cubes of pink agar agar, a natural coolant.   

Chef Kaushik

Vadams & tomato thokku; garlic dip; mirapakaya pachadi; avakai mayo with bits of mango pickle

Playing the perfect host, The Mad Chef and the service crew explained the details of each dish as it was served. The complimentary starter of vadams came with 4 dips. We kept asking for refills of the tomato thokku and garlic dip because they were perfect with every one of the starters, especially the loaded yam nachos which came with its own topping.

Loaded yam nachos

English kai kari vepudu

Cauliflower 2019

Karuvepilli paneer

After batter frying the English veggies, they were dusted with Andhra paruppu podi, coating them in a carpet of spicy lentil powders. The vegetables had been cooked soft so there was no crunch to them. Cauliflower 2019 is a deep fried version and thankfully without the lurid orange colour and tossed in onion and garlic butter. Karuvepillai paneer, quite the star of the evening, was cottage cheese fingers finished off in curry leaf powder. The flavour of ghee was aromatic and satiating.

Mirapakaya kodi

It's interesting how ghee tones down the spiciness of green chilli paste (mirapakaya). Lavishly coated on the chunks of chicken, we didn't even break into a sweat. The chicken is on the bone that adds to the flavour and is a little messy to eat. At this point, we were told to ditch the cutlery and eat with our fingers.
Madurai mutton chukka

Kozhi kaal nei roast

Ghee kept making its appearance. It was there in the Madurai mutton chukka with boneless chunks of meat and is so delicious. The spices had mellowed down in the long, slow cook which also leaves the meat very tender. It was also there in the kozhi kaal nei roast, perhaps the southern version of tangdi kebab, and is equally delish. 

Prawn ghee roast

Prawn ghee roast is a perfect fusion of South Indian style roast prawns served on sheermal. The bread was almost crisp, microgreens not only add to the prettiness but packed a hit of pungency.

Puliogarai uppu kari

The combination of tangy puliogarai and the mildly spice uppu kari was nice. What was even nicer was that the meat had thick gravy that coated it which in turn, moistened the rice sufficiently. Here, too, the meat is on the bone.

From right - pomegranate payasam; kubani ka meetha; salted caramel akkaravadisal;
falooda; karupatti pannacotta; coconut souffle

Dessert was served in cutting chai glasses which is a smart exercise in portion control. Kubani ka meetha and the falooda were my favourites. Cold and perfectly sweet.

Aadhirai is at 31, Jambulingam Street, Pushpa Nagar, Nungambakkam.

Kamarkattu in a box

*This was an invited review 

Utsav at Hamsa


Many, many moons ago, during the season of Lent, my dad took us to a vegetarian Chinese restaurant run by Buddhists. There were predictable groans from us kids (!!), a completely vegetarian meal was not something we would have chosen but there was no negotiating with Dad once he decided on something. To cut a long story short, we staggered out of the restaurant after that meal - it was about the best meal that we had ever had. Even now, I remember what I liked about it - each dish was composed of several vegetables, the integrity of each vegetable was maintained and there was a cohesiveness in the whole.

The charming young lady who invited me to Utsav at Hamsa asked me why I was not too confident of reviewing a vrat meal. The Buddhist meal came to mind, so, on the appointed day, I found myself at the Gandhinagar restaurant.

Navaratri, or Durga Puja, is an auspicious Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil. It also marks the approach of winter; people observe a nine day fast to prepare for the change in climate, sattvik food is the norm as it helps to detoxify the body.

Utsav is Hamsa's way of celebrating Navaratri. It's a time of vrat (fasting) and it tests the cook's ingenuity in coming up with dishes that are vegetarian (of course), and with no onion, ginger or garlic. Sattvik food is naturally grown food and absolutely no processed ingredients are used. Fresh and seasonal ingredients come into play which include millets, water chestnut, both as vegetable and flour, buckwheat, sago and nuts.

Celebrity chef, Rakesh Raghunathan has curated a menu that incorporates these ingredients. It would be gluten-free, nutritionally balanced, rich in antioxidants and light on the stomach, he promised. The dishes are based on recipes from Maharashtra, UP, Bengal, Jharkhand and Gujarat.


But first, Hamsa's little filigree bell has to be opened. Inside, there is a little gulab jamun that has become the restaurant's signature amuse-bouche. A traditional Indian meal starts with a sweet.

Sabudhana moongphalli thalipeeth; kuttu aur paneer ki kachori; shakarkandi tuk chaat; singhare aloo tikki

The sago was chewy, the peanuts were... well... nutty. The size of a small pancake, sabudana moongphalli thalipeeth is an interesting combination of textures. Green chilli thecha added a measure of spiciness. Singhare and aloo tikki was a little patty made with water chestnut flour and potato. Both the mint chutney and tomato, date and raisin chutneys were perfect for these little tikkis. The buckwheat pastry crust of kuttu aur paneer ki kachori, was short, crisp and light. Deep fried slices of sweet potato formed the base of Shakarkandi tuk chaat which was then layered with paneer, yogurt and sweet chutney. Chaat masala brought about balance of sweet and savoury.

Mathura aloo

Paneer shahi gulabi; dahiwale singhare ki subzi; annanas ki subzi

Mathura aloo, one of the curries in the main course, is a very homely dish; dry mango powder adding a slight tang to the mashed potato gravy. Pineapples help in digestion and annanas ki subzi was my favourite. Cubes of it were cooked in a thick coconut gravy and the tempering was sufficient to not overpower neither the fruit nor the gravy. Sliced water chestnuts rather than whole ones in dahiwale singhare ki sabzi might have worked better in the spiced yoghurt gravy. For a touch of the exotic, there's paneer shahi gulabi. Dried rose petals and almonds had been stuffed into cottage cheese slices and cooked in a cashewnut gravy. What appealed was the crunch of nuts.

Kuttu aloo paratha; singhare & kuttu puri

Both breads were very good. Kuttu aloo paratha, stuffed with mashed potato, was crisp yet soft though the filling was barely perceptible. Dark brown and puffed up beautifully, singhare and kuttu puri, made with a mix of water chestnut and buckwheat flours, were served hot. Being gluten free, it did not have the slight elasticity that wheat-based puris have. It was slightly greasy but was the perfect accompaniment to the gravies.
Vrat ka pulao

Vrat ka pulao, made with saamai (little millet) did look like it had been made with rice. It has loads of fiber and does taste a little nutty. Peppercorns, cumin seeds and nuts added to the flavours. Ghee gave it richness and it was good enough to eat it by itself. 

Mewa ki kheer; sitaphal basundi

Sitaphal basundi had the pulp of custard apples cooked along with milk into a porridge-like consistency. I found it rather sweet and thick. Mewa ki kheer, on the other hand was much lighter in consistency, not too sweet  and had a good amount of nuts for texture. Fox nuts were a welcome addition.

As promised, the meal was  gluten-free, nutritionally balanced, rich in antioxidants and light on the stomach. And enjoyable!

Utsav by Hamsa is on till October 29th and all the vrat dishes can be ordered from the à la carte menu, both for lunch and dinner.

40, B. Ramachandra Adithanar Road
Gandhinagar, Adyar 600020.
044 24459999

Oktoberfest 8 at Hyatt Regency Chennai


Checked blue and white tablecloths and striped tents, wursts and beer mean only one thing - it's Oktoberfest once again. It's Season 8 and the party is at 365 A.S.

Exec Chef Hermann

The tradition of "breaking the barrel" was done by German Consul General Karin Stoll. Executive Chef Hermann Grossbichler from Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty and his team cooked up a veritable feast. Luckily, everyone brought along their appetites for food and fun and with foot tapping German folk music playing, it was an extremely spirited evening.


Cheeses; mushroom stew that had everyone raving; cannellini bean&shrimp salad; spinach spaetzli; potato   

The pretzel tree!

More breads

Wursts on the grill

Pork schnitzel

Roast potatoes & sweet potatoes 

Blond beer roasted chicken ...so very good!

The star of the evening - roast pork knuckle with sauerkraut

Cheeses, plentiful salads and an array of breads had been laid out. There was mushroom stew, beer roasted chicken and spinach spaetzli and sausages grilled to perfection. Along with a selection of German beers, it all made for an awesome combination. But the star of the evening was the roasted pork knuckle. Well marinated and beautifully roasted, everyone raved about it.

And then, there it was - the train dance! 

Apfelstrudel; black forest; berliner; rote grutze; sacher torte; kaiserschmarrn

Berliners are doughnuts without holes and it was a nice addition to the dessert selection. We also got to sample the black forest cake and kaiserschmarrn with plum compote.

Oktoberfest is on till October 6th and it's recommended that you make a reservation. It's priced at 1599/++ for buffet with soft beverages and 2299/++ for buffet with German beer.

Hyatt Regency Chennai
91 44 6100 1234.

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