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 

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