Mouthful of Memories
THE CITY’S CULINARY TRADITIONS ARE AS DIVERSE AS ITS PEOPLE. SIMPLY CHENNAI DIGS UP SOME RARE DISHES THAT REPRESENT THE HERITAGE FLAVOURS
Festivals in Tamil Nadu are incomplete without this dessert, which is said to add prosperity to the tradition of Karthigai Deepam, South India’s own festival of lights, which falls between November and December. Adhirasam is also a must have during Diwali. Made of raw rice, jaggery, sesame seeds, elachi and ghee, the Adhirasam’s legacy goes back to Krishnadevaraya's period ( 15091529 CE), from when inscriptions indicating its highly skilled preparation and recipe, have been found. “Traditionally, adhirasam was prepared with a lot of foresight. It had jaggery to make it soft and dry ginger powder to add aroma and help with digestion, as it is high on carbs and fat,” says award- winning chef Seetharam Prasad of GRT Grand.
Food blogger and Chennai Food Guide member Aarti Krishnakumar, grew up watching this snack being prepared during festivals. “My grandmother would soak jaggery, in water, heat it and strain it, ensuring that it was grime- free,” she says. It was then added to rice flour dough. The dough is refrigerated, and fried just before the pooja and offered to the gods. Adhirasam makes a sumptuous snack or a rich dessert.
Cooking Tip The trick is to process the flour and the jaggery well and make sure the temperature of the oil doesn’t exceed 90 degrees. This will ensure that your adhirasams are golden brown,” says the chef.
Available Grand Sweets, Brindavan Street, Ramakrishna Puram, West Mambalam
Kozhukattais are steamed rice dumplings with a sweet filling, hailed as Ganpathi’s favourite treat. Thanjavur especially, holds this delicacy sacred. “It’s important to use fine rice flour and I dry roast it before pounding. This gives it better texture,” says Aarti. The flour is then mixed with water and heated on a low flame, until it becomes a ball of dough. This is kept aside to cool before being kneaded. Meanwhile prepare the filling of grated coconut cooked with strained jaggery. The dough is made into small balls, flattened, stuffed and steamed.
CookingTip: Always make a trial batch to get the kozhukattai’s’ timing right.
Available Adyar Ananda Bhavan, No. 87 Thiyagaraya Road, Pondy Bazaar, T Nagar
Here’s another rice snack that finds relevance during the celebration of Karthigai Deepam. Said to have come from Kerala, the Manoharam has become every child’s favourite norukku- theeni ( munchies) today. Traditionally, Manoharam was prepared by grinding green gram flour and raw rice in manual stone grinders and then fried and added
with some jaggery syrup. Today, technology makes it a lot simpler. “There are a number of mixers and grinders today. I’ve watched my mother and grandmother prepare three different varieties of manoharam for every festival or family function,” says Aarti. Manoharam is often kept as a symbol of auspiciousness in weddings, near the mandap, as an offering to the gods. It’s kept in a cone- like shape and later filled into containers, to be given away to the families of the newlyweds.
Cooking tip Manoharam tastes best when it’s squeezed into the frying pan using a traditional brass mould, with a pressing model on top and the stenciled container below.
Available Suswaad, 3/ 2, Venkatraman Street, T. Nagar Tel 28152678
Chettinad Meen Varuval
The most discerning foodies are said to come from Karaikudi, the capital of the erstwhile Chettinad province, they will wax eloquent but never give away the secret to the classic meen varuval— or fish fry. “The masala, made of whole red chillies, dhaniya, ginger- garlic paste, tamarind and salt, are home ground with care and under constant supervision from the family’s senior cooks,” says chef Seetharam. The Chettinad legacy goes that in the ancient days, the women of the house would come together to grind the spices and sing as they did. While this dish can be prepared with Vaval ( pomfret), Vanjaram ( seer fish) or Sheela ( Barracuda), the Red Snapper has a flavor that’s unique. “The Chettinad people are particular about using the best fresh- water fish, over sea fish,” says chef Seetharam.
Cooking tip: A fresh blend of spices such as cumin seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, dry red chillies, turmeric powder and salt - is prepared, after which fried garlic and onions are added to give a finger- licking flavour. “This marinade is added to the fish and ideally kept aside for sometime. You may even add a little bit of rice flour to this mixture, to help it bind with the fish. It is then grilled to perfection,” says the chef.
Available Karaikudi, No. 84, Radhakrishnan Salai, Mylapore
The most loved recipes find their way back to small, modest towns where they were first created and the Pallipalayam Chicken is no different. This dish hails from the Panchayat town of Pallipalayam in Namakkal district and the chicken that is used in this dish is the naatu kozhi, as rustic as the place. This spicy chicken goes best with hot steamed rice and a freshly fried pappadam. You get its best variant at Junior Kuppanna, the restaurant which was first started in a town quite close to this recipe’s home ground, Erode.
Coking tip: It’s best to cut the chicken into small pieces, before they’re added to a sautéed mixture of fried onion, garlic and red chillies, with salt, in a heavy bottomed pan. accentuating the flavour of this dish are other indispensible spices of country food – garlic, turmeric and curry leaves. You can then add coriander powder, keep medium heat and drizzle a little bit of water. Keep frying till the chicken is well cooked.
Available Junior Kuppanna, 4, Kannaiah Street, North Usman Road, T Nagar Tel 28340071