John­son Ebenezer and Sricha­ran Venkatesh

SALT Magazine - - Chef Quickie - TEXT WEETS GOH PHO­TOS NADODI

The driv­ing forces be­hind con­tem­po­rary South In­dian con­cept Nadodi share about

their in­spi­ra­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences.

Just five years ago, the fine-din­ing scene in Kuala Lumpur was lim­ited to a se­ries of de­cid­edly pre­dictable choices: the usual glut of Euro­pean op­tions, where your meal would be rife with foie gras, truf­fles, but­ter and wine; a smat­ter­ing of high-end Ja­panese omakases, and grand Chi­nese restau­rants decked out in over­whelm­ing chi­nois­erie. Things are chang­ing though. Restau­rants in the Malaysian cap­i­tal are start­ing to look in­wards, draw­ing from the rich multi-cul­tural di­as­pora that make the pop­u­la­tion.

In the case of Nadodi, which opened in 2017, it’s the South In­dian peo­ple that have made the jour­ney to set­tle in South­east Asia.

Named for the Tamil and Malay­alam word for “no­mad”, Nadodi ex­plores the dif­fer­ent re­gional cuisines and flavours of the route from Tamil Nadu, down south to Sri Lanka. The cui­sine, while mind­ful of the tra­di­tional flavours and nu­ances spe­cific to each re­gion, is pre­sented in a con­tem­po­rary way. Ex­pect foams, savoury ice creams, and

de­hy­drated bits and bobs—like a minia­turised ba­nana leaf meal of dif­fer­ent side dishes en­com­pass­ing ev­ery flavour, served on an edi­ble “ba­nana leaf” made with iso­malt and chloro­phyll.

Equally com­pelling is their cock­tail pro­gramme, with items like a cold-and-hot, vodka based tip­ple in­spired by rasam (a sour and spicy South in­dian soup typ­i­cally served with rice); and a de­con­structed bloody mary in granita form that also dou­bles up as a mid-meal palate cleanser.

How did the idea for Nadodi come about?

Ebenezer: Nadodi was con­ceived as a team ef­fort be­tween four mem­bers of our team: Sricha­ran, our chef de cui­sine, Kar­tik, our brand di­rec­tor, Ak­shar, head of our bev­er­age pro­gramme and my­self. We wanted to present our her­itage the best way we know how—through our food. Prior to Nadodi’s con­cep­tion, the team and I were shar­ing recipes and what we grew up eat­ing, and we re­alised that while we were raised in dif­fer­ent parts of South In­dia, we all grew up eat­ing sim­i­lar foods. How has the jour­ney been like?

Venkatesh: It has been an ex­hil­a­rat­ing jour­ney. We have learned much from each other and guests who have sup­ported us from when we first opened. Our cui­sine has also def­i­nitely evolved as we con­tin­u­ously learn and share with each other. We are con­stantly ex­plor­ing new tech­niques and push­ing new bound­aries as we progress on our culi­nary jour­ney.

Are there any dishes on the menu that evoke par­tic­u­larly strong emo­tions for ei­ther of you?

Venkatesh: Al­most all our dishes on the menu are in­spired by our child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences [both Ebenezer and Venkatesh are from Chen­nai]. A few favourites in­clude the Ma­rina Melodies/Panju Mit­tai, which is a puff made with homemade cot­ton candy, filled with dried gin­ger and pis­ta­chio crum­ble. As chil­dren, my­self and John­son would get re­ally ex­cited about can­dies and pas­tries. I re­mem­ber try­ing con­vince my grand­par­ents to buy me cot­ton candy.

An­other dish is the Si­nora Egg Puff, an iconic item

that we had on our menu some time ago. This was in­spired by mem­o­ries from my col­lege days; I grew up eat­ing egg puffs from a bak­ery called SI­NORA in Chen­nai, which was sit­u­ated right be­side my school. I re­call sink­ing my teeth into the moist, crumbly puff. It was also one of the few non­veg­e­tar­ian items that I could eat back then, be­cause I was raised in a strict veg­e­tar­ian house­hold. We rethought it into a flower pot-style snack with a flaky, but­tery pas­try tart and a mix­ture of boiled eggs and onion masala that is made to re­sem­ble “soil”.

Where do you think the din­ing scene in KL is go­ing? Ebenezer: We are def­i­nitely see­ing more restau­rants open over the past few years. Kuala Lumpur has long been a din­ing des­ti­na­tion for gour­mands and food­ies, and restau­ra­teurs in KL are in­creas­ingly ad­ven­tur­ous in cater­ing to the global diner, which is adding di­ver­sity to our lo­cal din­ing scene.

Why KL? Do you think Nadodi would have worked in South In­dia/Sri Lanka?

Venkatesh: When we first ar­rived in Malaysia, the team was sur­prised to see so many ba­nana leaf restau­rants. There were also many it­er­a­tions of South In­dian food in Malaysia, most of which are en­joyed as com­fort food. We wanted to el­e­vate the cui­sine, while still draw­ing on the same fa­mil­iar flavours found in typ­i­cal South In­dian fare. KL presents to us a more dis­cern­ing crowd that em­braces the tech­niques and flavours we bring to the ta­ble. We are not do­ing repli­ca­tions of South In­dian food; in­stead, we are taking in­spi­ra­tion from the com­fort­ing flavours that peo­ple as­so­ci­aste with the cui­sine.

Has any lo­cal cui­sine/dish in­flu­enced some of the cour­ses at Nadodi?

Venkatesh: One of our cour­ses is in­spired by fish head curry. “Heads Up” is pre­sented in a ceramic mug and the base is lined with steamed lo­cal trout. The fresh catch is topped with crispy flat rice, which is tossed in lemon zest be­fore be­ing fried. It is then fin­ished with a co­conut and tamarind curry es­puma and gar­nished with sea­weed.

What/who are some restau­rants/chefs you’re in­spired by? We are al­ways in­spired by hawk­ers and street food ven­dors, watch­ing them go about their day, cook­ing food that they love to cook—that is truly in­spir­ing.

Coco Loco: a palate cleanser ofco­conut nec­tar, lemon-co­conutgranita, lentils, cu­cum­bers, andmarigold flow­ers

3 Bites: one-bitein­ter­pre­ta­tions of aba­nana leaf meal, kiri bath(a Sri Lankan co­conutrice dish), and vada (afer­mented lentil frit­ter)

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