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Food of the `past'

Undertake a culinary journey into the food of the Dravidians at the `Dravida Yatra' being held at Dakshin Restaurant, ITC Kakatiya Sheraton Hotel and Towers till June 8.



DRAVIDIAN FEAST: A few of the veg and non-veg dishes. — Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

THE WORD Dravidian takes you back into history - rather many thousands of years ago when these early settlers lived in many parts of today's south and central India. There is also a theory that the Indus Valley people were Dravidians too. The history of the various linguistic groups of the larger Dravidian `community' is fascinating. So also is their cuisine. Since there has been quite an intermixture down the period of history various other influences have pervaded Dravidian culture. Today perhaps the vestiges of Dravidian culture can be seen in the tribal populations of the Gonds, Todas and others. Chef Chalapathi Rao, who has embarked on tracing this cuisine, has laid out a spread of the food of the Southern States at Dakshin Restaurant, ITC Kakatiya Sheraton Hotel and Towers.

"It has been a tough research as not much is written about Dravidian cuisine. There are limited references. But I have made an attempt to present a sample of the fare," says chef Chalapati. This festival is part of the community kitchen series of the hotel which has already provided glimpses of Chettiyar, Moplah, Saraswat and Mudaliyar food.

Considering the vast geographical area the repertoire is quite vast. But Chef Chalapathi's research has enabled him to identify a few dishes which he presents at the festival. "The Dravidians made a dish called masaa which is similar to the modern dahivada. But I have adapted this in rasa vadai. They also made a `bread' in a `tandoor' but unfortunately there is no substantial information on this. So we could not incorporate it," says Chalapathi. This perhaps indicates that although rice was the staple diet, the Dravidians also ate a variety of wheat.

There are an equal number of veg and non-veg dishes from the four Southern States. "The Dravidians used hunted birds and vegetables like radish and pumpkin. At the hotel we serve lamb and chicken in various gravies," says the chef.

To impart authenticity the spices are brought from Chennai. For instance, kodam puli (fish tamarind) and not ordinary tamarind is used in the Meen manga charu. Moreover, this dish is cooked in a clay pot and allowed to mature overnight and then served. "This is the procedure we have adopted too," informs the Chef.

When one looks at the menu card at Dakshin the first half of the menu reads different compared to the second which lists the rice and cereal preparations like appam, idiappam, puri and so on. It is interesting to see dishes of vegetables like radish, brinjal, ladies finger and colocasia figuring in the menu. The prawn lovers may not find that on the menu but they can have crab instead (nandu puttu is crab meat made like scrambled eggs). A veggie item mokka cholam keerai kadayal (made of spinach and corn kernels) is definitely different from the run-of-the-mill fare.

Ksirauduna (the original term used by the Dravidians) is a sweet dish akin to a thick payasam made of rice, milk and jaggery which can end a sumptuous meal - a meal in `history' in a modern ambience.

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

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