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Forgotten FLAVOURS

The Kongunad food festival is a voyage of rediscovery


NO ONE brought to the cinemas the breeze tickling the green fields, the eddy and sparkle of the rivers and the dignity of the soil and those who live by it as faithfully as Bharathirajaa did. Combined with haunting folk tunes of Ilaiyaraja, his song sequences leapt from the screen straight to one's heart. Two nights ago, that rural alchemy was brought alive at a buffet table at GRT Grand's festival of `The Forgotten Recipes of Kongunad'. To begin with, where was Kongunad? The old kingdom of Kongunad ruled by all the major dynasties — Chera, Chola, Pandya and even Mughals at one stage — extended from Ooty to Pollachi, Udumalpet to Ottanchatram, Karur to Tiruppur and Salem to Erode.

Another unique feature of the fest is the involvement of the Department of Catering Science and Hotel Management of the Cherraan's Arts Science College, Kangeyam. Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni, HOD, and his students dug deep and wide to present the wonderful spread.

One dish that captures the essence of the festival is pachapuli rasam, a signature dish of Kangeyam, the erstwhile capital of Kongunad. It ought to come with a statutory warning, `causes craving'. As the name suggests, it is an uncooked rasam. Yet the flavours are balanced and when poured into hot steamy rice, the acidity of tamarind and the bite of raw shallots strike a harmonious note. What make this food stand out is the attempt at authenticity. It has not been compromised to suit the urban palate and the credit for this goes to the executive chef, N. Sheetharam Prasaad. Some gloss is inevitable, but much of the original spirit is retained and you find it in salavu kozhambu with herbs like thithali, kuchi kizhangu (tapioca) avial, Karur kai khorma — much superior to the cloying nuts-khus khus-coconut gravy. Ah! How could I forget the keppai (ragi) roti that can give the Rajasthani bajra roti a run for its money? For non-vegetarians, Kongu meen curry, Pallipalayam kozhi fry, kaza kaza yera and Pollachi kari kozhambu offer novel flavours.

The tenuous remnants of restraint I had been clinging on to till then vanished at the dessert table. Why fight the inevitable? Mambazha idli was the first among equals, but a starkly different tender coconut payasam, potato and padanir (palm toddy before fermentation) halwas hold their own. The Muslim presence in the Dharapuram area explained the flaky benian that has an uncanny resemblance to the chiroti of Karnataka and ineese among the sweets.

There are times when food ceases to be just food. This is one such occasion.

The Kongunad fest is a trip to the roots, a voyage of rediscovery, all at Rs.300 plus taxes. Worth it, don't you agree?

* * *

The Forgotten Recipes of Kongunad
Copper Point
GRT Grand
T. Nagar
On till September 28
For reservation : 28150500/5500

MARIEN MATHEW

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