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Malaysian magic

It's satays and kachangs unlimited at the Malaysian food festival at Piano



Coconut rich cuisine at the Malaysian food fest at Savera — Pic. by S. R. Raghunathan

APPARENTLY, THE world of chicken satays is rife with pretenders. Cloaked in lofty aspirations and peanut sauce, they wander through five star kitchens, trying to convince foodies that a satay is a satay is a satay — regardless of whether it's been barbequed in a hawker's stall in Malaysia, or flambéed in a swanky kitchen in Chennai. However, Malaysians insist that the most authentic food comes from hawkers' stalls, and — of course — their homes.

So, when Hotel Savera decided to give Chennai a taste of the real Malaysia, three Malaysian women settled here offered to step into the hotel's kitchen and share their recipes.

Authentic flavours

"Even in Malaysia, the five star restaurants don't really serve the authentic food, the kind made at home and by the hawkers," says Rathi, one of the Malaysian women who organised the festival. "For example, for the Chendole dessert, the coconut milk we make is squeezed out manually — in a big hotel, nobody has the time to do that."

Since Rathi and her two friends from the Malaysian High Commission — Vasanta and Rosie — insisted on giving Chennai the same kind of food they cook at home, they went all out to ensure authenticity.

"Malaysian Airlines sponsored two tickets, and relaxed the weight allowance, so we sent two people there to buy ingredients — brown palm sugar, glutinous rice, screw pine leaves, lemon grass... three hundred kilos on the whole!" says Rathi. Then, the preparations began. "Malaysian cooking takes time. The coconut for one curry, for example, needs to be fried slowly for five hours." says Rosie.

It was evidently worth the effort.

The satay is delicious, for starters. The sizzling chicken chunks are served with hot chunky peanut sauce, tinged with a hint of sweet jaggery and stodgily sticky compressed rice. The rice, by the way, goes really well with the ayan masal lemak chicken, a fragrant curry that melds the flavours of lemon grass and coconut milk. Though the vegetarian section is considerably less interesting, do try the roti jala, a lacy pancake that's ideal for mopping up all the rich coconutty gravies that are a trademark of the festival.

But, most important, don't forget to end your meal with an ice kachang. Gloriously gaudy, the kachang — made of sweet corn, different coloured jellies, condensed milk splashed with coconut milk, frits and sticky palm sugar syrup, looks like a couple of rainbows rioted in a dessert bowl. The festival is on at Piano till Sunday and costs Rs. 400 per head.

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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