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Go for the Mangalore diet

The Mangalore food festival at the Leela Palace communicates a happy, homemade feel



WELL DONE Chef Venkatesh is readying an encyclopaedia on south Indian cuisine

Mangaloreans love their food. They cook it with great energy, relish it with great energy and share it with great energy. They don't make it too spicy, they don't make it too bland. They don't make it too light, they don't make it too heavy. And yet you'll come away savouring the flavours and colour. The Mangalore food festival at the Jamavar, The Leela Palace, gets the balance right.

The festival features a range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine reflecting by and large the tastes of the Madhwa community on the one hand and the Bunt community on the other. The vegetarian stuff comes a bit sweet thanks to all that jaggery and the non-vegetarian is coloured by the brilliant red but harmless Byadagi chilli. The cuisine on the whole is dependent on the coconut. Note that jaggery, Byadagi and coconut are ubiquitous in Mangalore kitchens so more or less one comes away with the feel of home food. There is extensive use of jeera, coriander seeds, fenugreek, garlic, cumin and curry leaves.

The vegetarian has thili saaru, a thin starchy rice soup flavoured with garlic and cumin, which is absolutely fabulous for the stomach; any amount of this will do no damage at all and will still leave you asking for more. Goli baje, refined flour and yoghurt dumplings with chillies, peppercorn and deep fried, one of Mangalore's staples everyone everywhere likes on a good rainy day, and the crisp cabbage and onion vada for starters.

For the main course, there is the kadubu — those tumbler-shaped idlis — semigae (string hoppers), and the uppu puli dosa, the sweet, sour and spicy pancake. Eat any of this with the tangy ananas menaskai, the sweet and sour pineapple curry, the hot harasoppu huli, country spinach cooked with lentils and flavoured with garlic, and the delightful alambu arepu, button mushrooms in coconut, Mangalorean red chillies and spices. Eaten hot, the combo will most certainly tempt you to multiple helpings. Mangalore food is incomplete without fish and prawn. The fish is as omnipresent as the kadubu in the region. There is the meen kaiadhina, fish fry, meen uppu kari — seer fish cubes cooked semi-dry with onions, tomatoes, cumin, fenugreek and peppercorn — rather exotic ingredients these — and prawn curry with green mangoes, a dish from the Christian community.

Apart from seafood, there is a soup the chef recommends for its exotic value — the masa mavinakkai soup, mutton and raw mango soup, hasiru chops, lamb chops cooked with coriander, mint and tomatoes, masa kurma, mutton cooked with coconut, curd and garam masala and kori gassi, chicken cooked in coconut and Mangalorean red chillies, masa Cundapur, a garam masala flavoured mutton gravy, masa ajadhina, mutton with coconut, chillies and other spices, and lobster neeruli, lobster cooked in gravy with button onions and tomatoes.

Among the desserts, the hayagriva maddi, channa dal and jaggery cooked with coconut and cardamom, is really rich and sweet. It is revered for its religious value. Isn't Hayagriva an avatar of Vishnu?! The banana rasayana, a banana and coconut milk dessert, is rightly sober and light.

Venkatesh Bhatt, the South Indian Food Corporate Chef for the Leela group, has spent more than a couple of years studying and researching a huge variety of food in the four south Indian States. "We have tried to bring back local food in the Mangalore region into the five-star hotel. We want people to know what such food tastes like. Authentic, local recipes are disappearing. While the food is colourful, it is not at all heavy. And it brings with it a homemade feel."

Chef Venkatesh has toured around 300 villages and stayed in various homes in the course of his cuisine study. The known include the likes of the Mammen Mathew family and the Veerappa Moily family. Chef Venkatesh is also readying an encyclopaedia on south Indian cuisine slated for release in December 2006.

The Mangalore food festival at the Leela Palace is on till October 23. For reservations, call 2521-1234 (Extn. 1342).

Ambience: Five Star
Service: Good
Specialty: Mangalorean delicacies
Wallet Factor: On the higher side

PRASHANTH G.N.

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