Gorge on real Chettinad cuisine at this popular restaurant in Mumbai
Karaikudi's first heritage hotel joins hands with The Bombay Canteen for over two weeks of unparalleled Chettiar food
Meenakshi Meyyappan knows a perfect dish when she sees one. So while the milagai mandi (okra, garlic, shallots simmered in a tamarind and rice water broth) gets an approving nod, the beetroot thayir pachadi (raitha flavoured with ground mustard) needs some more fine-tuning, she suggests. At 86, the matriarch of The Bangala, Chettinad's first heritage hotel in Karaikudi, is uncannily astute in her observations. The sage-like wisdom comes from years of helming the kitchen at the family-run hotel that has rustled up mouth-watering, unforgettable Chettiar food since 1999.
The pop-up will run till May 19 at the Lower Parel restaurant
Now, for the first time, the Bangala has entered Mumbai shores by collaborating with Lower Parel's Bombay Canteen for a pop-up that launches tomorrow and will run till May 19. "I didn't know how important food was to the overall experience, until I joined the business. And since then, I have always believed in sharing culinary secrets," says Meyyappan, dressed in a muted gold silk saree. The Bangala was one of the many palatial homes that was converted into a boutique hotel, whose old world charm continues to enthrall visitors. Back home, Meyyappan has even introduced a Chettinad cuisine masterclasses to give enthusiasts the opportunity to experience and learn first-hand the techniques first hand. Chef Thomas Zacharias of the Bombay Canteen is one of the gourmands who recently trained under them. "Last year, I visited the Bangala during a road trip, and I was floored. The taste lingered," he says.
Chef Thomas Zacharias with Meenakshi Meyyappan. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Since the restaurant has consistently tried to put the spotlight on regional cuisine, a collaboration seemed like a natural progression of events. All he had to do next was to write to Meyyappan, who agreed in a heartbeat. "The idea was to mirror what one would have at a typical Chettinad feast," he says. According to him, most people equate Chettinad food with Chettinad chicken, which is wholly misleading. Meyyappan agrees. "There's no such thing as Chettinad chicken. Although several spices go into the cuisine, it's done in a manner that it doesn't overpower," she says. A lot of thought goes into what ingredient is added at what point and in what quantity, because ultimately "it's the small things that make the difference".
In Zacharias' opinion, the closest that comes to what we think is "Chettinad chicken" is the milagu masala kaadai that is prepared with quail and black pepercorn masala. But each dish is distinct and has an identity of its own, believes Meyyappan. She has her own favourites, and if she had to pick one it would be the nandu rasam or the crab-flavoured pepper broth, a winter favourite in the community.
True to Zacharias' words, the flavours are nuanced and balanced, and seamlessly "flow". And it will, only if you have the right ingredients, he cautions. Keeping this in mind, kilos of gundu chillies, spices and the local ponni rice grains have been brought to the city. "The only thing that's 'Mumbai' in the Chettinad food that you are eating is the water," he jokes.
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A walk through Mohammed Ali Road's Khau Galli