Sunday, March 2, 2014

Coromandel Cravings-Chennai Pavilion, Kingdom of Dreams

-Shivani Mohan

Did I just tell you that I seldom eat Indian food when eating out? Now let me qualify that statement with the fact that by Indian food I mean North Indian food or the typical Punjabi-Mughlai fare you get in restaurants. But that is where my restriction ends. Step out of that zone and Indian regional food offers alluring possibilities. India is so diverse and huge that each state offers an endless variety in taste, flavours, ingredients and tempering.

Perhaps the reason for this love for regional cuisines is that I grew up in various Indian cantonments, where at any given time your neighbour could be a Bengali, a Tamilian, a Coorgi and a Sikkimese. People from different backgrounds, staying away from their native states and out of their comfort zones. It almost became a survival instinct to create new comfort zones. Army wives play a stellar role in keeping this great organisation together. Growing up, there were quaint little traditions when by noon when the lunch for the day was cooked and ready, a bowl of a delectable curry placed in a fancy tray with a lacey, embroidered serviette covering the bowl would be sent across to the neighbours. As kids, we loved carrying this tray gingerly to the neighbour’s house, ring the bell and be greeted by some new adoring aunty who would take the tray and perhaps offer some lemonade. We would also get a chance to befriend the new kids on the block.

At other times, if one returned from school to the prospect of your mom having cooked karela(bittergourd) or baingan(eggplant) for lunch, a steaming hot bowl of sambhar or Doi Maachh or a tiffin full of Biryani from the neighbouring house would just rescue the day magically!

The memory of those shared tastes and the tang of those bonus bowls of food remains. While over the years I have grown to like and almost long for my mom's karela and baingan, times have changed. As we have moved on to our super busy schedules and cloistered spaces, those goodwill gestures have vanished. Every parent wishes to expose one’s child to the multi-cultural and unhindered feast one grew up with. In Delhi-NCR one of the most popular and fun ways to do this is a visit to the Kingdom of Dreams. Showcasing a vibrant mix of diverse cultures, cuisines and colours, one part of this entertainment hub called Culture Gully, is a kaleidoscope of kitschy India. A day spent here with kids can be full of discovery and delight.

I have sampled the authentic food in some of the restaurants here earlier but had never tried the Chennai Pavilion. Now South Indian food has become so ubiquitous, that we North Indians often don’t even treat it as exotic or not ‘our own’. I mean dosa, sambhar and idli is cooked in our house  at least once a week, as I find it a very nutritious, balanced, easily digestible and tasty food. Yet the real Tamilian food you get in a Tam Brahm house or a professional meal at a Tamil specialty restaurant can be a different experience altogether.

Moreover Chettinad cuisine, which is the spicy and pungent non-veg cuisine of Tamil Nadu, that proliferated in a small region dominated by traders, beckons with its adventurous forays into a zone where the characteristic knack with spices meets the rack of meat and poultry or fresh catch from the sea.

So I set up a date with my daughter at Culture Gully a few days ago. Before the exams took over our lives, this was education at it's enjoyable best. The visuals of Culture Gully trigger a barrage of questions from her and it's fun answering them with a know-all motherly tone. While there was a Marathi troupe playing at the entrance (they get performers from different states of India every month), my Coramandel craving that day slowly led me to the Chennai Pavilion.
Chennai Pavillion
The fa├žade of Chennai Pavilion itself prepares you for a torrent of ensuing colours, textures and flavours. Painted in a typical Tamilian temple art in vibrant colours that remind you of Kanjeevaram sarees, Chennai Pavilion is festive and fascinating. The interior seems to be culled out of a banana tree, with green leafy montages, wooden floor and comfortable old-style seating. There is nice Tamilian music playing in the background which itself lends the place a very pious and august feel, for some reason.

We start with the tangy Tomato Rasam which is served with papad.

For appetiser we try the Mutton Pepper Fry, which is so tender and so well ensconced in the spicy masalas that I almost mistake it for chicken. There is a Chicken Pepper Fry also available.

Tomato Rasam with Papad

Mutton Pepper Fry

Crispy Dosas
When it comes to dosas, Chennai Pavilion offers a startling variety. In non-veg, you can have Chennai Prawn Dosa that I tried, and loved the spicy coastal bite of it. You can also sample the Chutney Meen Dosa ( fish dosa) or the Mutte Dosa (egg dosa). I think just as a tribute to Delhi, they have a Chicken Tikka Masala Dosa too, besides a Chicken Chettinad Dosa.

In vegetarian other than the regular Masala Dosa and Rava Masala Dosa, there is Mushroom Dosa, Cheese Dosa, Paneer Bhurji Dosa and Adai which is a very nutritious paper thin mixed lentil pancake.

There is also a Set Dosa with Sago which is served with potato bhaji and Urgai Dosa or sweet chilli dosa. Priced between Rs 170 to Rs 220, dosas are a sumptuous and economical meal in itself.

A perfect accompaniment to the dosa is a very aromatic Masala Chaach with tempering of mustard seeds and curry patta.

The sweet version of the lassi that my daughter orders has a beautiful aroma of crushed green cardamom, making it almost like a delightful dessert.

Masala Chaach

Chicken Chettinad with Paratha

For the connoisseur of regional cuisine, Chicken Chettinad with Paratha is a must try and it comes in a fiery curry that challenges all your winter induced ennui with a solid kick and a punch. Your eyes may water a bit as would your nose but the heat is actually good for you and leaves your olfactory nerves revved up. This is also where sips of that sweet lassi come in handy and I borrow a few sips from my daughter's glass.

I am done but my daughter has a sweet tooth, so any treat is incomplete without a dessert. And sure enough, once you lay your eyes on the sweet here, the memories of those chillies will be far behind. The Rawa Kesari which is a halwa made of sooji or rawa (but most unlike a North Indian halwa) is gooey and fragrant. The Adai Prathaman is a dessert made of rice and jaggery, with a lazy caramel richness that sweetens your inners with a homely, rustic taste.
Rawa Kesari

Adai Prathaman

Chef R. Sathish Kumar who looks after the kitchen is from Trichy in Tamil Nadu and has 12 years of experience, having started his career from Taj Coramandel, Chennai. He has been associated with Le Meridian, ITC and Hamilton Group. Chef Sathish specialises in tempering, modulating and maneuvering the dishes and inventing new tastes and flavors from the basic spices and condiments of South India. 

He tells me that while every family pounds it's own special Sambhar masala fresh, in Chettinad cuisine the most important spices are star aniseed and kalpasi, a lichen known as the 'black stone flower' or Patthar Ke Phool. In addition, tamarind, whole red chillies, and sombu (fennel seed) are also used along with pattai (cinnamon), bay leaf, karu milagu (peppercorn), jeeragam (cumin seeds), lavangam (cloves) and venthayam (fenugreek).

I nod my head in agreement and am glad for this brief food 
lessonam. For I am already in foodie blissam!


The charges for entry on weekdays are 499/- and on weekends are 599/- to Culture Gully completely redeemable spend value inside Culture gully. One can either use it to eat food anywhere in Culture Gully or for shopping inside Culture Gully. 

Kingdom of Dreams, Sector 29, Gurgaon, Haryana,122001
0124 452 8000

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