As someone who takes keen interest in experiencing various cultures of the world through food, the ‘Spice Island Flavours’ festival at Dakshin (ITC Windsor) was a very unique food experience. As a part of their ‘Kitchens of India’ campaign, ITC introduced me to a unique set of flavours from South India. Brought to us by Priya Bala, the festival focuses on the culinary style of people from the Tamil community who were moved to Sri Lanka during the British Raj to work on the tea plantations. After settling there for numerous decades, civil unrest in the region had them moving back to India. This community brought with them a style of cooking that blends the Sri Lankan style of cooking traditional south Tamil Nadu flavours.
While we waited for the appetizers to arrive, we munched on some south-Indian style crisps with four flavourful chutneys. The chutneys offered familiar tastes of coconut, tomato and more and made for a good start to the meal. Naturally, I had to exercise extreme discipline not to make that my meal altogether.
The first two appetizers were the Khaima Somasi and the Devilled Prawns. The former is a variant of the kheema samosa with minced lamb, served with tomato chutney. While this dish was deep in familiar territory, the new flavour came from the Devilled Prawns. Tossed with onions, chilli and a piquant sauce, the dish had a delicate blend of tanginess and spice that opened up my taste buds to an evening of perfectly balanced spices. I’m normally used to prawn dishes from this region to be high on spice which I normally cooled down with a cold beer; so this flavour was quite new and did not set my tongue on fire. A dish I would definitely recommend.
|Khaima Somasi and Devilled Prawns|
Before we hit the main course, we were served mini-uttapams in two varieties, one was savoury and the other was sweet and was made from bananas. I’ve never tasted the latter and thoroughly enjoyed dipping it into the chutneys.
For the main course, we were served Idiyappam with a coconut milk. Accompanying this were three side dishes. The first was the Erachi Curry which was a mildly-spiced lamb stew. I wasn’t a big fan of this particular dish as the flavours didn’t do anything to peak my taste buds. This was compensated with the Chicken Badun. The chicken was quite tender and the taste of pepper dominated the flavour. I’ve had a variation of this dish before in Tamil Nadu, but this packed a much bigger punch and the gravy was a good combination with the idiyappam and the rice that was served. The third and final dish of the main course, which was the star of the meal, was Anasi Perattal. This dish is a pineapple curry cooked with spices like cinnamon, lemon grass, a bit of fennel and chilli powder. Cinnamon is one of those spices that can overthrow all other tastes in your mouth when into a dish. The moment I popped a spoon of the dish into my mouth, the combination of cinnamon and the citrus taste of the pineapple hit me like a ton of bricks, in a good way. There’s a very subtle bit of spice that remains on your taste buds once the pineapple goes down, but the taste of the cinnamon lingers for long. I shamelessly asked for a second helping of this dish.
Dessert comprised of two dishes. The first was the Watalappam, a coconut milk and jaggery custard. I didn’t particularly enjoy this one for personal reasons. I’ve been moving away from consuming a lot of sugar in my daily meal by eliminating it from my coffee, tea, juices, etc. It’s been this way for eight months now. Hence, the jiggery in this dessert was too sweet for my taste buds. The second dessert was a simple yet elegant dessert. The Kiri Pani, a thick yogurt served with palm and jiggery honey was the fireworks to the end of a great meal. Not too sweet, this simple mix cleansed the palate completely and left me with a fresh taste in my mouth. This dessert was the second best part of my meal after the pineapple curry.
‘Kitchens of India’ continues to bring new flavours and the ‘Spice Island Flavours’ festival is definitely something anyone looking for new tastes and experience should try out. My pick for the meal would have to be the pineapple curry, the Kiri Pani dessert and the Devilled Prawns. Kudos to Priya Bala for introducing a larger audience to these flavours.