Saturday, June 8, 2013

My gourmet party - traditional Thanjavur style with ITC's Kitchens of India

Thanks to globalization, today if we  want to taste the flavours of the world we need not travel around the world. Be it Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese , Lebanese or American, most of us  can have them in a restaurant near our home or in the city we live.  So our senses are used to the pasta, lasagna, enchiladas, pad thai,  waffles,bagels, pancakes and all.

What we don’t get to taste are the true flavours of India. By true flavours I don’t mean just the  parathas , rotis,  rajma, dal vaati,  chaval of the north or the idli sambar, dosa of the south.  The true flavors implies  the authentic sub-cuisines like the Awadhi, Amritsari, Lahori,Malwa,  Kathiawadi, Marathwada, Vidharbh, Nagainallur, Thanjavur, Udipi,Malanad, Palakkad, Rayalaseema, Andhra etc., Though star hotels often hold fests of these sub-cuisines , they are definitely  prepared and plated commercially. 

Even  a slightest variation in the terrain of our country leads to a different experience in culture, customs, dialect and cuisine.  The diverse seasons that we are blessed with results in a variety of crops, vegetables and spices.   Added to this the trade relationships and the colonial influence   which has helped Indian cuisine absorb and evolve the various cuisines.  Each region makes use of the colonial influence, climate, spices,legumes, vegetables and fruits grown in that part of that region making the traditional Indian meal a balanced  and healthy meal. 

Normally, if we were to eat the authentic sub-cuisines of our diverse country, we have to travel to the interiors of the country and taste them in traditional Indian homes where cooking is still considered a ritual. In such homes, fresh raw materials are sourced , spices are freshly ground  in sil batta ( mortar and pestel) and cooked on slow fires in traditional metal  and stone vessels which endow essence, aroma and nutrients to the dish. These dishes which are hygienically prepared with positive thoughts  make the food healthy and full of energy. There are many such sub-cuisines in our country like i mentioned above. Two of which i know pretty well is the Udipi cuisine of Dakshina Karnataka  and the Tambrahm Thanjavur cuisine of Southern Tamilnadu.

So, if I were to host a Gourmet party, I would choose the familiar "Tambrahm Thanjavur cuisine" of Tamilnadu . The uniqueness of this sub-cuisine is it is purely vegetarian and does not accommodate spices like bayleaves, star anise, cinnamon, onions and garlic. The base ingredients are tamarind, lentils, yogurt, coconut, redchillies, corianderseeds, pepper, cumin, turmeric and asafoetida. To garnish they use fenugreek, mustard seeds, curry leaf and coriander leaves. The medium of cooking is sesame/coconut oil. Permutations and Combinations of these spices along with  native vegetables and lentils give rise to a variety of curries,thick gravies called sambar, kootu and watery soups called rasam.. This is the cuisine I will  showcase to my 10 potluck friends who hail from all corners of India like parwanoo(HP), Ambala, Kolkatta, Vishakapatnam, Patna, Assam, Nainital, Amritsar, Cuttack and Indore. They would be my guests.

Ambience: I would decorate my home traditionally with festoons of mango leaves and coconut glades and traditional kolam (rangoli) made of ground rice flour in the frontyard. It is a tradition to sprinkle  fragrant rose water called Panneer ( panneer  with a double ‘nn’in tamil is rose water) on the guests. I would usher them in  with kumkum , chandan  and mishri into a traditionally decorated home which is valenced with fragrant jasmines.  To make the place more fragrant, I will light a few incense sticks  and float  a few fragrant frangipanis in urulis. I would strategically place the artefacts of Thanjavur like the bronze idol of dancing shiva, the thanjavur mirror plates, the tall kutthivilakku’s( traditional lamps)  to make the ambience  artistic and regional. There would only be korai pais( river grass mats) and small wooden  planks   ( called manais) to seat my guests. No elaborate or fancy chaise lounges , dining tables, swaroski artefacts or bar stools.

  Those are the  festoons made from coconut leaves hung around traditional tamil homes on auspicious ocassions photo taken at Dakshinachitra.

Entertainment; Since the theme is traditional , I will play the traditional Nadaswaram music( a wind instrument like the shehnai) on my music system which will gradually give way to some lilting carnatic melodies.  Since, I don’t expect my multi ethnic Indian guests to enjoy  heavy traditional carnatic music, I will avoid  such music. This genre of heavy traditional music  can only be enjoyed by people who have knowledge of the traditional music.

The menu of a  Thanjavur TamBrahm cuisine is elaborate. Food is eaten from banana leaves or in silver plates. Food eaten  from such leaves are supposed to reduce the body heat  and the trace element of silver when eaten from silver plates is supposed to be good for a healthy life. Silver plates are not practical for me so food will be served on banana leaves.

TamBrahm Food is also served in a  pattern where dessert is served first followed by main course and then with Vetrillai pakku( Paan). Food is served on banana leaf in a sequential pattern starting with sweet on the right hand lower corner.Just above on the right upper corner would be raita followed by the various  vegetable curries and gravies on the upper fold of the leaves.  First  sambar rice is eaten, followed by rasam rice and the  curd rice. In between the rasam rice and the curd rice , a larger helping of the kheer is served. The finale in a tambrahm cuisine is the curd rice.

 The menu for my gourmet traditional party with help from ITC’ kitchens of India would be:

                                               Menu of my gourmet theme party
  1. Paruppu payasam( Kheer made from jaggery,channa dal and slivers of coconut)
  2. Asoka halwa- the traditional sweet of thanjavur region made with moongdal
  3.  Vendakkai Pacchidi (raita made with fried lady’s finger in curd)
  4. Maanga pacchidi (mango sweet sour raita)
  5. Potata curry ( a dry curry made with boiled potatoes and tambrahm spices)
  6. French Beans  paruppu usili ( a  bean curry( dry) made with ground steamed dal )
  7. Avial ( a medley of  native vegetables in coconut gravy )
  8. Appalam – fried  urad papads
  9. aamavadai - deep fried vadas made from coarsely ground channadal and green chillies
  10. Plain rice( of the special ponni variety grown exclusively in this region)
  11. Kalathha paruppu ( dal which has no tadka but just haldi and salt)
  12.  Araichivitta sambar( a sambar in which spices are ground freshly along with coconut)
  13. A tangy tomato rasam( a thin tangy dal soup made with tomato and spices like jeera and pepper)
  14. Freshly fermented curd
  15. Vattral kozhumbu ( a tangy sauce made with tamarind and sun-dried vegetables)
  16. Narthelai podi ( a traditional accompaniment for the curd rice like pickle made from the tender leaves of citron)
  17. Mango thokku( a spicy mango pickle made with shredded mango)

The tender leaves of this citron(narthangai) plant are used to make an accompaniment for curd rice called narthelai podi(also called vepillai katti). This is unique to the Thanjavur region. 

photo courtesy: google

Food in a traditional style is served in the above order. The places for the menu are fixed in the plaintain leaf  like mentioned above.

After the full course meals, I will serve my guests with the traditional kumbakonam vettrilai( paan leaves) which the region is famous for.

It would be difficult for me to prepare the dishes single handedly, so  some of the similar dishes will be substituted  with  ITC’s the “Kitchens of India” shelf and for preparing the gravies and chutney i will use the ITC's ready made preserves and chutneys.

Location:  I would have preferred a traditional home with typical tambrahm architecture which would have plenty of cross ventilation and natural bright light with the various courtyards like nadu mittam(central) and pin mittim(backyard). The frontyard would have a cemented platform called thinnai which would be used to rest the guests but it would be impractical to ferry my guests to one such place, so It would be my own home dressed traditional tambrahm style

this is how a central courtyard (nadu mittam) of a traditional home looks like  photo taken at Dakshinachitra 

The stone platforms in front of the homes are called 'Thinnai' used for resting the visitors. I would have preferred a traditional home like this as a location for my guests.Photo at Dakshinachitra

This post is exclusively written for Indiblogger's contest sponsored by ITC's kitchens of India. 


  1. I was waiting to see a photo of you in a 9 yards sari to complete the picture !!!

    Seriously, that is some virundhu. Although to be honest, you could invite some TamBrahms as well to the meal and they would find it an exotic experience too :)

    1. right, madisar is the appropriate costume but the prompt never mentioned attire just location, entertainment, food and skipped writing that:)

      Sure tambrahm why not? but they know their food, culture and ambience. My intention is to showcase it to the world especially my potluck friends . everytime we have a potluck, we decide to bring regional food so they were the inspiration. They knew nothing beyond the regular idli, dosa and sambar. and So, this party we will have the full course.

  2. Loved these pics, loved the theme. All the best for the contest.
    Here's my entry.

  3. Welcome to my space, Roshan:) I am glad that you liked the pics and theme. Thanks and wish you also the best for the contest. Hopping over to read your post:)

  4. I went back memory lane.Nicely written. Other than the mentioned ones, the menu will have 2 Kosumalli (salad made with dal)One will be sweet & other will be a little tangy- Vasu Iyer