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
- Paruppu payasam( Kheer made from jaggery,channa dal and slivers of coconut)
- Asoka halwa- the traditional sweet of thanjavur region made with moongdal
- Vendakkai Pacchidi (raita made with fried lady’s finger in curd)
- Maanga pacchidi (mango sweet sour raita)
- Potata curry ( a dry curry made with boiled potatoes and tambrahm spices)
- French Beans paruppu usili ( a bean curry( dry) made with ground steamed dal )
- Avial ( a medley of native vegetables in coconut gravy )
- Appalam – fried urad papads
- aamavadai - deep fried vadas made from coarsely ground channadal and green chillies
- Plain rice( of the special ponni variety grown exclusively in this region)
- Kalathha paruppu ( dal which has no tadka but just haldi and salt)
- Araichivitta sambar( a sambar in which spices are ground freshly along with coconut)
- A tangy tomato rasam( a thin tangy dal soup made with tomato and spices like jeera and pepper)
- Freshly fermented curd
- Vattral kozhumbu ( a tangy sauce made with tamarind and sun-dried vegetables)
- Narthelai podi ( a traditional accompaniment for the curd rice like pickle made from the tender leaves of citron)
- 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.
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.
- Thanjavur Asoka halwa is moong dal halwa and similar to ITC's Jodhpuri moong dal halwa.
- To spice up the tomato rasam I will use the ITC's tomato chilli chutney.
- The manga thokku can be supplemented with ITC's shredded mango chutney.
- For vattral kozhumbu - to add a dash of sweetness to the tangy sauce ITC's tamarind date chutney will be used to make to make the preparation.
- Maanga pacchidi will be made with ITC's mango saffron conserve
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.