Sunday, 21 December 2008

Destination Chettinad

Anjappar may hit the nail on the basics, but its dishes don’t translate the same flavour, discovers Sneha May Francis

This weekend I decided to take a gourmet journey to the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Chettinad cuisine is the more established fiery flavour of Tamil Nadu. And Anjappar is just an extension of the renowned cuisine, it’s celebrated for its pungent fiery dishes. And at some point in our lives we've all gorged on Anjappar delicacies at its various outlets across India. But for Dubai, this was our first pit-stop.

Anjappar is modestly decorated, minus any luxurious trimmings. This place is only about food and nothing else. So don't walk in expecting a five-star experience. Each of the two floors is packed with tables and there’s a tiny pin-up board, next to the cashier, which features print-outs of the day's specialties.

Though we walked in late on a Friday afternoon, we almost immediately found ourselves a table. But we had to wait a few minutes before the waiters cleared the previous customers’ leftovers! Once seated the waiter was quick to help us with the orders, always prompting us to choose one dish over another. We decided to let him do the honours.

Within minutes, our table was fast filling up with different shaped silver plates, each with an aromatic preparation.

We treated our hungry tummys to crispy Anjappar Fried Chicken, reddish succulent chunks of Chicken 65 and spiced Chettinad Prawn. Each starter brought forward a distinctly different gourmet story, each as enjoyable and delicious as the other. Each dish was presented with a lump of shredded onions, carrots and a lemon chunk. Give a lavish squeeze of lemon on the dishes to give it a twang.

For the main course, the Non-Veg Thali was the most striking to the eye! Round-shaped tiny steel dishes were placed on a thin sheet of banana leaf along a large circular plate. Each dish was filled with an assortment of flavours – Sambhar, Chicken Chettinad, Mutton gravy, Fish gravy, Kootu, Porial, Rasam, Curd and payasaam. A ghee-laden Chapathi and a crispy Appalam was placed in the centre. The Thali etiquettes require you to finish the chappathi before asking the waiter to serve you rice. Being a South Indian and an ardent fan of all kinds of Sambhar, I found the Anjappar version a tad too insipid. That's what I think went wrong. The Sambhar is the unseen flavour that binds all the other dishes, and once this fails, all else falls short. The only saving grace in this kaleidoscope of flavours was the spiced Chicken Chettinad.

The biryanis, both egg and mutton, are nothing spectacular. Their zest doesn't stir anything in their f(l)avour. The biryanis in Anjappar's Indian outlets are far, far superior to its Dubai version. Even the parotas failed to impress and the reddish King Fish Fry was nothing to write home about.

However, the Karaikudi Mutton, the day's special dish, ignited our tastebuds. Named after the capital city of the Chettinad region, this dish did essay the true essence of the cuisine. The riot of spices enveloped the mutton chunks, adding a fiery zing to the dish. Even the spicy Nattukoli Kulambu, named in true Chettinad lingo, was impressive.

The sweet dish (payasaam) served with the Thali was nothing exciting, so we decided to satisfy our sweettooth with scoops of plain chocolate and vanilla ice-cream.

Even though the restaurant follows closely on the Chettinad tradition, with the menu sporting a number of authentic dishes named in the original lingo and serving only a mix of meat and seafood eaten by the Chettiars (the trading community of the region), the food falls short of the original twang. So if you are looking for authentic Chettinad fare, I suggest you give this one a miss!

Bill for 4:
Mutton Biryani Dh18
Egg Biryani Dh13
Kerala Parota (2) Dh5
Non-veg Thali Dh17
Nattukoli Kulambu Dh20
Chettinad Prawn Dh25
Karaikudi Mutton (Special) Dh23
Chicken 65 Dh15
Anjappar Fried Chicken Dh19
King Fish Fry Dh17
Lime soda (4) Dh20
Vanilla ice-cream Dh6
Chocolate ice-cream Dh6
Total: Dh204

Anjappar 043356116

Published in e+, Gulf News (issue dec25-31,2008)

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