Karavalli has a long standing tradition of training its chefs in the kitchens of traditional homes and still continues to procure ingredients from the original source. As a tribute to household recipes that can be lost in the pages of time, Karavalli makes a conscious effort to bring this back into our memories and taste buds by hosting traditional food festivals. This February it plays host to Mathai Achayan and his Syrian Christian delicacies.
God’s own country has a host of different communities that call it home and each one of them has a special way of treating local spices like red chillies, coconut, pepper, fresh fish and meats to bring out something completely unique. In Kerala, the Syrian Christian food is a little different from the regular Kerala Hindu Sadya, becaue of the addition of non-vegetarian elements to the meal. The most noted contribution of the community to the cuisine of Kerala has been the hoppers, duck roast, meen vevichattu and the istew (stew). Mr. Mathai hails from the Vattukulam, in Kottayam district, which is the heartland of the Syrain Christian Community. Having trained under his mother and grandmother, he is here to let your experience the traditional recipes from the grand kitchens of Kottayam, Travancore,Kollam, Allapuzha and Chaganassary now recreated at Karavalli.
As with all things Karavalli – the food is always scrumptious, the décor is homely and beautiful and the service is warm and friendly. So I will take your through a visual journey of my gastroscapes last week and am sure you will be tempted to give the festival a dekko this week.
We started with the Karavalli staples – a piece of jaggery to sweeten and wake up your palate, followed by some fried appalams and some piping hot rasam to get your ready for the fun food journey.
The Syrian community is located inland and through seafood is not a specialty – they do turn out some ‘meen’ dishes. But if you paid close attention to the starters you will see that the meat and poultry is the one to shine. The Vazapoo cutlet was quite a revelation – banana flower and sweet potatoes combined to give a strangely fulfilling meat-like feel to the dish. I thought it would be impolite to ask for ketchup but I assure you this would have tasted brilliant with something tangy on the side. Tamarind chutney to be more politically correct?
The Kera or Tuna Pepper fry left us all in quite a dilemma. Was Tuna native to Kerala? What is it doing in a traditional menu? Chef assured us that this was a local variety called Kera and was actually quite popular in Kerala. He even bought out a fish to show us. Clearly I will refrain from posting that picture! The least impressive for me was the Koonu Kurumilagu Roast – a button mushroom preparation with pepper. Somehow I could not shake off the feeling of something you get in our Sukh Sagar Darshini – mushroom manjurian anybody? The Attirachy Varattiyatu however reserves high praise for the tender juicy morsels of lamb that were perfectly complemented by the dry coconut and shallot mixture. It will be a perfect accompaniment to Beer or in Kerala, maybe some fresh Toddy!
I think the highlight of this festival were the superlative curries. Generally I’m an appetizer and dessert person with main course kind of relegated to a ‘whatever’ place. But here – the main course was the star. Here’s a look at the offerings.
Koorka Chemmeen Peralan – Koorka and medium prawns cooked in spiced coconut milk was redolent of everything Kerala. The Meen Moilee – Fish cooked in mild spices in coconut milk was very different from the creamier versions that pass of as the same in restaurants these days. If the creamy version is what you are used to – this might be a bit of a let down in terms of texture. The Kozhi Varatharachatu – spiced chicken with broiled coconut is a unique flavor and according to me a must try.
The vegetarian curries are a delightful Chakka Kuru Kashvandi Ularthu – Jackfruit seeds and tender cashew cooked dry and Kadachakka Theeyal – Breadfruit cooked in roasted coconut, jaggery and tamarind. Jackfruit seeds? Breadfruit? Comon – these are things that we probably would never cook at home, let alone make something delicious out of! So this is your chance to try something absolutely basic and unique to that part of the world.
The accompaniments were the usual Appam, Kallappam, Puttu and Pidi. Out of these I had already tried the Puttu (steamed rice cakes) and the Appam (rice pancakes). So I decided to try the Kallappam and the Pidi. The Kallappam was in it’s most basic form – a version of a set dosa. But much softer and tasting slightly fermented. This I paired with the meen moilee and quite liked the sweet-sour combo. The Pidi was something else! Subtly seasoned rice dumplings in a mild broth – this went wonderfully with the almost rustic Chicken curry. A perfect match.
Desserts were interesting but somehow not as appealing as my favorite Banana Caramel Ice Cream in Karavalli. I did try the offering and concluded that they were way too ‘interesting’ for me. But a lot of my dinner companions did relish the flavors of coconut and jaggery – especially in the Bamboo Rice Payasam which was a first for me.
The festival is on till the end of the month – so hurry to catch some Syrian delicacies. It is available a-la-carte, both for lunch and dinner.
The Gateway Hotel,
#66, Residency Road,
Bangalore – 560025.
Phone: +91 80 66604545
Parking: Valet available
Cost: Rs.2800/++ for a meal for two.