Festival Feed: The Chettinad Food Festival at The Westin Hyderabad

The Chettinadu area in Tamil Nadu is known for its savvy business families or Chettiars, who for generations are one of the top trader sects of South India. Apart from their business acumen, they are known to be avid food lovers, and their cuisine is replete with spices from different areas which they brought back from their trading journeys. Chettinad food with its fresh ground spices has gained tremendous popularity all over the world, for its flavours and taste.

The Chettinad Spread
The Chettinad Spread

We have had Chettinad food festivals in Hyderabad before, one of the significant ones was at ITC Kakatiya about a year and a half ago. Now Seasonal Tastes brings Chef Jagadeesh from The Westin Chennai Velachery to showcase the famous cuisine from the current Sivaganga and Karaikudi belt.

As is usually the custom, the promotion items replace the Indian dishes in the Seasonal Tastes buffet. There is usually a selection of starters, soup, live counters and main courses chosen from the most popular dishes from that cuisine. Invited for a media and bloggers preview, we had a brief introduction to Chettinad cuisine from Chef Jagadeesh and my friend the ever-enthusiastic Chef Mukesh. They stressed that the cuisine goes much beyond the well-known dishes like Kuzhambu and Varuval, and that the best Chettinad food should be a subtle combination of spices used rather than domination by a single one. The darkish colour in many of the preparations is due to the use of spices like Marathi Moggu, Kalpsai and Kababchini. We were taken to a display of ingredients attractively put up to educate the diners.

The Chettinad Spices

As the starters were served on the table, we started munching on the Urlai Kuchi Varuval (fried potato fingers with a red chilli based masala), which was appreciated by all, and I sincerely felt that it would be a right accompaniment to go with drinks. For me, the other varuval (Tamil for fry) was one notch better.

Urlai Kuchi Varuval
Urlai Kuchi Varuval

Kozhi Malli Varuval or fried chicken in a coriander leaves and masala had a strong flavour which enticed me to a second helping.  Karuvvepillai Era Masala, a crunchily fried prawn dish in curry leaves was the other starter of note. Here too the curry leave taste was significant, but it did not overwhelm the other flavours.

Kozhi Malli Varuval 

Chettinad cuisine is known for its flavourful rasams and today it was Vendai Rasam, an extremely subtle preparation of okra spiced with black pepper. I prefer to drink my rasam as an accompaniment throughout the meal, and not as a soup and the density of this was perfect for the same.

Fish Live Counter
The Live Counter serving a Variety of Fish

The festival has quite a few live counters. The famous non-veg corner of the Seasonal Tastes buffet (where people usually throng to after picking up the plates) had a variety of fish types marinated in different types of Chettinad spices.  The look itself was so mouthwatering, and I tried out a few combinations. Behind it was a counter preparing Kothu Paratha, the popular snack of scrambled paratha pieces with veg, egg and even mince. In another corner Kal Appam was being prepared to go with some of the dishes.  A chutney counter had a variation of at least half a dozen different preparations.

Kothu Paratha 

Among the main courses, Kari Melagu Curry was the signature Chettinad preparation basking in rich spices. The flavour and taste of the mutton dish was in full bloom, and I tried this both with some Kal Appam as well as the Tamil version of lemon rice (Elumchi Sadam).

Kari Melagu Curry
Kari Melagu Curry

There was also Kootur Kari Chor (a Mutton Pulav which is from the royal cuisine of Chettinad). It had a lot of whole spices which added a lot of flavour to it. It is a must try for Hyderabadi food lovers who love rice and meat dishes.

Elumchi Sadam
Elumchi Sadam

The pick of the vegetarian main courses was Kavi Poo Melagu Perattal or cauliflowers simmers in pepper. Coconut based Kai Gari Korma, as well as a tangy eggplant and tomato dish, were the other vegetarian dishes of note.

The Dessert Platter

The dessert counter also had its share of Tamilian dishes. Pal Paniyaram featured the snack in a sweet gravy, in the same way you use rasgullas in rasmalai. Sakkarai Pongal or sweet pongal is one of the best known desserts of the region, and Suyam was a deep fried delicacy. While I could hardly try these after gorging on the starters and main courses, others who tried the desserts were impressed.

Taste of Chettinad is part of the usual buffet at Seasonal Tastes and is on until 12th February. On weekdays lunch is priced at Rs 1500 and dinner Rs 1700 (AI). The Sunday brunch this week will also play host to this fest.  If you love South Indian flavours, this festival is not to be missed.

Seasonal Tastes
The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace
Mindspace IT Park
Hitech City, Hyderabad
Telephone: 67676888

Disclaimer: The review is based on an invite from the restaurant

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