Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The only Telugu word I know (Apart from the bad ones): Bhojanam.

There used to be this misconception about continental food. For instance, if your date says continental cuisine is his favourite, you were dealing with either a poser or rich-dude-with-a-cultured palate. Source: Cosmopolitan India, early 2000s.


What is so cultured about eating a piece of cheese is beyond me. I'll stop with the puns.

I'm a big fan of Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean food myself and I don't know how that comes off; asking me to choose my favourite cuisine is synonymous with asking what my favourite body organ is. Would you rather make do without your spleen or kidney?! Hmm. Debatable.

 It keeps changing from year to year, season to season (the favourite cuisine bit). Before the hummus/baba ghanoush/pita bug bit me, it was Thai. Phad thai, Tom Yum soup, Thai Green Curry with steamed rice. Mmm. OK, I can't make up my mind.

And whilst I love Tamilian food (soul food, childhood memories, similar weepy metaphors), other parts of South India, not so much. Can't stand coconut oil (it reminds me of shiny heads, the smell of which gets compounded by the humidity, in the Ladies Compartment of the local train). Gah. Mangalorean, yum, but most of it I consider Tamilian.

Andhra food. Have you ever felt that your Telugu friends are laughing at you at the table? A friend of my brother's would make this joke every Eid: "Aunty, unga biryani sweet romba nalla iruku." Lunch at their house would consist of their family laughing while we cough-choked-sputtered over the spiciness of the food. If the spice had been toned down, I'd have enjoyed it very, very much, presumably. Never got to find out.

We took an old employee of ours out for lunch the other day; she's getting married in a month, and she decided that after seven years of "dead food" ("seththa sapaadu") at our house, she would love it if we went to a Chettinad restaurant. I left the room before I let my face slump. I could grow up enough to face furiously red gravy hiding beneath three inches of oil. I could, and I would.

That's how I found myself at Amaravathi, at Cathedral Road, on Sunday afternoon. I ate a lot of yummy food, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I ate my pompous spiel on Andhra food as well.

The ambience is flamboyantly Andhra Pradesh, staking out on a little bit of Madras. You can spot things made of brass, a wide-screen TV playing Gemini TV and the smell the aroma and hear the sounds of chillies being fried in oil.

We got there at around one and thereby unintentionally-but-fortunately avoided the mad rush for tables.

 The tables already had banana leaves on them, and I helped myself to the gongura pickle even before our menus reached the table. The menu is such a relief, I tell you. It's hardly two pages long. There isn't any clutter with "Chinese" or "Tandoor". And there are no scary things like rabbit or pheasant. Here's where I ask vegetarians and vegans to skip this post.

Mango pickle, gongura, gun powder and salt.
Between the seven of us, we each had the Vindhu Bhojanam (except my sister, who had an Andhra style paratha), two orders of the Mutton Chukka, a plate of fried fish and a plate of brains masala.

Vindhu Bhojanam is the Andhra version of our humble Ela Sappadu. The head-waiter appeared two minutes after we placed the order, with little eversilver buckets that had our pappu keerai (some spinach-like keera cooked with lentils), a chutney and potato-poriyal. Next, he brought around a hotbox of huge proportions and shovelled rice onto our leaves; I had to hurriedly put out an arm so he couldn't build a mountain of steaming rice on my banana leaf, like he had done with the others. Little containers of sambar, rasam and thick curd were doled out next. A bucket of fish and chicken curry (minus the meat) were left at the table.

The waiter is like an old uncle at his daughter's wedding; a gracious host admonishing us to eat more, and appearing magically each time any one of us ran low on any of the individual components. On Dad's request, he gave a short instruction on how to approach the food.

First, a portion of rice had to be mixed with the gunpowder (a crazy-delicious mix of powdered dal and chillies) and ghee. Yes, I know how many calories are in half a teaspoon of ghee. Worth it, easily. I could have just had the rice-gunpowder-ghee combo and walked out a happy, satiated camper.

I separated my rice into eight little portions. One I mixed with the gongura. One, with the sambar. One with the chutney, one with the chicken curry, one with the fish curry, and so on. The spice is in the food complements it wonderfully. Enough to open up your eyes and hit every taste bud, but not so much that you start coughing and rush for the water (rookie mistake, by the way. Water worsens the burn, always reach for plain rice).

The chicken curry was fantastic; the spice in it toned down by the coconut milk. Fish curry, spicy and oily, but not too much of either. The pappu keerai, I loved, because I can be a weirdo who loves healthy, light food that do wonderful things for my body. Even the sambar had a little bit of a kick to it!

My concentration was wholly occupied only by smelling and eating the bhojanam, only to be broken when the "side-dishes" were brought. I have got to stop saying things like kick and side dish, but memories of the gongura and ETv muddle my brain even as I'm typing.

The mutton sukka. I'm not a fan, but that's because mutton as such is not something I enjoy. Yes, you can be muslim and not like mutton. It's allowed. I checked. The gravy in which it was chukka'd (baked/roasted/broiled) was tasty, though!

The murrel fish was batter-fried and delicious. Fish I love in most of its avatars, and this one was gorgeously cooked and had practically no spice, but good flavour. If I'm going to be a grouch, I'd say the portion was too little.

I don't have a picture of the Andhra paratha or the brains masala. My sister says the paratha was "yummy-licious!" in a tone she tries copying from Nigella (we're all big fans). You can take her word for it. She's six-and-three-quarters.

Brains masala was finished by the time I could click a photo. Order it if you're daring (not Fear Factor-daring, don't be a dramatic wuss. Planet Food-daring, may be).

The meal I finally ended with rice mixed with curd, scooped up by vadams and appalams. I only accepted more rice because I didn't want to offend the hospitable staff, but, damn, that was a good decision. Finished all of it!

Dessert consists of a sweet/banana/paan plate, but I gave it a miss and helped myself to a handful of the candied fennel instead. The family didn't though. It ended on a sweet note any way, as Mum didn't crib/cringe when the bill arrived (as swiftly as the food and the clearing up) and that almost trumps dessert.


  1. What else do you call those jeera bits?!

  2. One of those rare places where 'pappu-keerai' gets mentioned... :)

  3. Food is the one thing that really has no boundaries!