“One is lucky to eat like a Chettiar” goes an old Tamil saying, and it certainly is no exaggeration. The Nattukotai Chettiars, or Nagarathers, as they call themselves, are a community of bankers and merchants from the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu, India’s southernmost state. Through years of trade and travel, they not only amassed wealth and foreign contacts but also a keen knowledge of spices that informs their fiery cuisine.
I first came across Chettinad food in a chain restaurant of all places. Anjappar, a Chettinad eatery originally founded in Chennai, India in 1964 had expanded to places like Singapore, the Middle East, and Sri Lanka, where I was living at the time. They even opened a location in New York’s Curry Hill. My initial exposure to the cuisine’s bold and complex flavors proved to be a revelation. I was amazed that Chettinad food tasted even better than the Jaffna cuisine of Sri Lankan Tamils, which I loved so much. As a connoisseur of spices, I was hooked, and had to recreate these flavors at home so I dutifully did my research, bought some cookbooks, and sought out the food wherever I could.
More recently, I came across a beautiful cookbook called, The Bangala Table, Flavors and Recipes from Chettinad (2014), which features authentic recipes from the kitchens of The Bangala, a storied hotel in Karaikudi, the capitol of the Chettinad region . Loaded with historical information, this tome also provides valuable context for Chettinad culture and cuisine. Armed with this new information and recipes, I finally feel as if I can truly recreate these flavors at home, and that’s exactly what I intend to do at the next Skiz’s Original Supper on March 2nd.
Following is the Chettinad Menu I will be presenting:
Ulundu Vade (Savory Donuts) with coconut chutney
Steamed Fragrant Basmathi Rice
Chicken Chettinad Pepper Masala – fiery but flavorful, this is a signature dish of the cuisine
Mutton Kozhambu – tender chunks of goat in a spicy curry
Mixed Vegetable Sambhar — potatoes, tomatoes and peppers in a dal-based sauce
Cabbage Carrot Pooriyal – a colorful vegetable saute
Cucumber Thayir Pachadi – a cooling condiment of yogurt and cucumber
Papadum –thin crispy lentil-flour wafers
Curd with treacle – Yogurt with coconut syrup and chopped cashews
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I could come up with a load of colorful adjectives to describe this food, but its best to taste it for yourself. I guarantee that if you love Sri Lankan or Indian food, or are a curry fiend like me, you are in for a real treat!