Dosa or dosai is taboo in Dakshin. It’s blasphemy for a South Indian restaurant but for the chefs there it is an unwritten code. They believe it restricts creativity and once you have it on the menu it’s difficult to steer customers away from their comfort zone to try out something new.
So how does Dakshin lure customers? With food festivals, featuring cuisines from different regions in Southern India, which go beyond the regular idli-dosa. The restaurant at ITC Maratha is hosting a Moplah (pronounced Maa-p-lah) festival this fortnight featuring food popular among the Kerala Muslims, the Moplahs.
Chef Pavan Chennam, sous chef,Dakshin, explains. “Muslim food across the country has prominent Mughlai influences. But Moplah cuisine is closer to Kerala cooking. The medium is coconut oil.. fresh coconut is an important ingredient.” The difference is in the use of spices.
He adds, “The Moplahs like their food hot.. so there’s a focus on spices.” The community of Malayalam speaking Kerala Muslims came to be through the marriage of local women to traders and sailors from the Middle East. So, their food, which is largely non-vegetarian originally, is a fusion of Kerala and Arab cuisine.
The festival menu at Dakshin, however, has plenty of choices for the vegetarians too. Carnatic music, an urn filled with marigold and rose petals, garlands of rajnigandha and Ashoka leaves, and plantain leaflined silver thali, set the tone of the evening. And the Tomato Rasam and basket of hot and crisp poppadums set the tastebuds into action.
The menu includes dishes that are a part of Moplah wedding feasts. Sharp chillies and onions are the base of the Chameen Ulathiyathu, tiger prawns cooked with chillies and Madras onions and Kozhi Porichathu, deepfried chicken drumsticks with chillies and coconut, yet they taste very different.
Chef Chennam recommends Meen Charu, a silky smooth, coconuty fish curry and an intensely flavoured Moplah chicken curry, Nadang Kozhi. My personal favourite was the Erachi Porichathu, a dry preparation of lamb cubes tossed with fresh coconut and chillies.
A speciality on the menu is the Erachi Biryani or the Moplah Biryani,which combines the aromas of curry leaves and ghee. While the layering of meat and rice is reminiscent of Mughlai biryani, the use of curry leaves is perhaps a contribution by the Muslim rulers of Arcot and Mysore. Worth a taste for sure.