The Naidu Food Festival at Dakshin is just what the chef ordered, writes Vidhi Bhargava
Every time the talented chef Pavan Chellam of Dakshin visits home, he returns with an idea. Home being the southern part of the country and Andhra Pradesh to be precise. This time it is to showcase the food of the Naidus, an upper sub-caste of the Andhra Hindu community.
The ITC Maratha is hosting a Naidu food festival till April 16. The Naidus, traditionally farmers, have now also branched out to the neighbouring Tamil Nadu and dominate the film industry down south.
Being a Naidu himself, authenticity was never a problem for Chellam. For good measure, he even got chillies pounded at home and packed it along as the spice is an integral part of the Naidu cuisine along with tamarind. The community which makes up almost 25 per cent of the state’s population, is known for its fondness for spicy and tangy food. As many as 40 varieties of chillies flourish in the southern state.
Tamarind is used extensively to balance out the heat in the preparations and cool down the stomach. Coconut is used too but is not the dominating flavour like it is in the other southern states like Kerala, with the exception of coastal cities Machlipatnam, Vishakapatnam and Kakinada. The people here are big fish-eaters and several of their dishes use fresh coconut in different forms.
Sesame oil is a mainstay but cooking mediums vary in keeping with the ingredients used.
The festival line-up at Dakshin includes three set menus — vegetarian, non-vegetarian and seafood — with an elaborate spread of eight to 10 dishes on the thali besides the rasam and madhuram or desserts. While most dishes use the same ingredients — coconut, tamarind, mango and chillies — the range of textures and flavours are amazing.
Worth a special mention here is the Nellore Kodi Pullusu with Garellu or chicken in a tamarind-based thin gravy, served with mini daal wadas and Allang Royallu, ginger flavoured spicy prawns. The season’s special, mangoes, make a fleeting appearance in Mamsam Mamidi Eguru, lamb cooked with raw mango, coconut and spices and mango rice.
The desserts include the ITC special rich Badam Halwa besides Bobbatlu, a flaky Naidu speciality, remniscent of the Maharashtrian puranpoli and North Indian gujjiyas.
The thalis are priced between Rs 1500 and 2500, inclusive of all taxes.