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A Marriage of Regions and Cuisines

Discussion in 'Cooking & Recipies' started by spnadmin, Jul 22, 2011.

  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Jun 17, 2004
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    Even as wedding menus increasingly go the chaat-Chinese-pasta way, a food festival in Chennai attempts to rustle up some regional favourites.


    J. Gopal, a South Indian, got married to a Sikh girl in a Punjabi wedding. Just make sure there's a separate section for the vegetarians, his mother had said, and that was arranged. But come dinner time and there was chaos — the South Indians made a beeline for the Punjabi fare and the Punjabis for the vegetarian food. “They didn't know how to eat quite a bit of the food, or mix rasam and rice, and scoop it up in that typically South Indian way,” says the chef, imitating the action, “but everyone had a lot of fun.”

    Gopal is the Executive Chef at Chennai's Residency Towers, which recently hosted a 12-day wedding food festival. The press conference had only a smattering of what was promised — the plan was to offer select dishes from one regional wedding a day as part of the hotel's regular buffet. We sampled makai shak, a mild and mellow corn curry from Gujarat, often cooked with milk; a vegetable and rice preparation also from that State which was pleasant but not exceptional; meat biryani, puris, chole, tandoori chicken, and the best of the desserts on offer was the famous jalebi-rabri combination (moong dal halwa and kala jamun were the other choices). A first time for me — spooning out pieces of crisp jalebis with a soft, tangy interior from a bowl of rich, sweet rabri was a great lesson in combining and experiencing textures and tastes, not to mention a superb finale. For quite a while now, wedding meals have rarely restricted themselves to the respective community's cuisine, preferring to go the chaat-Chinese-pasta route. The must-haves, such as the plain mashed toor or moong dal that makes an appearance in many South Indian weddings, do feature but are overshadowed by the more glamorous foods on offer.

    I remember going to a wedding in Orissa, drooling at the thought of an authentic Oriya feast, only to be confronted with fried rice, a generic curry and ice-cream served on melamine plates! Then there are the other items which, in my experience, are rarely ever made at home and appear only at weddings — a kurma made of phool makhanas (commonly called lotus seeds), tendli pakodas and brinjal with small besan pakodas and various other curious concoctions. As a young and supremely self-assured waiter once told me at a cousin's wedding, much to the amusement of those around: “This sweet won't have a name, Madam.” There are also the not-so-expansive wedding meals that wisely restrict the menu to a biryani and its traditional accompaniments such as the bagara baingan and burani/raita, and dessert — for who can eat more after such a heavy meal?

    Gopal says he has tried to be as authentic as possible for this food festival. “We covered all the traditional items though we didn't go too deep into caste and sub-caste because there would be complications, with people saying this isn't right and that isn't authentic, so we stayed more general.” But wouldn't a wedding feast without those peculiarities be devoid of character, and how different would it be from the general cuisine of a region? To this Gopal says, “We also do this to attract business to our banquets division, we don't want people thinking they cannot get authentic cuisine other than South Indian in Chennai,” says Gopal.

    He explains that a Marwari wedding wouldn't serve meat, but some other Rajasthani communities do, so it would be more accurate to call it a selection of Rajasthani cuisine and offer non-vegetarian food as well. But they did have a Marwari selection one day, which was the most popular — over 200 people visited the restaurant that day and the hotel has bagged orders to host Marwari weddings.

    He adds that he has spoken to various people and read up on cuisines for authentic information on what should and shouldn't be served in a wedding meal — Iyer weddings, for instance, don't serve brinjal — and has made sure traditional recipes such as chutney, thuvaiyals, kadhis, khichdis and specialities such as dal batti churma (from Rajasthan, where a baked dumpling is served with dal, and a sweet made of the crumbled dumpling mashed with sugar). The cuisines covered included Kerala, Tamil Iyer, Marwari, Gujarati, Punjabi, Goan and Chettiar. In a nod to current wedding fashion, live stations churning out dosas, cheelas and chaats were installed at the food festival.


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