Back in 2019, Chef Murthi from Four Points by Sheraton Mahabalipuram Resort & Convention Center was on a journey to discover traditional styles of cooking. On one of his travels, he visited the home of a close friend in the Sivaganga district in Tamil Nadu. Bowls of authenthic Chettinad Meen Kuzhambu, Vendakkai Mandi and Mutton Kola Urundai were a feast for the senses and the flavours stayed with him, long after the trip. So much so, that four years later, the chef is now collaborating with his friend's mother, Mangalam Aachi and her sister Solai Aachi to bring those very flavours to the hotel.
Mangalam Aachi (57) and Solai Aachi (54) have their native roots from Chettinad districts of Pudukkottai and Karaikudi. They never went to a culinary schools, unless you count observing their mother and grandmother in the kitchen from a young age. And each sister has a different speciality. Mangalam Aachi says her area of expertise is with dishes like Chettinad Fish Fry, while Solai Aachi is an entrepreneur known for her cruncky snacks which include varieties of murukku like Seepu Seesai and Thenkuzhal murukku.
We had a quick chat to find out more:
What are some of your earliest memories of food while growing up?
Mangalam Aachi: We grew up staying in a joint family and have been brought up by our mother and grandmother. They learned how to cook from their mother and grandmother and have been preparing many traditional dishes that are over 150 years old which have been passed down from generation to generation. One of my fondest memories as a child is how the aroma of Chettinad Chicken Curry prepared by my mother would permeate through the entire house...
What kind of prep has gone into this festival?
Chef Murthi: Preparation began almost four months ago. The signature preparation of the Aachi’s were tested at Karaikudi at their residence. But after that, we spent hours finalising the menu over multiple trials, using fresh and local ingredients.
Their signature dishes include Chettinad Meen Kuzhambu, Chettinad Mutton Kola Urundai, Chettinad fish fry, Chettinad Chicken Curry, Chettinad special Vendakkai Mandi and varieties of Murukku like Seepu Seedai, Thenkuzhal Murukku, Mullu Murukku.
Are any masalas or ingredients being sourced from Pudukottai or Karaikudi?
Yes. We have travelled far and wide to have access to ingredients from these regions like black pepper, turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel, chilli, and tamarind. Chettinad cuisine is known for its bold and spicy flavours, which we achieved through the use of a unique blend of ingredients.
We know that these recipes are over 150 years old and passed down over generations. But could you share your favourite homemade masala blend for our readers?
Solai Aachi: Freshly hand grind homemade masala with anasipoo (star aniseed), kalpasi (a lichen), puli (tamarind), milagai (chillies), sombu (fennel seed), pattai (cinnamon), lavangam (cloves), punnai ilai (bay leaf), karu milagu (peppercorn), jeeragam (cumin seeds), and venthayam (fenugreek).
Get a taste of these flavours as part of the 'Chettinad by Aachi' festival today. Lunch and dinner. INR 1,599 plus taxes per person.