Nattu ordinary flavours: Chef Sivakami's authentic Chettinad magic at Chettiyar Veedu, Chennai
The Kari Kola Urundai Kuzhambu (mutton meatballs) at Chettiyar Veedu is easily its most in-demand calling card.
It’s so famous, we were advised repeatedly to try the dish even before we headed out for our tasting of the restaurant’s new menu.
We’d been alerted so much, in fact, we almost keyed in ‘Kola Urundai’ into our Uber map location request — but that’s a joke for later.
At Chettiyar Veedu, the smells wafting through the kitchen whisk you off to an altogether different time zone.
It’s almost as though, you walk into the Writer’s Cafe on the ground floor of this prime location along Dr PV Cherian Crescent, step through the attached bookstore, and take the flight of stairs — to step up to an era completely removed from the present.
Indeed, Chettiyar Veedu presents a quaint, well-preserved sanctum of Chettinad food, complete with period-appropriate settings of antique furniture and fixtures (look for the dazzling tile inlays in the restored tables) and generous, all-welcoming hosts and servers (in ceremonial ‘veshti-chatte’ attire) who speak of courtesies that would otherwise be long-forgotten.
The best part is, of course, the food — even as the muted daylight of another monsoon in Chennai glints through the windows, and bounces off the polished floor of the olde worlde porch, overlooking streams of present-day traffic on the main road outside.
In many ways, it does feel like you’ve stepped into a time capsule, and the warm, homely feeling is only accentuated by the presence of guest Chef Sivakami, an eminently popular home cook, well-known for her many cooking workshops held at the café below.
Nattu ordinary flavours
With every promise of authentic homestyle food firmly intact, Chef Sivakami deftly delivers the one lesson we weren’t expecting to learn — that Chettinad food need not necessarily be fiery hot and laden with tongue-scorching spices and explosive ingredients that would make you breathe fire and fume smoke.
On the contrary, the chef lays out a spread of elegantly assembled speciality preparations that are unexpectedly subdued in flavour, never overwhelming on the tastebuds, and wholeheartedly make for some highly desirable comfort-soul food — right down to the chutneys and masalas that are freshly ground in-house, every morning.
Not every spice is meant for every dish, emphasises the chef, as we’re given to carefully appreciate a variety of elements delicately woven into each dish.
The mini Thayir Idlys, for instance, dunked in a mango-ginger seasoned curd, tingle parts of the tongue in ways you’ve never experienced before.
The delightfully steamy Arisi Upma is so mellow in the mouth, and filling, you’d be forgiven for enquiring about unoccupied antique loungers on the premises.
And the Vellai Paniyaram is sure to leave you in raptures of nostalgia over the lovesome hands of your favourite aunt.
To take a step back, our meal had begun with some Vettiver Sarbath (khus grass) and Panagam (jaggery and dry ginger) — both sparkling palate cleansers, followed by a bowl of lip-smacking Nenju Elumbu Soup (mutton bone).
For mains, the Nattu Kozhi Uppukari (country chicken) and Vanjiram Varuval (seer fish) served with appams and the unusual Ilan Dosa left us beaming like colonial landowners prepped for a siesta.
We were wont to make note of the chef’s other specials — the Vaazhaipoo Vadai (banana blossom fritters), Palakkai Kola Urundai (raw jackfruit and lentils) and Senaikilangu Varuval (elephant yam roast), to name a few — all worthy of repeated revisits to the restaurant.
But for this tasting, we left clutching a parcel of the Kola Urundai — packed with a headful of visions of a bygone past — by request, for our colleagues back at work.
Meal for two (veg) `500, (non-veg) `800 approx.
— Jaideep Sen