Festival: Ayna at Hilton Chennai is serving up novel Chettinad flavours, that we love
With another week to go, the Chettinad food festival at Ayna sees the restaurant resplendent with urlis filled with fresh flowers and heaps of spices and indigenous grains in quaint clay pots to create the rustic mood. Chef Dinesh Kumar tells us how this festival is close to his heart as he treasures the recipes he has used here. “These recipes and the techniques used are all from a native of Chettinad. The flavour is authentic and you will see that while we have used many spices, all the dishes are not spicy or peppery,” he shares with us. A quick look at the menu and we find comforting signatures and some unique dishes on offer.
Kalpasi & kapok
Apart from pepper and coriander seeds, other spices you cannot do without
and that are sourced directly from Chettinad region are:
• Stone flower spice / Kalpasi (lichen).
• Kapok buds / Marathi moggu (capers).
Thokku to the limit
With three clay pots of chutneys as accompaniment, the kola urundai milagu varuval is delicious by itself — expect soft, seasoned delicately and smoothly ground meat. However, after a taste of the tangy Manga thokku, pickle-like Milaghai chutney and freshly ground Malli Thovayal, we find that they are delicious by themselves too! The crunchy Karamani Makkacholam vadai is a perfect rainy-day deep-fried snack (of corn and black-eyed peas). The prawns are slathered with dark, glistening masalas — and a bite of the eral milagu varuval reveals juicy meat and the robust flavour of roasted and ground whole spices.
Yeh, dil manga more!
Pots of steaming curries come to our table, but we just cannot keep our hands off the Chettinad paratha. Flaky, sweetish and crisp on the outside, this qualifies as a stand-alone bread. Though soon enough we realise that when the same is dipped in the signature Chicken Chettinad curry it does work wonders. However, it is the piquant and tangy manga meen kozhambu that is the winner of the show — and pairs well with steamed rice also. The Paruppu Urundai kozhumbu has Bengal gram dumplings that were being a tad unwieldy, but the spicy kara kozhambu base made up for it.
Dessert turns out to be a wholesome representation of the cuisine with toothy red rice in jaggery that is generously dotted with cashew nuts and drenched in ghee. The Kavuni Arisi payasam has a rustic flavour that is addictive and though the portion is large we find ourselves staring at the bottom of that terracotta tumbler in no time!
Open for dinner only, till March 30, meal for two at INR 3,500.