Turmeric Tangerine in Chennai delivers Kongunadu cuisine with rustic, home-style flavours
Kongunadu cuisine haS for far too long been hidden away in ancestral kitchens. This is something that Harsha Vardhini of the home-based venture Turmeric Tangerine — hopes to change. The 28-year-old native of Salem whips up rustic flavours that are not easy to come by on a South Indian restaurant menu, like the Kari Paniyaram (spicy shredded mutton stuffed inside omelette balls). Detailed descriptions of each dish give us a delicious education on heritage as we go. And anecdotal history lessons behind staples on the menu are up for offer if you are curious enough to ask.
A hunter’s feast
Like the Pallipalayam Kozhi Varuval that boasts of minimal ingredients and bountiful flavour. Made with coconut slivers, red chillies, turmeric and salt, this was originally a hunter’s dish, we are told. “A hunter would carry an extra chicken with him just in case he couldn’t catch any game that day and make this with the basic spices he had on hand,” Harsha tells us. Modern-day recreations with add-ons like cumin and garam masala, she adds, are unnecessary and not true to the ethos of the cuisine which came from an ancient era that had little exposure to spices.
Interestingly enough, Harsha studied Fashion Management and Culture Studies and only began realising her passion for the regional cuisine she was raised on when she moved to London for her studies. Fast forward a little over a decade to the set up of Turmeric Tangerine earlier this July.
As we savour aromatic Nei Arisi Sadham (Seeraga Samba Rice cooked in ghee) paired with a Salem Kari Kozhambu (slow-cooked mutton in a thick, peppery stew) — Harsha tells us that research has meant collecting stories from farm workers back home and her grandparents. Palani’s Kozhi Rasam, a favourite on her list, is a tribute to her grandfather, who passed away a few years ago. “In the long run, I want to document all these recipes as part of a larger project,” she says.
Muttai and sevai
Muttai Sevai (rice noodles tossed with egg) comes next. And then, Pachamilagai Kozhi Varuval (chicken legs braised in a green chilli paste, roasted with curry leaves) that we eat with a light and spongy Ilan Dosai. How many people that reach out for an order know the places under the Kongu region, we wonder out loud. “Most people associate Kongu food with Coimbatore and Pollachi but the region actually covers about 50 towns in the north western part of Tamil Nadu,” Harsha responds. This includes places like Erode, Udumalpet, Tirupur and even Ooty and Kodaikanal. Some might remember, the late chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni who was a champion of this cuisine in his time, would encourage culinary students to travel through this region and unearth recipes from housewives.
Petals & payasam
Gulkand Payasam, which ends the meal has a strong whiff of something that we can’t quite put our finger on. “That’s pacha karpooram (edible camphor) which is known to aid digestion and also be an aphrodisiac. It’s a recipe from the Zamindar families of the region,” responds Harsha. Healthy but heady, this might be an acquired taste
Available on weekends only. Weekday orders are possible if it is for more than six people with a day’s notice. Meal for two INR 1,500.