This Chettinad Saravedi special menu at Jamawar in Chennai is sure to excite any South Indian gourmand!
Focusing on a reinvention of Chettinad cuisine, chef Shribala’s new culinary pop-up will change the way you look at these often done-to-death regional Tamil dishes
We were only excited by this festival/pop-up once we saw the menu, that and the fact that it was being hosted at Jamawar at the The Leela Palace Chennai — one of the nicest restaurants in town, décor-wise at least. But all our worries were put aside the moment chef Shribala hit a sixer or should we say a four, when she presented us with an appetiser with all the makings of local bar, but with the finesse we’d expect from a five star establishment. We were presented with a small bucket of a selection of fried appalams, paired with four pickles native to the Chettinad region — with one catching our attention in particular — a fresh pickle featuring birds eye chillies and bitter pea brinjal.
We chose to pair our meal with several cups of piping hot filter coffee and while that might be considered a strange combination, take our word; it worked amazingly well with the meal ahead of us. Chef Shribala decided to make things simple for this festival/pop-up. Chettinad Saravedi is an experiment of sorts, after all. Two set menus — a veg or non-veg Chettinad Virundhu or Chettinad Feasts — were presented and we were allowed to partake of the whole menu or choose our favourites, a la carte. We decided to go with the latter. “The idea is to present a different side of Chettinad cuisine to the adventurous at heart. With so many Chettinad restaurants serving up the same kind of food, I wanted to shake things up and that’s what this menu focuses on,” says chef Shribala.
We started off with a Nandu (crab) Rasam and almost immediately followed it up with Meenu Masala Varuval (pan-seared fish steaks) and Mutton Kola Urundai (mince mutton roundels). The crab rasam was creamy and was more like a thick broth spiced in a familiar South Indian way, with more than a generous helping of crab meat: absolutely delicious!
While the Mutton Kola Urundai was nothing to write home about, the Meenu Masala Varuval: pan-seared fish with lemongrass and pandan was beautifully evocative of the South-East Asian influences on Chettinad cuisine. We were soon also served piping hot Kal Dosais, Idiyappams and Ragi Appams to lap up the indulgent Eral Paal Kuzhambu (prawns cooked in coconut milk broth), which was definitely the highlight of the meal.
This recipe, one of the chef’s secrets has travelled with her for more than a decade and we can see why. A must try, it is, by far, one of the most flavourful yet subtle prawn based curries we have tasted — surprisingly, with a South Indian origin, considering, we’re known for our spices here and do not even attempt subtle flavours, unless we have no other choice.
We bulldozed through quite a few Idiyappams and Dosais drenched in this coconut milk curry goodness, before we actually noticed the Chicken Chettinad that had already made its way to the table. It was ignored, sadly, as our attentions refused to part ways with the Eral Paal Kuzhambu.
We only stopped this ravenous binging when the desserts arrived on table, and they were definite winners too! The Ukkarai — a Chettinaad Deepavali special made with green gram and jaggery, a distant cousin of the suzhiyam sweet bonda, just without a batter covering and coconut — paired really well with Seeyam Fruit Cheesecake — lentils, coconut and jaggery dumplings topped with cheese and select fruit — for the perfect end to this Chettinad treat. We wrapped it all up with one more filter coffee and called it a day.
Only today. At Jamawar, The Leela Palace Chennai