At the risk of alienating many of my friends and colleagues in Chennai, I’m about to make a very bold statement. I adore Kerala food. I’ve visited Kerala more times than any other state and mostly it’s because the food is so amazing. Whether it’s the fried pomfret or the coconut based gravies, I wolf it all down. When my Mallu (that’s the easier way of saying Malayalee) team mate returns from her hometown of Trivandrum, the only thing I really care about is how many banana & jackfruit chips she’s going to bring back.
This food festival has been put together by Sara Koshy, a baker and local foodie. The unique spin on the dishes in this food festival is that they are all from the Syrian Christian community that Sara belongs to. Syrian Christians can trace their roots back to 56 AD when St Thomas first arrived in India and the food is influenced from regions as far away as Portugal, Holland and Syria. To begin with, over 60 different dishes were considered for inclusion in the festival but that was cut down to 40, with around a dozen served each day until the 27th August.
One of the key aspects of Syrian Christian Malayalee food is meat and that’s found in most of the dishes. If you are a vegetarian, there are still plenty of options and many of the gravies and biriyanis have been prepared specially for vegetarians. If you’re a carnivore like myself, be prepared to gorge until you get the meat sweats!
To kick things off though, there is the live food counter with four different options. There are appams which are like the dosas you get in Chennai but they are fried in a small, concave frying pan to give them a unique shape. This was served with a beautiful, creamy chicken stew which had a coconut base. The fried chicken, or kozhi pakoda (pronounced ‘kori’) as it’s known was equally delightful – in fact I had to go back for seconds it was so good!
Then came the fried beef cutlets. The beef has been tenderized to melt in your mouth and then lightly fried. The last thing I tried on the live counter was steamed pomfret – my favourite fish! If you haven’t been to Kerala to try their fried pomfret, please make a plan to go now! The pomfret is wrapped in a green banana leaf to add to the taste.
Next up was the opportunity to try all the main courses. These included the Syrian Christian take on biriyani (vegetarian and mutton), a sambar gravy, a chicken dish and olan – prepared from gourd, ginger and coconuts. No Kerala meal is complete without banana chips, and I took more than my fair share – they shouldn’t have made the serving spoons so large!
Another addition which I love about food from Kerala is the banana chips lightly fried with jaggery. It’s like having a dessert as part of your main course!
Finally, if you’ve got any space left for dessert then you have three authentic Syrian Christian options to choose from.
Nobody loves jackfruit as much as me so I was thrilled to find out that a liquid dessert had been created out of it. I ladled several spoonfuls of the jackfruit dessert into a bowl, feeling very happy with myself. Just like no Kerala food is complete without coconut, no dessert could be complete without bananas. This time they come in the form of deep fried banana fritters. Finally, because you can’t keep coconut out of any Mallu dish, and it makes a reappearance with the coconut elaneer payasam – like a milky dessert.
Or you could be boring like my wife and just opt for a little vanilla ice cream.
About the Syrian Christian Malayalee Food Festival
The entire menu has been planned by Sara Koshy, a Syrian Christian, who has taught the chefs of the Hyatt Regency how to make some of her heirloom dishes. If you love your meat, or want to try Kerala food that isn’t normally available elsewhere, then definitely pencil it into your calendar. It’s on until 27th August every evening at the Spice Haat restaurant.
HYATT REGENCY CHENNAI
365 Anna Salai, Teynampet, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600018, India
Tel: +91 44 61001234
Mob: +91 9176633310