The first step to pull this off, I guess, is to get someone who knows the food of the land. From both the present, historic and even pre-historic days. Enter Chef Shri Bala, a food historian and chef who rakes up rustic recipes from grand-moms and great grand-moms from across the country. And also turns pages and pages of history books and comes up with facts that no one wants to believe. Thankfully, the food doesn't care and whether you like those facts or not, chances are you will lap up the meal. And that, they've perfected in this food festival.
This particular food festival is not historic, just to set the precedent. Sangam literature segregates land into five, based on the fertility and type of land, into Marudham, Neydhal, Paalai, Kurinji and Mullai, referring to the crop land, sea shore, dessert, mountains and the forest. Shri Bala has dug up recipes native to these lands and has presented an interesting mix.
There are new things, new flavours and a bit of difference in flavours across the dishes. The Theni Mass, a type of pulled cooked lamb that is refried in ghee was my introduction to this festival. While it looks like a very Asian crispy lamb, South Indian flavours ooze out. Like the beautiful brittleness of the Asian version, the slightly chewy-yet crispy-enough version is no less beautiful. The Eral Vada, though, oozes disappointment all the way. With almost no flavour of the prawn, when it should ideally be hitting your palate, this ended up being an expensive masala vada.
The main course is best done as a degustation. You get three small portions of gravies and a choice of dosa/idiyappam/parotta. I got a Pallipalayam chicken, a vegetarian gravy and a Sivaganga Kari Kozhumbu. The first two were nice, the last one was fantabulous. Made with pepper and ground small chilly, unlike the usual hit the face first flavour of chilly in South Indian dishes, this particular dish had a beautiful chilly after taste.
The kari dosa was another familiar, yet unfamiliar dish. While this kind of thick dosa with loads of minced lamb comes in hotels, the flavours were that of the home kari dosa, the ones that grand-moms put minced meat on top of the cooked dosa.
The desserts were a hit and a miss. The Paruthipaal (cotton seed milk) cooked rice was a nicely flavoured chakara-pongal served with just a little bit of nuts, this was the hit. The payasam with mango and papaya was a miss, simply because of the pot that it was served in.
The festival is on till the 13th of May for both lunch and dinner and while there are many dishes, I would definitely prefer the degustation menu which gives you a nice overview of the gravies.