Thursday, February 25, 2010

Culinary Yatra-- part 1

In November 2009, my husband and I went on a vacation to India to attend my sister's wedding and to visit family. No trip to India is complete without overindulging in local food. And by local, I mean - homecooked, catered, local roadside fast food joints, 4 star buffets. I truly ate on all levels. PHEW. It was hard work to keep up.

Since this blog was non existent at the time of our trip, I don't have much proof by way of pictures of all the yumminess we experienced but you'll just have to trust me on that one.

Outside of Chennai we travelled to Kerala where the wedding took place. This post is about culinary experiences in Chennai.

Saravana Bhavan, Mylapore, Chennai
- Eating here has become a must the last few times I've visited Chennai. Yeah they have locations all over the world, but there's nothing like walking in the 100F heat from my grandparents home to this place, waiting in line and taking a seat in the special "a/c hall".. where you will mostly find NRIs dining. The locals call it overpriced but I call it Heaven. The menu itself is like a book- 15 pages of vegetarian dishes- ranging from a simple plate of pakoras to complicated Indo-Chinese combos.

Catered Food, Home Delivered
- One of the fast growing industries is local catering businesses. These are people you call a few hours or days before and arrange for your favourite dishes to be delivered to your door at your convenience. It's pretty cool. There are hundreds of these caterers with cusines ranging from the traditional south indian fare- sambar, rasam, variety of mixed rices, etc to north Indian dishes like pulao, chole, puris etc. No big deal. I got the opportunity to taste quite a few of these catered dinners... at various homes. One such lunch was at my parent's place - to welcome my sister, her husband. The rest of us were also invited. There were 4 kinds of rice- tamarind, coconut, lemon and plain. And then you had sambar (spicy lentil soup commonly had in South India with rice or rice based dishes), rasam (thin soup, yes also spicy), kootu (sort of like a stew typically with a large amount of grated coconut), more kozhambu (a yogurt based thick soup also to be had with rice). There was also a dry curry which in this particular case I think was potato curry. If that wasn't enough there was masala chips- spicy spicy potato chips done just right and applam (also called papadam in certain parts)

Yogurt or
Thayir- No south indian meal is complete without yogurt or yogurt mixed with rice (accompanied with oorga or spicy hot pickles). That dish alone is, to me, comfort food at its best. Of course I eat my yogurt rice with green olives on the side.

This is enough to send anyone into food coma.

As the days went by and I recovered from all the different home cooked or catered food coma opportunities, I started to venture out to various restaurants. As much as I loved eating dosais and utthappams , I really wanted to check out the rich variety culinary scene in Chennai had to offer. My husband's good buddy took us to Zara, a Tapas Bar on Cathedral Road.

Zara, A Tapas Bar
- This place took my breath away. It's a hopping lounge/bar full of young, well off twenty somethings (some of us were a bit over :P) eating, drinking and having a great time. My husband R and I met his friend, B, around 6:30pm. The maĆ®tre d’ took one look at R's shoes, nodded and then showed us to our booth. This place has a dress code to be able to get in. This was already NOT the Chennai I was used to but I was enjoying this. Since this is a Tapas Bar, all the items are tapas or appetizer/snack style in Spanish cuisine. Dishes were categorized into meat, chicken, vegetarian. Of course they served Kingfisher- India's premium beer. We ordered red wine marinated mushrooms which were DIVINE!!! R who is not a huge fan of mushrooms could not stop raving about this dish!

We also chowed down a paneer kabab dish with herb marinated paneer and veggies. YUMM-O! Oh and the potato croquette and a smooth creamy dipping sauce! I was still in awe of finding a kick ass Spanish joint in the heart of Chennai. Savoring every minute! Other items on the menu included Chilli con carne, Chorizo and baby potatoes, Manchego cheese platter, rellenos con queso. The intensity and volume of the music grew LOUD as the evening progressed and the energy in there was intense. Definitely a memorable evening! :)

To Be Continued...


  1. I just want to eat my way through India! I love the food. It's really hard to find here in NC - I may need some recipe advice (hint, hint, hint). I especially miss naan. I've tried to make it several times, but the recipe is never quite right.

  2. Naan is something I've never attempted to make at home .. it's typically made in a clay oven and that's where you get that nice char broiled flavour from. I make rotis/chapattis though.. easy enough to make. Feel free to email me if you want some ideas!

  3. I'm officially drooling on part 1!


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