Sonargaon at Taj Bengal takes the southern spice route

Despite the popularity of south Indian food in other parts of the country, our knowledge of the cuisine is mostly restricted to idli and dosa. The Southern Spice Pop Up at Sonargaon at Taj Bengal is here to address this lack, with an array of flavours from the south. 

  • Published 1.09.18
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What: The Southern Spice Pop Up
Where: Sonargaon, Taj Bengal
On till: September 2, 12.30pm to 3.30pm and 7.30pm to 11.30pm
Pocket pinch: Rs 2,250-plus for veg thali, Rs 2,550-plus for non-veg thali and Rs 4,000 for the a la carte menu for two. 

Despite the popularity of south Indian food in other parts of the country, our knowledge of the cuisine is mostly restricted to idli and dosa. The Southern Spice Pop Up at Sonargaon at Taj Bengal is here to address this lack, with an array of flavours from the south. 

A special a la carte menu, along with a veg and non-veg thali, have been curated by Shankar Padmanabhan, sous chef, Taj Coromandel, Chennai. The fare incorporates the best from the region, starting with appam and ending on a sweet note with Pradhaman. 

Chef Shankar Padmanabhan of Taj Coromandel, Chennai, takes t2 through the pop-up

What were the considerations when you were curating this menu for the pop-up?

We used feedback from the Sonargaon people to get a sense of the local crowd and market. We toned down some spices and used a good variety of seafood. We stressed on vegetarian food, with ingredients like asparagus, banana flowers and drumstick leaves. 

Tell us about the taste of southern spices that we can find here…

In this menu, a little more weightage has been giving to the food of Tamil Nadu, though we have incorporated food from Karnataka and Kerala as well. There is a lot of difference between the food of the west coast and the east. The food depends on the ingredients available locally and the taste preferences of the locals. So food from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh can be a little similar — the spice levels are higher and a lot of dried spices are used, like dry black pepper, chillies and cumin. Kerala and Karnataka have a higher usage of coconut, seafood, ground spices and food is mostly cooked in coconut oil. 

Karuvepillai Yeral Varuval: Prawns cooked with shallots, ground spices and pepper are fried to make this tasty dish from Tamil Nadu.

What is a misconception that the rest of India has about southern dishes?

South Indian food is not known much to people unless they have really lived there and travelled to the interiors. People think south Indian food is sambar, rasam, dosa and idli, but that’s not all. What I have put out in the menu is just a limited variety but there is a lot more, with different spices for each and every preparation. Even sambar has 9-10 varieties, depending on the local taste preferences and cultures. 

How do you approach a typical south Indian thali?

The thali has been designed with six dishes to cover the four southern states. The Korma should be had with the Malabar Parota. Then try the roasted potatoes and the Tomato Pappu that go well with the rice. The appam can be had with the Alleppey Fish Curry, while the sambar also goes well with the rice. Rasam helps in digestion, so even after finishing a big thali like this, you will be fine. 

Kayar Katti Yerachi Kola Urundai: These lamb dumplings from Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu is made without any binding agent and has a banana thread instead to hold it together. The thread made from banana fibre is used to tie up the minced lamb that is deep fried. 

What are the dominant flavours found in southern cuisines?

Our basic tempering uses mustard, curry leaves, ginger, black pepper and cumin. We also use Byadgi Chilli from Karnataka, Kapok Buds from Tamil Nadu and Black Stone Algae that gives a good balance of spices. We cook in coconut oil, groundnut oil or refined sunflower oil.  

What about the desserts?

They vary with the region. In the menu here we have Asoka Halwa made of moong dal, wheat and cashew nuts that will melt in your mouth and is rich in ghee, and on the other hand we have the Elaneer Payasam that is made of coconuts. So there’s a huge variety.

Murungaelai Wada: Lentil vadas made of drumstick leaves, with some ginger and chillies in this dish from Tamil Nadu.

Here’s how to make Alleppey Fish Curry at home

Ingredients       

Seer fish cubes 300g
Grated coconut 1 
Red chillies (Byadgi) 25g
Raw mango 2
Green chillies (whole) 50g
Curry leaves 5-6
Shallots 75g
Salt to taste
Coconut oil 50ml
Ginger 30g

Method

1. Grind grated coconut and red chilli to a fine paste and strain through the strainer.
2. Wash the fish and marinate with salt and turmeric powder.
3. Add a little water into the ground coconut and boil for 10-15 minutes.
4. Add the skinned raw mango pieces, curry leaves, and slit green chillies. 
5. Simmer for 8-10 minutes.
6. Heat the coconut oil and add the sliced shallots; fry till golden brown and then add the remaining curry leaves and temper it with the gravy.
6. Add the fish cubes in to the gravy, cook the fish for 
3-5 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve hot with appam or steamed rice.

Text: Anannya Sarkar
Pictures: Rashbehari Das

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