Takeaway

The world in an Andhra village

Zac O' Yeah | Updated on August 09, 2019 Published on August 09, 2019

Culture cocktail: Apart from a pristine beach, Bheemunipatnam has a mix of Dutch- and British-era heritage. - Zac O'Yeah

Bheemunipatnam, a tiny fishing hamlet, offers a wide range of culinary delights. Salmon sushi rolls, anyone?

The chef steps in dressed in black, and, instead of putting on a white toque, ties on a ritualistic tenugui headcloth. Then, with razor-sharp samurai precision, he goes up to the teppan, a propane-heated grill table on which food is cooked yaki style. Hence, the restaurant’s name: Teppanyaki.

Before I know it, flames are shooting out and, although hungry, I glance about to pinpoint the nearest emergency exit. But all’s under control. Like a karate expert, the chef attacks the selection of dishes that’ll make up the seven-course Japanese menu I’ve ordered.

There are, however, tell-tale signs that I’m not in Japan. The chef introduces himself as Upendra rather than Ronin-San and his grill is partitioned — one half is for exclusive vegetarian use, which cannot be defiled by meaty juices. Being a flexible carnivore, my dinner is of course from the non-veg side, but the items contain sufficient amounts of veggies to make it seem like a wholesome ninja diet.

And the rates are in rupees instead of trillions of yen. For ₹1,499, customers may select, apart from a beverage, one exotic dish from each of the tantalising categories featured, beginning with starters, continuing with multiple mains, and ending with desserts. Plus, unlimited jasmine tea. The chef furthermore double-checks whether I want the food to taste authentic Japanese or Indian-made because, this being Andhra Pradesh, he must also offer tawa-fried fish with Guntur chillies and “Teppan ki gosht”, the very mention of which makes my eyebrows sweat.

To begin with, I’m completely baffled at how Japanese heritage cuisine has been recreated in a coastal village in India. But perhaps it is not such a shocker, as this somewhat secret Bheemli Resort in Bheemunipatnam (about 30 km north of Visakhapatnam) is managed by a French group called Accor. The French, after all, really invented the art of gastronomy as we know it.

Studying Upendra at work, I’m not surprised that Japanese cookery was, in 2013, bestowed the Unesco World Heritage status. It is one of rather few edibles on a list that is composed largely of monuments such as the Taj Mahal or Hiroshima’s A-Bomb Dome. The recognition is partly due to its respect for natural flavours of seasonal ingredients, and also because of its near-poetic qualities as a cultural-spiritual expression.

Eating my way through a superlative dinner while observing the culinary fireworks, I particularly appreciate the sesame-oil blanched spinach salad, the akka miso shrimp soup with seaweed and fermented soya, the salmon sushi rolls accompanied by vinegar-pickled veggies; and, of course, the okonomiyaki. Known as “Japanese pizza” in Andhranese, it’s apparently quite popular as it is savoury and one can customise the ingredients. As a matter of fact, okonomiyaki means “as you like it” and its base is a spicy pancake of shredded cabbage topped with hot sauces. More dishes — grilled chicken steak and barbecued egg rice — follow. Finally, I ask Upendra how many years he spent learning his skills in Japan and he reveals that he had acquired them in India.

Asian accent: Okonomiyaki, or “Japanese pizza”, at Bheemli Resort. - Zac O'Yeah

 

There’s an obvious emphasis on great grub at the resort, which is particularly gratifying for a glutton like me. Every day, I find a variety of imaginative salads in the lunch buffet, both veg and non-veg (pesto-topped boiled eggs and rich chicken salads, for instance), and from the à la carte section, I order tribal curiosities such as the legendary bongulo, an Araku Valley speciality of charcoal-cooked chicken inside a bamboo tube. Even the breakfasts fascinate with their unfamiliar elements — such as the Bombay chutney (which you won’t find in Mumbai), a mild and creamy chickpea flour gravy tempered with curry leaves, served alongside super-size idlis and double-fried mini-dosas. Who would have thought that such culinary delights could be hidden away in a tiny fishing hamlet like this?

When I’m not busy hogging, I dip my travel-sore feet in the salty waves of the lengthy, uncommercialised beach, or stroll in the heartbreakingly charming old-worldly village (where I seem to be the only tourist). The latter has curious heritage “monuments” such as ruined Dutch bungalows and a graveyard of spooky obelisk tombs dating from the 17th century when Bheemunipatnam was established as a Dutch factory. Until the railway line from Chennai to Kolkata was built, it remained an important port of call for the East India Company, so there’s also a quaint British-era clock tower and an 1860s’ police station, an equally old church with stained-glass windows, and a lighthouse. Peasant ladies sell freshly harvested toddy by the roadside, just like in the old times.

So, if one has had enough of Goa and Kerala, and feels the need to discover a new and unusual beach, Bheemunipatnam is a great place to catch the sun rising from the sea while waking up to the earthy scent of the local Araku Valley coffee.

 

Zac O’Yeah is a part-time travel writer and part-time detective novelist; Email: [email protected]

Published on August 09, 2019
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