A flavour fight — from Ramassery idlis to Calicut biryani

Chitra Narayanan Kochi | Updated on January 16, 2018

The Ramassery idli, a dish exclusive to a little village of 150 households in Palakkad

Sugar and spice: Chef Abida Rashid showcasing Mopla spices in her biryani served with kahwa.

16 chefs from Kerala battle it out on Day Two of Spice Route fest at Bolgatty Palace

On the map, Kerala’s shape resembles a chilly. Quite apt as the tiny State, often called the Spice Capital of India, packs in wallops of fiery flavour from its northern end to southern tip.

All those different flavours came to the fore on day two of the Spice Route Culinary Festival as 16 professional chefs from different corners of Kerala battled it out on Bolgatty island in Kochi.

There was Chef Mahesh Kutty from Palakkad with the famous Ramassery idlis which he served with sambar, gun powder, coconut chutney and kozhi curry.

There was Chef Abida Rashid from Calicut up north who showcased Mopla spices through her regal biryani preparation served with Kahwa.

From the southern outpost of Thiruvananthapuram there was Chef Sinu John from Niraamaya resort who showed a lot of technique in his lemon grass wrapped grilled chicken. He utilised a fair bit of the two-and-a-half hours time given to the contestants to intricately weave a wrap from the lemon grass leaves.

Health focus

Quite a few chefs used traditional herbs and leaves with Ayurvedic properties. Chef Prakash Sundaram from Aster Medcity, for instance, used tamarind leaves and kandhari chillies in his fish dish, pointing out their medicinal benefits.

Chef Rejimon PR too played up the health properties of his dish Moringa Kanthaari Kozhi Chaap which used drumsticks, kandhari chillies and green peppercorn.

Seafood was the favoured preference of the chefs — an overwhelming number served fish and prawn dishes — though there were a few chicken dishes to be seen too.

Chef Suresh PK from Taj Gateway, Kozhikode served chicken ghee roast which he said was native to Tullunadu, a coastal region in Mangaluru, accompanied by neer dosa. The dish used bedige chillies, pepper corn, fennel and coriander seeds.

In terms of presentation, the dishes matched up to the standards set by the 34 foreign chefs who had battled it out on Sunday putting out sophisticated modern interpretations of local favourites. And they certainly started with a huge advantage when it came to the use of spices.

One of the most modern looking presentations was from Leela Kovalam chef Rahul KR, who served his pidi kozhi with a coconut sauce on a smart brown rectangular plate and had papad shavings decorating the dish.

A surprising note was the Punjabi vegetarian entry from Calicut served by a chef from Uttarakhand, Sheeshpal Panwar, who runs a restaurant in the city.

The crowd-puller

But it was the Ramassery idlis that had the crowd’s attention. Perhaps because this is a dish exclusive to a little village of 150 households in Elapully panchayat in Palakkad that guards its secret zealously. The idlis actually look like aapams and are a trifle flat and big.

As onlookers watched, chef Kutty revealed the secret ingredient which makes the idli remain so soft — castor seeds.

“The oiliness in the seeds adds fluff to the idlis and prevents them from going dry fast,” he said.

His intention in participating in the contest, he said, was to showcase the forgotten traditions and bring them to the fore. His presentation style also echoed this as he decorated the table with coconut palm leaves and old style earthen and stoneware pots. The idlis themselves were served on teak leaves.

“I went back to my roots and to the old traditions to draw inspiration for my presentation,” he said.

The Spice Route Culinary Festival has been conceived as an event that will culturally bind the 31 nations that traded on the 2000-years old Maritime route.

The foreign chefs, who participated in Sunday’s event, interestedly watched the way their Kerala counterparts chefs used the spices.

Published on September 26, 2016

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