Jamie, a five-year-old, appeared restless on his chair as he struggled to get a peek into the red muslin-covered earthen pots that constantly drew his attention. That afternoon, Jamie’s family from Malta had sat down for a new culinary experience. Escaping his mother’s eyes, Jamie got down and ran around until the much-awaited meal was served at the Andhra and Telangana Food Festival organised by Novotel Aerocity, New Delhi.
The food festival, which started on 21 June and ends on 30 June, is meant to showcase 12 different dishes each day, from the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The organisers also roped in Chef Mohammed Iqbal from Hyderabad Convention Centre to curate the authentic delicacies with exquisite flavours from the southern states. The specially curated menu includes tantalising dishes, such as Mutton Haleem, Mokkajona Vadallu and Telangana Mamsam Vepudu among many others.
In addition to the delightful meals, the entire venue’s décor has been inspired by the southern states of India. The restaurant looks dolled up like a South Indian bride. From entry to exit, one gets to experience the traditions of the southern states. The guests are welcomed with a beautiful rangoli made of orange and yellow flowers. Colours such as red and orange have been used to brighten up the room, along with golden hues to give it an extra South Indian touch. The waiters and chefs all dressed in white shirts and dhotis complete the vibe of the Andhra and Telangana Food Festival. While one is used to hearing soft music in fine-dining spaces, peppy South Indian music was played as a cherry on top of this southern extravaganza.
Chef Iqbal was quite confident about the dishes he had prepared. He said, “We have tried our best to keep all the dishes rustic and authentic. There is plenty for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Try our Haleem… I promise you won’t be able tell the difference between the mutton one and the vegetarian one.”
He certainly brought the best of South Indian cuisine to Delhi as each dish was exceptional. His sincerity reflects in the fact that he carried his spice box with him from Hyderabad. He informed us that the spices required to create authentic South Indian dishes are not available in Delhi.
Chef Iqbal is adamant about following age-old recipes religiously and is against mixing flavours of different cuisines with each other. He said, “The recipes of traditional dishes should not be disturbed or experimented with. I never go for fusion dishes.”
A passionate chef, he made sure that his visitors get something more than the taste of authentic southern cuisine; he wanted them to gain some knowledge about the dishes. So he made arrangements for some southern spices to be presented in baskets on the buffet table and highlighted their key uses and benefits. Chef Iqbal also personally interacted with diners for their feedback.
When asked about the difference between the cuisines of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, he made the diners taste the dishes and discover the difference for themselves. A young visitor pointed out that Telangana’s food tasted less spicy than its northern counterparts. To this, the chef responded, “Yes, it is because the spices used are different. Spices make southern dishes special.” Spices like Gunthur Chilli from Andhra Pradesh, Deggi Mirch, Marathi Muggu (kopak buds) and black cardamom, which are not found in the north, provide distinctive flavours to South Indian dishes.
The diners enjoyed the stories the chef told about the dishes he presented. When it was time for desserts, a nice spread including Jhangri, Kothralu etc. arrived. The idea that dessert can be more amusing than the main course has food lovers divided. But for this particular meal, the answer is in the affirmative. The star of the show was a dessert called Pootharekulu. It is a thin paper-like snack made from a special kind of rice batter called Jaya Bayyam, combined with ghee and powdered sugar. This sweet dish was historically consumed by royalties of the south, but became famous and went places with the passage of time. The delicate paper sweet takes five to six hours of preparation and has also brought global recognition to the village of Atreyapura in Andhra Pradesh, where the sweet was made for the first time.
This food event with southern dishes was an amazing dining escapade. Chef Iqbal was pleased by the response to the food festival. After all, he and his team treated the guests to great food, warm hospitality and good music. He said, “At the end, it all comes down to the diners. If they are happy, we assume that our job is done.”