September 11, 2015
Executive Chef S. Ashok Kumar is from Palayamkottai, Tirunelveli. He recently went on a tour of the district, fondly called as Nellai in proper Tamil. Born and brought up in this land that boasts of ample culinary delights, Chef Ashok grew up watching his grandmother cook traditional vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Ashok was instrumental in setting up the Tirunelveli Food Festival hosted at the Pavilion wing of The Residency, where authentic dishes were prepared in traditional method, and served.
The buffet spread is lavish, and offers eight vegetarian and 16 non-vegetarian dishes on all days. There are live counters that serve idlis, and varieties of dosas, vadais, idiyappams, uthappams, and upma. We are told that there will be four sets of menus that will be served on a rotation basis, and items like sambar, rasam, pongal, poori, kesari, among others are available on all days of the food festival.
Prior to the food festival, Chef Ashok visited Tirunelveli and hand-picked the spices and masalas (like cumin seeds, dried ginger, black pepper, chili powder, turmeric powder among others) that are used to prepare the dishes for this food festival.
He recommends that you try their Tirunelveli-style dum biryani that is prepared without tomatoes. Their dum biryani is cooked in sesame oil, and tastes best when paired with raita. If you crave for something spicier, try their fish curry. We are told that it is prepared from fresh catch of fish, and is tangy, spicy, and mildly salty. Fish curry goes well with steaming hot, plain rice, and doubles up as a wonderful dip for the plain dosa.
Their piping hot parathas caught our attention. They were half the size of the normal parathas and they were shallow fried. The chef recommends that we try them with the vegetable curry that is made from peanut, coconut and vegetables.
“The desserts are a must try. We have a plethora of options leaving our guests spoilt for choice,” the chef says. True to his word, there are about 14 varieties of sweets and savouries and it looked like one can fill the stomach with this wide choice of both. We are tempted to try the world-famous Tirunelveli halwa. It is dark brown in colour, very unlike the one that you get over the counter from the Tirunelveli Irrutu Kadai halwa shops. “In our kitchen, the halwa is prepared in a stainless steel tawa. Hence the colour difference,” Chfe Ashok explains. Topped with finely chopped almonds, their halwa is a perfect way to end a meal on a sweet note.