Chettinad finds Kerala kitchen
By Shevlin Sebastian | Express News Service | Published: 02nd December 2017 10:00 PM |
Malayalam singer Madhu Balakrishnan was very happy when the Anjappar restaurant opened at Lulu Mall in Kochi a few months ago. “I have been a fan since long,” he says. “Whenever I would have music programmes in places like Dubai and Singapore, I would always go to have the Chettinad food.” It is the cuisine of the Nattukotai Chettiars, who belong to the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu. Asked the reason for his liking, Madhu says, “It is light on the stomach. And the food has a different taste.”
Founded by the late Anjappar in the early 1960s, the Kochi restaurant is the 79th outlet of the chain spread across the world. Anjappar restaurants are in the US, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, while, in India, the majority are in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Puducherry. Food and Beverages Head S Gandhinathan says their base is black pepper and spices, instead of powdered masala. “To get the best spices, we buy from wholesalers instead of retail outlets. And to maintain the quality, we grind spices on our own. Our USP is that we use different spices for every dish,” he says.
So, for the mutton sukka dish, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and cumin are used. But for chicken dishes, it is chilli and coriander. Other spices include star aniseed, tamarind, fennel seeds, fenugreek, curry leaves and peppercorn.
“We also use a lot of shallots (small onions),” says Gandhinathan. “It enhances the taste of dishes.” For a first-time visitor, there is an initial feeling of the food being a bit hot, but gradually the taste grows on you. And, indeed, at the end of the meal, you don’t feel heavy at all.
According to Gandhinathan, the most popular dishes are the special Chettinad meals, and different varieties of dum biryani—chicken, fish, prawn and mutton. “In fact, our biryani is very popular abroad,” he says. And we opened the first in Kerala this year, says Gandhinathan.
Mollywood stars, including Aju Varghese, Mamta Mohandas, Asif Ali and Vineeth Sreenivasan, and former cricketer S Sreesanth are regulars here. “In our comments book, Sreesanth once wrote, ‘Amazing food and service’,” says Gandhinathan.
When founder Anjappar left his village Ponnamaravathy in Tamil Nadu in the 1950s, and shifted to Chennai, to better his economic prospects, little could he have imagined that his life would turn out the way it did.
What helped was Anjappar’s natural talent of cooking and a fateful meeting with the colossus of Tamil Nadu—actor MG Ramachandran. Anjappar was providing food to the crew on the sets of his film. “MGR sir liked Anjappar sir’s food so much that he immediately hired him as his personal chef,” says Gandhinathan. Thereafter, he worked in MGR’s kitchen for 20 years.
Then, with the blessings of the superstar, he ventured out and started his first restaurant in Royapettah in 1964. And never looked back. The success story goes on. Anjappar passed away on January 7, 2001. But his sons—Kandasamy and Maruthu Pandian—are now running the show. “We are focused on expanding our chain,” says Kandasamy. With their unique taste, success seems to be assured.
Lulu Mall, Kochi
Secrets of Success
Black pepper and spices, instead of powdered masalas