CHENNAI: I swear I was not a biryani-lover before this trip. But now, I think I found my Valentine. The Vellore Culinary Trail organised by KeyTerns and curated by Foodie From Madras took 20 enthusiastic foodies (and some self-confessed non-foodies) on a trip to Arcot and Vellore
The trip began with a battle between biryani and thayir sadam — two comfort foods by which you can judge a person! But at the end of the trail we knew who would win. The team of 20 including youngsters and the young-at-heart, bonded over food within the first 30 minutes of the journey. We knew who liked or disliked what.
First stop was on a road side. No, not shop, but literally, the side of the road. Our organisers wanted us to experience the traditional Kanchipuram idli, due to time constraints we had to eat inside the bus. Nevertheless, that did not stop us from enjoying the kovil idli.
While this is circular and cut into semi-circular pieces, the common somewhat-cylindrical idlis are called tumbler idlis.
“A tumbler is coated with ghee and the fermented dough with pepper and curry leaves are mixed together and steamed. The ghee is to ensure that the idli comes out in shape,” explained Gowrishanker Siva aka GS, the Foodie From Madras.
Like every Tam-bram, I like my breakfast with a steaming hot cup of filter kaapi. Only coffee to the rescue! The shop, as the name suggests, was started in Madhuranthagam, and the franchise on the Kanchipuram highway serves more than just coffee. Served in a brass davara-tumbler, the coffee, took me back to my Coimbatore days, where every other day I would take time out to have a cuppa at the famous Annapoorna Hotel, which too serves similarly.
Breakfast done. Nap taken, we reach Arcot at noon. We stop the bus on the narrow road, much to the ire of the lorry and two-wheeler drivers. We were standing outside a small shop that claimed to have introduced the Nawabi sweet, Makkan Peda to the public. Made with 11 ingredients, it is a meal in itself! “This shop is 185 years old and five generations of our family has been running this,” beamed Sundaram Chettiar.
Legend has it that his great-great grandfather, Govinda Chettiar was close to the Nawab of Arcot. When the Nawab invited him for lunch, he was served this sweet. “He tried to replicate the sweet based on what he saw, because he couldn’t decipher it based on taste. Initially, we added palkhova, dalda, raisins, and a few nuts,” he shared.
The 20 of us loved the sweet, forgetting for a moment that biryani was awaiting us.
The non-vegetarians were surprised when Sundaram Chettiar announced that he had specially packed authentic Star biryani.
“The hotel opens at around 10 am and you get their biryani only if you are lucky,” told Srinivasan from KeyTerns. And our group was lucky or what! Packed in Mandhara elai, the fragrance of the biryani stayed intact and two people were asked to share one packet as… wait for it, this was round one!
The real deal was set up at The Vellore Kitchen. I get turned off by the pungent masala smell from biryanis. But this was mild. “That’s the specialty of Vellore biryani. People here like it mild, so we make them that way,” said P Gokul Raj, proprietor of the hotel. The rice is half cooked and the dum (vegetables and spices) is added and then cooked for a while. The rice used here is Seeraga samba, which is heavier than the normal rice.
Suddenly, the trail turned into a ‘sweet’ walk. We roamed the streets of Vellore looking for the oldest hotels and shops selling sweets and biscuits. Imagine finding an authentic Rajasthani hotel in a place in South India, which was ruled by Nawabs. Talk about cultural diversity!
Dilip Rawal’s family served the North Indian doctors from Christian Medical College, Vellore. Over years, they have been famous for their lassi.
“Double Malai Lassi, Badam Pista Lassi and Badam kheer are famous here. Students from VIT come here just to have that and it is filling,” he said, and yes he was right. The lassi was thick and filled with malai that it was even hard for two people to complete a glass. After a short walk, we reached Delhi Sweets, which has been doing business for 70 years.
A spoon full of their fruit halwa, (another version of the kasi halwa) and a bite of khova jangri is enough to give you a sugar rush.
As the trail ended, we made a wise decision to stop at Ratnagiri temple, only to go up and down the 150 stairs to digest what we had eaten over the day.
(For details about food trails, visit their page on FB, FoodieFromMadras)