CHENNAI: I was seated in a cabana, surrounded by groups nestled in their own, servers carrying beers and appetisers, and the sound of Sweet Caroline playing live. The Vintage Bank outdoor setting of Hilton Chennai was bathed in the Bavarian colours of whites and blues — curtains, lanterns, flags, and lights — for the inaugural day of Oktoberfest 2021. The three-week festival was kicked off on Saturday with the tapping of the keg — as they do traditionally — by Peter Kueppers, the Deputy Consul General, Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Following the first toasts, we sat to enjoy our beer orders that had been served with a thick head of foam, another German must-have. This, coupled with the servers’ lederhosen-like attire, seemed to point towards a typical Oktoberfest experience. Or so I thought until we were presented with the appetisers — lamb seekh kebabs, Indian sausages, and watermelon and feta bites. While an unexpected twist, the combination of Indian and German flavours was quite welcome. According to Ruban Das, general manager, this had been the plan all along. “Since we are in India, there is an Indian touch to the foods, such as Goan sausage and masala sausage. We have various beers, including one brand of German beer. A bit of Germany and a bit of India because many of our guests go for a German beer and pair it up with kebabs. They give sausages a run for their money,” he said.
The menu offers a rather diverse mix of food options, from Goan pork sausages to Atlantic steaks; sauerkraut to mint sauce; pretzels to cottage cheese; steak to the star 999 gold burger. The spread would have had more German flavour to it had it not been for the pandemic, according to chef Mothi Krishnan. “We thought of getting bratwurst, but to keep things safe during the pandemic, we thought we’d get the sausages locally made; a 100 per cent meat, from farms.”
Twists to Oktoberfest are no new affair. While native to Munich, there have been many renditions of this German celebration in various cities across the world, over the years. According to Peter, you may find versions of Oktoberfest in places you may never expect. “My colleague brought with her the traditional attire not from here or Germany, but from Pakistan. She told me that there is a leather industry there, working for this type of clothing. You can also find Oktoberfest in Islamabad, something I never knew...We are bringing traditions to other places in the world,” he shared.
The folk festival has been cancelled in Germany this time but has made its way to this Chennai hotel every year, save the last. Due to the unfortunate circumstances of the pandemic, arrangements have also been made with a conscious effort to keep the guests safe. “People have been stuck in their homes since last year and the idea is to bring them out (safely). The staff has been vaccinated, we are maintaining social distance and we have held it in an open-air lounge for people to come, sit and enjoy their surroundings. This is all about friendship and camaraderie,” elaborated Ruban.
As we ended our night with the last gulp of beer and crumbs reminiscent of delicious sausages, the menu had yet more to offer. Made with basil seeds, the menu can be transformed into a plant by putting it in soil; a gift to remind us of the good times at the Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest is on at Hilton Chennai till October 8.