CHENNAI: When the British set up their factories in India in the mid-1800s, many of them started living here to manage the commercial activities. Soon, they started craving home food and demanded the khansamas, or cooks, to prepare English dishes. The cooks experimented by tweaking the English recipes with local spices.
And a new cuisine was born — The Anglo-Indian cuisine. Not so spicy and not so bland, this cuisine is popular for its different curries, chutneys and rice varieties. Culture connoisseurs tell us that Madras holds the distinction of creating the quintessential Mulligatawny (Molaga thanni) soup.
To celebrate the cuisine and revive some of the forgotten recipes, GRT Hotels will set up a pop-up restaurant — Ministry of Chutneys — at Radisson Blu near the airport from November 29 to December 15. The menu is a celebration of Anglo-Indian cuisine, which will feature the traditional saffron and coconut rice with ball curry, devil’s chutney, vindaloo, railway mutton curry, stew and country captain chicken curry among other specialities.
“We have been researching the Anglo-Indian cuisine for the past one year and found that people are finding authentic dishes only at Anglo-Indian households. Not many eateries here serve this cuisine. Once the British left and many Anglo-Indians started moving out of India, a lot of recipes were lost. So, we took it upon ourselves to revive the cuisine and delight the city’s gastronomers. After the pop-up, within six months, we will set up a permanent restaurant,” said Vikram Cotah, COO, GRT Hotels, during the preview party at Amir Mahal.
But why Ministry of Chutneys? “Chutney is a very British thing that actually came from India. It is believed that chutney has been derived from the word ‘Chaatna’, which means to lick. So, we decided to name it that,” said Vikram. Staples on a plate
The population of Anglo-Indians in Tamil Nadu is over a lakh, with a majority of them living in Chennai. “The history of the community dates back to over 400 years. Over the years, people migrated from Europe and the UK and married the locals in India. Their offspring constitute the Anglo-Indian community. Our mother tongue is English. We contributed a lot towards developing the infrastructure, Railways, Armed forces, nursing and teaching professions,” said Oscar Nigli, national vice president of the All India Anglo-Indian Association.
Talking about food, he shared, “In our households, we have typical food like roast meat or mashed potatoes and at the same time, we have different curries and chutneys. There are more than a dozen varieties of pork, which will be highlighted in the pop-up restaurant.”
There are vegetarian options too in the cuisine, pointed out his wife Rachel Nigli. “We prepare delicious stir-fried veggies, vegetable rolls, cutlets and pan rolls. The Anglo-Indian vegetable stew is one of the star dishes. It is very different from the Kerala stew. They use coconut milk and curry leaves, we add coconut paste, mint and vinegar.”
Guests dressed in Anglo Indian, and Nawabi attire chattered about and the live music set the mood for a relaxed evening with a treat to an elaborate spread of Nawabi, Anglo-Indian and Awadhi food. “We predominantly promote arts, sports and culture. We are very happy to host the preview of the Anglo-Indian food festival at Amir Mahal, which also has a rich history,” said Nawabzada Mohammad Asif Ali, Dewan to the Prince of Arcot.
Giving us a peek into what to expect at the food fest, the Anglo-Indian dishes at the preview included the famous saffron and coconut rice with ball curry and a side of devil chutney, which is a fiery chutney made with raisins and chillies, succulent prawns in Anglo-Indian style and butter curd rice.
As we bite into nuggets of history, we now await to celebrate this cuisine at the pop-up, which will have a specially curated menu by chef Bridget White Kumar.