For a person like me living in Tamil Nadu,the mention of Kerala evokes most often lush sceneries, relaxed beachfronts and back waters and most importantly the food. Living in the neighbouring state we aren’t really cut off from having access to the appams, the parottas and other delicacies.But you will agree with me when I tell you that it tastes so much nicer,non comparable in fact when you eat it at it’s place of origin.
Having said that , I was more than a little surprised to witness the evident popularity of Kerala food going by the line up of people patiently awaiting a table,braving the intense summer heat at the recently opened Ente Keralam restaurant in the city.The cooler evenings seemed to me, the best time of day to sample some of the region’s authentic dishes and we eagerly made reservations for the same.The interiors are muted and the displays are typically descriptive of the sights of Kerala.Apart from the open spaces I spotted a couple of alcove seatings that were tucked away from direct view which of course was what we favoured.
I’m not really a stranger to this eatery as I have dined at the Chennai branch a few times earlier and dare I say come away quite satisfied with whatever I had ordered. This was my second visit to the restaurant here. The first was just before the start of the currently on-going food festival. While this write up pertains to the availability of a temporary menu , what I have gathered from the demeanor of the staff is that the perseverance to putting out food that reflects the flavours of Kerala will remain unchanged even after the food festival. Do visit and let me know what you thought of the place.
The restaurant,I’m told also frequently focuses on cuisines of Kerala that are community-centric.The rest of this month is devoted entirely to a Syrian Christian Food festival for which the chefs are under the expert guidance of Ms.Aleyamma Paily .I asked to have a little chat with the lady who has travelled all this way from Kottayam to showcase recipes that have been handed down from her great grandparents’ kitchens.The manager Abin offered to play the role of translator as she was conversant only in Malayalam.Shy at first , a few moments later she said that her recipes are not only authentic but are extremely popular in her home town.Since I hadn’t mentioned why I was taking her picture, she was equally curious about my passion for garnering information about her culinary skills (I think she wondered if i were a chef in disguise 😉 )
The menu that we were handed was in the form of a newsletter.Along with the detailed descriptions of the dishes on offer it also contained interesting trivia about the Syrian Christian community.I thought that was a splendid way to keep the diner occupied while waiting for their meal. We decided to skim past the many beef dishes on the menu and look for other dishes that are equally unique to this cuisine.We settled on the kakka erachi fry and of course the much loved karimeen. Abin assured us that all the seafood arrived fresh each day from Kumarakom. He added that the kappa (tapioca), the kodampulli and the red rice are from Kottayam and the other ingredients are all brought from different parts of Kerala.Abin added that he is extremely happy with the restaurant’s favourable response from the local Malayali community.
The kakka erachi fry consisted of tiny clams sautéed with lots of onion and black pepper.Though a tad bit too spicy for our palate,the dish was really tasty. A good dousing of lemon was all it needed for us to help ourselves to seconds…and thirds! The karimeen was served crisp and piping hot garnished with curry leaves and red crunchy bits.It looked really pretty but I personally didn’t need the garnishes because the karimeen by itself had a whole lot of texture though I could understand how it would easily appeal to most. Any seafood aficionado would understand the joy of eating fresh perfectly cooked fish. When the layers just peeled off perfectly to reveal the soft white flesh underneath, the table went silent.For the next few minutes we paid heed to no one as our fingers went into action ,taking apart the tiny bones only to stop now and then to put the choicest bits into our mouths.This rhythm continued in complete enjoyment stopping only once there was nothing more left to devour on that plate.We raised our heads and laughed with the realisation that all conversation had come to a halt.Even the hovering waiters sensed that we need to be left alone to our gluttony!
Having tried the mutton ishtew and steamed idiappam on a previous visit ,I recommended the same to my companion who absolutely loved it as much as I had.The creamy ishtew was mild and at the same time intensely flavourful .It’s interesting when you connect how the spices of the region have obviously a great influence on the flavourings of each dish.An association of farm to table is significantly illustrated in the cuisine of this coastal state.The robustness of the black peppercorns mixed with the succulent tender pieces of mutton made for a sumptuous mouthful.
Another dish that caught my eye was the Kanjiyum Cheru Payarum. While this is most often an acquired taste,a dish like this highlights the simplicity of the cuisine and it’s wide range of taste profiles.I was further intrigued by this dish owing to the mention of the jack fruit leaves being used as a serving bowl. What arrived at our table was a large bowl of red rice kanji with a smaller bowl of lentils ,a plate of appalam with mango pickle and two cones fashioned out of the jack fruit leaves.The waiter looked at me in amusement and asked ‘”Are you going to use your plate or have it from the leaf?” I replied that I was definitely going to use the leaves.The bland kanji with the chewiness of the fat rice grains contrasted deliciously with the lightly spiced payiru,topped with the mango pickle and a bite of the salty appalams.The first taste of it had me thinking of the comfort foods of my childhood. It was warm,reassuring and very homely. Something like what an elder would feed a child. Now this I think is the right way to highlight the cuisine of any community.Thankfully Ms. Aleyamma Paily has gone beyond the elaborate dishes and made an effort to mention the more simpler ones as well.
The ada pradhamam made with rice flakes in reduced milk and jaggery is a decadent end to indulge the sweet tooth in and it most definitely has my vote,albeit in small quantities.
Apart from my meal what I did appreciate here was the knowledge displayed by the staff. I must add that I was relieved to not be spoken to as if I were missing grey cells nor were my whims pandered to in any way. The questions asked were answered precisely and respectfully. It did enhance my experience of the evening considerably.I was delighted to learn that the refinement of these skills are thanks to the training imparted by Chef Pratap who has been a part of Ente Keralam for the past 11 years,since it’s inception.He makes it a practice every day to not only run his staff through the menu but also brief them about the ingredients used in each dish.The success of any restaurant is greatly influenced by the efficiency of the people manning the front end operations.It’s what goes a long way in ensuring a pleasant dining experience.The Syrian Christian food festival did indeed tick all the right boxes.Next on my tasting list is the kappa and naranga vellam !
Ente Keralam – phone # 6505545
Abdul Rahim Road
SYRIAN CHRISTIAN FOOD FESTIVAL- April 16th to April 30th ,open for lunch & dinner on prior reservation
Meal for two with starter,main and dessert -Rs.1500/-