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    Hand pounded spices, temple idlis and heritage prasadam feature in Spice Haat’s new food festival

    In the midst of tiny brass bells, heaps of marigold and fragrant spices ground with pestles, is the master class in Kanchipuram temple idlis by Rakesh Raghunathan. Making for an interesting culinary experience, Rakesh walks us through a delightful sneak peek of the upcoming food festival, Piligrim’s Palate, at Hyatt Regency Chennai. Resplendent in his silk veshti and shirt, 34-year-old Rakesh has our attention with his fascinating stories about the ancient culinary techniques from temple kitchens.

    Heritage hour
    The specially curated menu has about 50 dishes, some inspired by specific regions, and some sourced from temples ‘from Madurai to Thanjavur.’ As part of Spice Haat’s regular multi-cuisine dinner buffet, Rakesh has teamed up with Park Hyatt’s Chef Balaji Natarajan for this 10-day festival. Expect heritage dishes including a variety of rasams (like pineapple and lime), besides Chidambaram gosthu (brinjal based side) popular in Natraj temples, Sannas idlis fermented with tender coconut from Mangalore, the auspicious sweet rice thiruvathira kali and ezhu kari koothu (of Marghazhi fame) among others.

    States and tastes
    We start off with a light thakali rasam, even as I nibble on Selvara-ppams – sweetish rice fritters from the temples of Srirangam. I reach for a dollop of the tamarind chutney which is Chef Balaji’s recipe and though not a heritage example, is addictive and tangy and goes with just about everything. The Mangai Kosumalli from Trichy is a delightfully fresh salad of moong daal and raw mango and could very well be an amuse-bouche. While the Kanchi idli, steamed in narrow baskets lined with mantharai  leaves, is dense and spicy, Rakesh shares how his food blog Puliyogare Travels was inspired by the quintessential tamarind rice (a labour intensive dish when done right) that was part of his childhood travels.

    Temple flavours
    All that is missing is whiffs of incense and camphor mingling with the aroma of ghee and pepper. The ven pongal instantly transports me to the greasy and crowded prasadam counter at the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple at Tirumala, where we are often given the delicious rice and lentil preparation. “It is a staple at all Vaishnav temples,” assures Rakesh, while bringing our attention to the coarse texture and spicy batter of the deep fried Azhagar Kovil Dosai from Madurai. Also expect Rakesh’s (a Carnatic singer), favourite Akkaraadisil – which he has in the past celebrated for its connection to poet Andal’s Nachiyar Tirumozhi verses which has references to the dish. The delectable sweet preparation suggests a combination of the more humble sakkrai pongal and paruppu payasam. The festival culminates with a Sunday brunch.

    From January 27 to February 5, at Rs 1550 plus  taxes (dinner buffet), Details: 61001234

    — Sabrina Rajan

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