Chettinad food at Chennai’s Chettiyar Veedu
With traditional furniture and home-like dishes, the ambience her envelops you in a warm hug
When the mutton is as soft as the paniyaram , you know your meal is a good one. When the serving plates are made of heavy iron, the lampshades of wicker, and the tables of polished wood lined with traditional Athangudi tiles, you know your meal is a happy one too. Chettiyar Veedu in Egmore doesn’t scream Chettinad: it just suggests it in a gentle voice, with a welcoming smile.
Our welcome drink for the evening is some good old panagam , with just enough ginger to make itself felt without taking away from the mild, soothing sweetness of jaggery. To keep it company is a plateful of little vazhaipoo vadais . Each is a little crunchy on the outside, but gives way to a banana blossom-filled interior that is just soft through and through. So soft, in fact, that your paati could eat this — though the ever-so-slight singe of spice might irk her a little. We enjoyed it, though — it is the kind of light snack that makes you wish for a rainy evening and some petrichor.
Mutton chukka and senaikilangu varuval (elephant yam roast) arrive next, on a neck-to-neck race to the table. The former is rich with a reduced, flavourful paste that is a smorgasbord of spices (the ones that enhance taste, not the ones that have you reaching for the water jug). The pieces are just short of completely soft: they demand quite some munching and I happily oblige, because the taste lasts better this way. The elephant yam roast transports me home at the first spoonful — surprising, since my home is nowhere near Chettinad. Maybe all recipes dreamt up by thoughtful mother-figures taste the same. Or maybe they just invoke the same memories, as long as they have a good dose of ginger, garlic, turmeric and other usual suspects simmering in the pot together. Either way, it is a dish that I cannot picture being cooked by a professional man in a chef’s hat — no offence to Chef Aaron — it just tastes like it was made at home.
Victory for the mild
In the main course, we take our mutton kuzhambu with crisp, fluffy appams that are a tad sweeter than most. They form a good balance with the soft mutton that needs no other description. It is just beautifully tender — end of story. Among the vegetarian main course dishes, we try out a poondu mavathal kuzhambu (garlic and dry mango curry) and a beautifully simple mix vegetable stew. The stew is so mild that its consistency is closer to water than to gravy, and its taste is easily overpowered by the sweetness of the appam that goes with it. You might want to just take spoonfuls of it down like soup — you won’t regret a sip. The kuzhambu , on the other hand, is less like a curry and more like a thick little reduction, of a tomato base, with some mango slices, chopped garlic and shallots playing around in it. As far as main course offerings go, it fails to hold its own, but you wouldn’t be remiss to try it out as a side or dip, especially if you plan on ordering a soft, filling egg dosa for yourself.
We move now to dessert, and gleaming kandarappams arrive, looking like princely cousins to the malpua . With crunchy rims and pillow-soft centres, each of these scores refreshingly low on the sweetness meter. The black rice halwa , on the other hand, goes too low — it is barely sweet at all. A slight crunch of coconut shavings its only appeal. If you want the perfect end to your meal, go for the kandarappam .