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Feast of mixed flavours

The `Royal Feast', which is on at Ambassador Pallava till May 25, includes culinary preparations of Anglo-Indians across the country.


IF YOU want the best of both worlds - occidental and oriental - in the gastronomic sense, try "Royal Feast" (an Anglo-Indian food festival), which is on at The Society, a multi-cuisine restaurant in Ambassador Pallava on Montieth Road.

Unlike the Italian and Mexican cuisines, which left us hopelessly trying to get our tongues around the names of the dishes, the offerings at Royal Feast are no strangers to most tongues in Chennai - both in the lingual and gastronomic sense. If there are any tongue-twisters on the menu card, they are few and far between.

The term Anglo, in its strictest sense, refers to anything appertaining to the English; but, in its loose usage, it stands for anything European. The `Anglo' flavour of the Anglo-Indian dishes at the Royal Feast has to be viewed in the light of the latter usage. For, on the menu you find prawn balchow (a Goan pickle) or chicken xacuti (another Goan speciality).

"The offering includes English, Portuguese and Dutch culinary preparations," says N. Arun, Sous chef, Ambassador Pallava.

To ask if Royal Feast is "anglicised Indian food" or "Indianised Anglican food" is tantamount to asking that wearisome question: what came first - the chicken or the egg. There is no conclusive answer. In fact, the "flavours" are seamlessly woven together. The answer lay at the very outset - with the mulligatawny soup meant to whet one's appetite for the rest of the fare. Mulligatawny, a spicy soup, has its etymological origin in a Tamil Anglo-Indianism - millaku-tanni (pepper water). If you pronounce millaku-tanni with a plum in your mouth, you get mulligatawny!

Anglo-Indian food does not conform to a single category. There is a prodigious variety that covers a wide geography. Keeping this in view, Arun and his team had lapped up a lot of books on Anglo-Indian recipes (across the country) in preparation for the festival. As much as they had "played by the book", they had also "played by the ear".

"Some recipes were handed down to us by word of mouth; the Anglo-Indians on our staff have picked their wives' brains and passed some recipes on to us," laughs K. Venkataraju, food & beverages manager, Ambassador Pallava. "Anglo-Indians in Chennai prefer an extra coating of spice," says Carlton Smith, an Anglo-Indian himself. "The preparations in Goa and Mumbai are more coconut-based."

"Though we have used lots of spices such as jeera, gharam masala, coriander leaves and curry leaves, the tanginess has been kept in check," says Arun.

Much as the offering is catholic, the culinary specialties peculiar to the Anglo-Indians in Chennai have a lion's share of the presence at Royal Feast. Lest the reader thinks that it is only a non-vegetarian fare, let it be said that there is quite a choice of vegetarian food. There is also enough to pamper the sweet tooth. A helping of apricot jam tart had one's taste buds craving for more.

Anglo-Indians are known to have got socialising down to a fine art. They are known to serve food with music and dance. One had an earful of music and eyeful of traditional Anglo-India tripping at Royal Feast.

On the opening day (May 15), Sirens, a band attached to the hotel, was belting out tunes from those times when one could follow the lyrics without the prop of song sheets. They hit the mark with a few haunting country and pop numbers - Rhinestone Cowboy, Jambalaya, You Are Still The One I want, Blowing In The Wind, et cetera. After a few professional dancers set the ball rolling, a few couples started waltzing on the dance floor. It was fox-trot, waltz, jive, twist, slow-trot and the whole works.

You can pick a hole in any show, if you are determined to. You can probably grade Royal Feast down on sartorial propriety. While all the musicians, and servers (some were wearing tall hats) were attired traditionally down to the shirt-cuffs, the professional dancers were short on haute ecole. If they had been swathed in historical dress, the ambience would have been more in keeping with the occasion.

But all said and done, one left with an earful of mellifluous tunes; and most importantly, one left behind a clean plate.

The Royal Feast continues till May 25; you can partake of it from 7.30 p.m. to 11.30 p.m. The buffet spread is priced at Rs. 300 plus taxes for adults and Rs. 250 plus taxes for children below age 10. For more details, call 28554476/ 28554068.

PRINCE FREDERICK

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