Grandmaster’s Kitchen: Not Quite a Checkmate

Pooja Sarath
19/07/2016

It’s not often that one walks into a much hyped about restaurant to be greeted by an apologetic manager.

At around 8 p.m. on a Saturday earlier this month, my husband and I saunter into the Grandmaster’s Kitchen in Thiruvananthapuram for a quiet dinner.

“We’re sorry the tables are all full and there is a queue of reservations as well. We suggest you try the buffet. It has a much better spread than the temporary menu we’ve set up for the crowds,” said Vipin, the manager.

“Temporary menu?” we wonder aloud.

“You see, this restaurant is meant for a niche crowd, the kind who come to dine at a fine restaurant discussing movies, art or literature. It’s for their tastes that our menu has been structured. But being the first film-themed restaurant here, we have a lot of people coming in just to see the place. We’ve developed a basic menu for them,” he said.

“So when will this place be in full swing?” I ask, staring at the sepia tinted photographs of cinema greats plastered all over the walls in the foyer.

“It will take another week ma’am. Tonight our Saturday Special Grandmaster’s Buffet is the highlight,” he says escorting us up a flight of stairs.

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The deco and ambience wins us over whetting our appetites. Designed in black and white, the central themes here are chess and cinema, the passions of the owner B. Unnikrishnan, a filmmaker. The photographs of film posters and actors from world cinema, great chess players, dialogues from popular Malayalam films and film songs playing in the background jostle for our attention.

The deco is neat and uncluttered albeit crowded. The tables are spaced a tad bit too close to each other for comfort.

The Grandmaster’s Buffet, priced at 599 rupees per head, was quite a basic spread.

We started with the Hot and Sour Chicken Soup. Even I who don’t usually like soups as they are often bland with too much corn flour actually liked this one. The flavors and spice were just right.

The Shrimp Salad that followed was a tad bit disappointing and uninteresting.

The Saffron Chicken Kebab as starter made up for the earlier disappointment with its balance of coriander, garlic and onion. The meat was succulent and had fully absorbed the subtle flavors of its marinade.

The rice and breads offered for main course were the usual spread of Tandoor Roti, Kerala Paratha, Steamed rice and Cashew Pulao. The accompaniments included Chicken in Chilly Oyster Sauce, Grandmaster’s Chicken, Beef Ularthiyathu and Fish Mango curry for the non-vegetarians and Baby Corn Mushroom Masala and Veg Kolhapuri.

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Not exactly spoilt for choice, we decided to mix and match. My husband chose to have Kappa from among the starters with Beef Ularthiyathu and Chicken in Oyster Sauce while I chose Cashew Pulao with the Grandmaster’s Chicken.

The kappa, well cooked, paired well with both the Beef Ularthiyathu and the Chicken. While the Beef did justice to the traditional recipe, the Chicken in Chili Oyster Sauce was an explosion of flavors. The Grandmaster’s Chicken lived up to its name and was an ideal accompaniment to the Cashew pulao. The Gajar Ka Halwa for desert was a perfect end to the meal.

As for the service, well, there was some confusion in the air among the staff. But I guess they are just finding their feet in the initial days. We definitely will make another visit to Grandmaster’s Kitchen because it wasn’t as damp squib as some of the recent Malayalam flicks!

(Grandmaster’s Kitchen is located behind the Saphalyam Complex at Palayam in Thiruvananthapuram.)

http://stancemagazine.in/Article/164/GrandmasterandrsquosKitchenNotQuiteaCheckmate

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In the Warm Glow of Love

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“Go tell her you are a writer, and are doing a story for KT! Go. Go talk to her!” my friend mutters as he nudges my elbow.

Still under a spell of wonder at the sight spread out before me, I hear him but do not budge.

He pushes my elbow again.

“Go!”

I glance to my left to see a pleasant slim, middle-aged lady stand watching us. She smiles warmly at me.

Her flawless, wheat complexioned skin looked golden in the light of the lamps.

It was ‘Karthika’ in Kerala. Every year during this festival that is a celebration of the bond between siblings, clay vil lamps are lit and the front of every home decorated with it. The lit lamps are considered a symbol of auspiciousness that will ward off evil and usher in prosperity and joy. It is a ritual in which special prayers are conducted by sisters for the good health and future of their brothers.

This year for Karthika my friend took me to an Agraharam in the city.

Agraharams are Brahmin settlements that comprise of two rows of houses on either side of a street. All the houses have a door connecting it to the next and the street has small shrines on either end of it. During festivals and other special occasions, the doors that connect each home are opened and the entire community partakes in the celebrations as one big family living under the same roof.

The Agraharam was today, a sight in itself. The usually quiet, sleepy quarters had now transformed into a beehive of festivity.

Every doorstep had little children, their parents and frail old grandparents all dressed in typical festive wear, busily arranging the lit lamps in beautiful patterns.

Soon, as we stood watching, each of the hundreds of lamps were lit and the entire street was awash in golden light.

In the warm glow of heartwarming smiles and loving families gathered together, the tiny flames burnt brighter.

“Can I help you?”

A gentle voice brings my mind back to reality. I look in the direction of the voice to see the pleasant lady still look at me smiling.

“Namaskar Aunty, my friend here is a writer working for KT and she is doing a story on this ritual of Karthika. Are there any details you will be able to give with regards to the occasion that will help her write the article..?” my friend nudges me forward.

I smile and manage to mumble as to just how amazing the sight of so many lit lamps is and she laughs.

“I do not know just how helpful I can be to you but I will happily tell you everything I know,” she says as she invites us into her small but serene home.

We remove our footwear and step in gingerly. The sounds of the gentle chanting of slokas blend in with the scents of incense sticks and burning camphor in the air.

There is a sense of peace and piousness in the air as she hustles about praying and giving the first offerings to the Lord before she serves us some of the prasadam before going on to describe to us the details of the festival.

ADHIRASAM

On Karthika day special prayers are offered and around dusk the lamps are placed at the doorstep in intricate patterns. After the prayers are offered and offerings made to the Gods, the lamps are taken back in and the Prasadams distributed.

Being Tamil Brahmins, their main offering to the Lord comprises of two sweets.

The former called Adhirasam is a mixture made of raw rice, jaggery, water, ghee and cardamom powder deep fried in oil.

The latter, Pori, is puffed rice, dried ginger powder, and sliced coconut bits mixed in jaggery.

pori

She specifies how during Karthika, brothers send their sisters either money or expensive household items like Ghee, rice, wheat and the like as the sisters spend their evening in devout prayers for the well being of their brothers.

There apparently are several legends linked to the festival. Legends to do with the Gods triumphing over the Demons and so on but the belief followed by the Brahmin community is that of sibling well being.

Just as we were about to thank her for her time and bid adieu, she tells us to wait a couple of minutes and rushes in to pack some of the prasadam for our families.

With hearts warmed by her loving hospitality and joy glowing brighter than the lamps lit all around us, we bid adieu to the Agraharam and the most beautiful Karthika day of my life.

 

Thambi Chettante Kada

“Dosa, Chappatti or Puttu?” asks the tall well built waiter clad in a worn out shabby blue lungi and a half unbuttoned grey shirt. He has a thick, well shaped moustache any Malayali man would be proud to own.

“Dosa,” both my friend and I chime in as we settle down on the small plastic stools on opposite sides of a square, white table.

The ‘Chayakada’ or teashop is essentially a long hall with tables in two neat rows on both sides and a dinghy, smoke filled kitchen at the end of it. Well lit and airy, the beams and roof painted in light blue lend the place life and cheer.

I look around and breathe in the aromas, each tussling with the other to grab my attention.

Around most tables sat groups of Grandpas who came in all sizes right from the small framed short scrawny ones to the hale and hearty big ones. All of them were happily chit chatting over food and so the general clamour was punctuated with frequent bouts of laughter. Apart from the Grandpas there were the odd few labourers who had dropped by for dinner after a hard day’s work.

The big moustached waiter came up to our table, spread out a square piece of tender plantain leaf before each of us and proceeded to serve our spread.

First came the browned white dosas (initial disappointment at how small they were). Three of them were placed in the centre of the light green leaf each overlapping the other.

Over the dosas was poured a huge spoonful of steaming hot reddish coconut chutney.

Just as the chutney began to seep into the soft dosas giving off whiffs of mustard, coconut and urad dal swirling into each other, another spoonful of dark brown, watery,  piping hot rasam is poured over it.

A rasavada is placed alongside the dosas in the puddle of chutney and rasam.

At this point of time, just as I begin to feel amazed at the way the tangy scent of the rasam harmonised with the coconutty smell of the chutney, two pappads are placed on top of the pile.

food!

Confused at how to tackle the meal, I look up to see my friend watch me grinning at my wide eyed excitement.

And then with that smug air of an expert, he shows me how it’s done.

He places his hands on top of the pile in front of him and presses it crumbling the pappad on top. The crumbled bits immediately soak in the rasam and chutney mixture and stick to the now soggy dosas.

He then goes on to crush them all together with his fingers and form them into thick globs of dosa, chutney, rasam, vada and pappad that he plops into his mouth.

I follow suit to be pleasantly surprised at the way these lumps when met with my taste buds, melt into a riot of flavours.

The pungent tangy taste of the rasam adds spice to the gentle flavours of the coconutty chutney and the dosa. The dash of red chilly is just right leaving you wanting more.

It is incredible just how harmoniously the flavours of 5 distinctly different dishes- dosa, rasavada, pappad, rasam and chutney- can blend!

But mind you tiny as they might look at first, by the time you are onto your third dosa you will be left panting for breath. Atleast, I was.

Determined to prove to me just how good the food at this quaint, brightly lit, blue roofed chayakada is, my friend does not stop at the dosas.

He goes on to order two double omelets and two glasses of tea as well.

Despite the fact that I made the poor guy eat three fourths of my double omelet too, I cannot deny just how delicious it was.

As I drowned the perfectly satisfying meal with a glass of piping hot tea my thoughts turned to fiscal concerns. But I needn’t have worried coz this entire meal for two just amounted up to Rs. 130/-. The ambience and feel good factor were for free.

Now that’s what I call a ‘Good’ evening!

🙂

[ P.S. – The shop located in Karamana is renowned as ‘Thambi Chettan’s Kada’ (‘Thambi Chettan’s Shop’ – Chettan is the Malayalam word for big brother and ‘kada’ means ‘shop’). ]

On a rainy evening..

It all began one rainy evening when my friend stopped me in my tracks, looked deep into my eyes, took a deep breath and asked me,

“Do you want to try out some piping hot Rasavada?”

I have always loved travelling and exploring the world around me. I love good food and travelling in search of it is something that I have always fancied doing but I never did stumble upon the perfect company for it. Now, by the look I saw glinting in his light brown eyes, I know I have!

Like they say, joy shared is joy doubled and I for one am not the kind to enjoy eating alone. I guess I owe that trait to the fact that family meals are a regular feature in my home. I feature I cherish, mind you.

Anyway, back to what I was saying, with that one question was born my dream of bringing to you ‘Trivandrum on My Plate’.

Here I will share with you (or in other words ‘torture you with’) the details of my wanderings in search of good food in the city in which I work – Trivandrum.

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Being the capital city of the state Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram or Trivandrum (a more convenient spelling 😛 ) is a boiling pot of cultures. This means that there is a wide variety of flavours and food that await my exploration.

Hopefully this enthusiasm I feel burning within me will not die out anytime soon.

I wanted to give you the ‘Rasavada’ story first but I’m gonna set that one aside for another time 😛

So this is it!

I present to you ‘Trivandrum on my Plate’.

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