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South meets North: Chennai weddings turn over a new leaf

If you are good at film trivia, you’ll recall that a certain Shekhar Subramaniam, video game inventor, stirred up emotions when he stirred curds into his noodles. Curds in noodles?? That’s atrocious! At the most some may add a dash of sambar powder while cooking noodles, but this is a wrong and unfair depiction of South Indian food preferences by Bollywood, protested many film goers... And with that SRK’s Ra One box office earnings may have suffered a bit in Chennai.

Yet fusion food, (or should that be confusion food) is drawing the crowds to rave reviews in halls everywhere. I mean wedding halls, not cinema halls. I have just returned from a grand wedding reception myself, and have witnessed a kind of national integration through food. On my large Melamine plate, (but it had a banana leaf pattern on it), Karnataka’s bisi bele bhat mixed readily with Punjab’s paneer makhani; and Andhra’s pesarattu flirted with Maharashtra’s shrikhand; while a colourful Kashmiri pulao found compatibility with Kerala’s avial. What’s more, some declared the baked macaroni au gratin to be a fine accompaniment for the puris, even as it added a dose of the international…

From the puliodharai to the pachidi to the pooshnikai kozhambu to the pal payasam, this was Tamilian food at its authentic best.

Now before Chennai food purists start throwing idlis at me in protest, let me hasten to add that all was normal and perfect in the morning wedding session when we sat down for a traditional lunch served on banana leaves. Ah! Absolutely nothing like our South Indian wedding food, we declared. From the puliodharai to the pachidi to the pooshnikai kozhambu to the pal payasam, this was Tamilian food at its authentic best.

Served to us by ‘Mountbatten Mani’ catering service (any avid wedding attender in Chennai would know that this legendary cook earned his nickname by once pleasing Lord Mountbatten himself with a delicious badam halwa…and his family continues the legacy).

But my cousin Balu sitting next to me at the lunch wasn’t as happy as I was. Apparently at his sister’s wedding, they had a far more innovative chef who had served tomato soup rather than rasam, and a gupta curry (I think he meant kofta curry) to go with mini pancakes. Yes, pancakes.

Anyway, coming back to the reception…just as the bride and groom turned up in a glittering ghagra choli and sherwani (Karan Johar’s dramatic influence on wedding reception costumery); the fare too was designed to embrace new trends. But before we gave in to our food cravings, we stopped to admire the food carvings. Displayed at the entrance were carrots sculpted into popular goddesses, rising proudly from pink lotuses that were shaped out of water melons. And holy macaroni. There was even a Ganesha made from a variety of pasta pieces, artistically glued together.

All around the hall colourful canopies served different cuisines. But we were frequently interrupted from reaching them by several men in green pointy hats: these were specially costumed servers who leapt before us every three minutes, compelling us to try an array of finger foods; including mini idlis decorated with carrot gratings.

Then we jostled with a thousand guests, piling on eagerly from stall to canopied stall. Now why didn’t somebody tell us earlier that there was a chaat stall too? We would have held back on the puran polis and gulped gol guppas instead…

Finally smiling hostess ladies with identical blue and gold saris showed us the way to the dinner’s finale; where even the diabetic-prone said, what the heck, and fought sweet tooth and nail in the scramble for desserts.

Next week I am going to a North Indian wedding. I am heading straight to the chaat stall first this time. But I do hope it’s not the North-meets-South kind of surprise …I’m not sure if I am going to like gol guppas with rasam inside, however innovative that may be.

Email: indubee8@yahoo.co.in