Monday, December 15, 2008

Chettinad Cuisine at The Raintree

The Raintree, Taj Connemara, ChennaiSet under a beautiful canopy of rain-trees, the natural d├ęcor is not the only thing that stands out in this restaurant. The Raintree at the Taj Connemara in Chennai serves authentic Chettinad cuisine, a rare meat-based cuisine in an area that is predominantly vegetarian.

The Chettinad region is located in the southern part of Tamil Nadu and this cuisine - one of the most spiciest and most aromatic of South Indian cooking - originated from the kitchens of the Chettiars. From what I can gather, the Chettiars were families of money-lenders and accountants, and their services were in much demand during the 19th century, both in India and in the Far East. I was intrigued when I heard the Raintree has been serving Chettinad food for the last 18 years; in fact, many attribute this restaurant to popularizing what one rarely found outside of Chettiar homes at that time.

Menu at The Raintree, Taj ConnemaraIt had rained the week before, which was probably why the evening was so pleasant. There was a chill in the cool breeze blowing tonight. We were seated close to the open-air stage under the dark sky and surrounded by trees and string lights. As the musicians began setting up their instruments for the evening's entertainment, a pair of aachis -Chettiar women- in bright saries prepared fresh savory starters in front of us.

Curry Leaf Martini at the Taj Connamara
Starters at The Raintree, Taj ConnemaraWe nibbled on these complimentary starters and sipped on Vasantha Neer - tender coconut water infused with honey and mint in a copper goblet. After perusing the innovative cocktails on offer, I finally settled on a karuvepilai martini infused with South Indian spices and curry leaves. My friend chose the thengai ootru, a cocktail of tender coconut, lime and sugar floated with dark rum. I enjoyed the martini - which went rather well with the excellent Pesarattu starter.

The Chef's tasting menu in the form of a thali changes every evening. Tonight, the thali consisted of Uppu Kari - boneless pieces of mutton cooked with a multitude of spices, Kozhi Melagu - very tender pieces of chicken cooked in dry pepper masala, and Meen Varuval - spicy fried seer fish. The thali also had bowls of steamed rice, lemon-rice, sambhar, rasam, curd, white pumpkins cooked in spiced yogurt and gulab jamuns. We were served fresh appams and a variety of lip-smacking chutneys, pickles and papads.

Chef's Tasting Thali at Raintree, Taj ConnemaraWe slowly savored the spicy delights as local musicians regaled us with South Indian classical music: with the flute, the mridangam, and Bharatanatyam dances. I particularly liked the Kozhi Melagu and the Meen Varuval which were promptly replenished on our plates until we could have no more. The appams were excellent, as were the many chutneys -which I enjoy most when dining in the South.

Rose Petal Dessert at The Raintree, Taj ConnemaraFinally, we ordered an exotic dessert made of rose petals; sadly, that was the only thing tonight that didn't live up to our expectations. All in all, this was probably the best Chettinad restaurant I have eaten in. If you love spicy food, you must try this place when you are in Chennai next!

Previous Chennai Posts: Azulia, Chennai Snapshots, Spicy Morsels, Unlimited Kababs, Madras Matinee, Quick Trip

16 comments:

Final_Transit said...

Curry leaf martini? :D How did it taste?? The thaali looks colorful and yummy!

Lakshmi said...

are u still in chennai ? I was there until the weekend and am going back again tomorrow...by the way, can I have yr email id ? Mine is lakshmi.sharath@gmail.com .Thanks

Shantanu said...

@Final_Transit: I was quite impressed by the martini! It was a vodka-based martini with an underlying spicy and curry leaf taste that was pretty good.

@Lakshmi: I am now back in Pune; I was in Chennai some days back. You can contact me at shantanughosh@hotmail.com

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HAREKRISHNAJI said...

Have you tried Soul Curry at Wakad, Pune. They also serve Chettinad cuisine and they have started Nov-veg recently

Vamsee said...

Karuvepilai Martini sounds very interesting.
I love Chettinad cuisine...perfect spice for my Andhra palette. Will look this up when I visit Chennai next.

You have a great blog here.

Anurag said...

Dear Mr Ghosh,
Came across your blog and found it very interesting!
Could not find your email id on the blog, may i request for your email id please? Wanted to send across an invitation.
Thanks!
Anurag Kedia
anurag.kedia@cmykhealth.com

inadeeptrance said...

Curry leave martini - take that James Bond!

Cuckoo said...

Curry leave martini - I would love to have it.

BTW, what's the secret of your health ? :P
After eating so many grand dishes on every stop, you must be doing something to get rid of those fat cells !! :)

Shantanu said...

@harekrishnaji: I am planning a trip to try Soul Curry next week; at least two others have recommended this to me already!

@Vamsee: Thank you!

@Anurag: You can write to me at shantanughosh AT hotmail.com

@inadeeptrance: Heh!

@Cuckoo: Ha,ha! My dear friend, the focus here on the quality of food one has, not quantity! Remember that, and fat cells shall not be a problem... :)

Shalini Gowrisankar said...

I love Chettinad food too thou' I'm a veggie. Will try this place out the next time we plan to hog into some hot spicy Chettinad food :)

Shantanu said...

@Shalini: Welcome to my blog! Please do, and let me know how it goes.

indicaspecies said...

The cocktail with tender coconut, Thengai ootru, sounds great. Would love to try it out someday.

Shantanu said...

@indicaspecies: I didn't try that; but my friend seemed to like it.

Anonymous said...

Chettinad women (Achis) wouldn't have cooked or served for you. They seldom do it commercially. The cooks trained in Chettinad cuisine must have been the ones who would have done the cooking and they don't hail from the community.

Shantanu said...

@Anon: Good point! But not even the aachines of this generation? :)