I am a firm believer in exploring new cuisines and learning more about the flavours of the places I visit. I happened to be in Thanjavur in Tamilnadu, where we, a gang of girls who studied together in a school in Pondicherry, were having a small reunion on turning fifty. When Deepa, our friend who runs Shakti Holidays, said that we had an interesting venue for lunch, we did not pay much attention. But the experience has been so unusual that I had to write this immediately despite my post-lunch sleepy state.
We visited this eatery called Chellammal Mannpaanai Samayal. Loosely translated it means Chellammal’s clay pot cuisine. All the food served is pure vegetarian, extremely healthy, and cooked in earthenware pots.
There are two options for customers to choose from: the a la carte option and the buffet option. We chose the buffet primarily because that was an air-conditioned section on a hot day, and we did not regret the decision. The decor has the right traditional vibes with an old grandfather clock, an antique telephone and a shiny gramophone record player adding to the charm. We were early and all the six of us were seated in a line. And served food on plantain leaves.
I first sat with my camera waiting to click pictures after I had been served. But I realized too soon that I would be left behind, as the ladies never stopped serving food for the next 40 minutes! And each item was different! So my camera was shoved away and I tried to eat mindfully, trying to remember each item’s name. I was told they served 32 items, but I counted much more! Today’s menu had a predominance of items made from plantain. Almost every part of the plant was used. The items on the buffet menu change regularly, I was told.
Here is a complete list of things that were served. I’m trying to do loose translations of the items. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.
Mooligai thanni (herbal water made from root extracts)- this is served as a substitute for water
Manathakkali keerai saaru (a soup made of the leaves of the edible variant of the black nightshade)
Pacchai paruppu sundal (boiled green moong salad)
Arisi Vatthal (fried rice crisps)
Thinnai halwa (millet halwa)
Vazhaipoo paruppu vada (Chana dal vada made with plantain flowers)
Vazhaithandu pachadi (Raita made from julienned trunk of the plantain plant)
Vazhaipoo poriyal (a dry dish made with plantain flowers)
Thinnai (steamed millets)
Vattha kozhumbu (gravy made out of yoghurt-cured and dried berries)
Nei paruppu saadam (plain dal and rice cooked with ghee)
Vazhaithandu kootu (Plantain trunk cooked with moong dal)
Vazhaithandu thuvayal (a thick sour chutney made with the plantain trunk)
Vazhakai varuval (fried and sliced plantains)
Senakazhanga varuval (cubed and fried yam)
Uralaikazhangai varuval (fried potato)
Narthanga oorkai (pickle made of citron, a form of wild lime)
Vendakkai varuval (fried okra)
Arakeerai kootu (amaranthus greens cooked with lentils)
Thandukeerai kootu (Chinese amaranthus greens cooked with lentils)
Pulicha keerai masial (sour leaves of gongura mashed and cooked)
Muttaikos poriyal (a dry lightly spiced cabbage dish)
Paruppu podi (a powder made of lentils)
Thinnai arisi payasam (Millet kheer)
Saadam (steamed rice)
Mor kozhumbu (spiced buttermilk curry- the Tamil version of kadhi)
Aviyal (mixed vegetables cooked in coconut and curd gravy)
Paruppu urandai kozhumbu (steamed chana dal balls served in a curry)
Paanagam (a drink made of jaggery and ginger)
Phew! What a feast! And all for a price of Rs 275. I learnt quickly to portion the rice into small heaps and taste every accompaniment. They serve small teaspoons of each item, so that you do not waste anything. And you are free to ask for more of whatever you like. There is no excess use of either oil or spices which helps one to taste the authentic flavours of the ingredients. We visited the kitchen too and saw the ladies cooking the food in large earthenware pots.
As you can see from the list above, the food was healthy and I can vouch for the deliciousness. A glimpse of the content face of my friend Jay is enough to tell you how satiated she was!
Do hunt out this place the next time you visit Thanjavur!
To plan tours to explore the sights and smells of Thanjavur you may contact my friend Deepa Subramanian at Shakti Holidays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: +919840236872