A food festival dedicated to only Andhra cuisine is quite rare in Mumbai. But the signature restaurant Saffron, JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu, recently had the Seemandhra Food Festival, which was really one-of-its-kind in Mumbai, as it focussed on just the flavours of Andhra, undiluted. I was invited to an exclusive media table to taste the delicacies made by Chef Naidu.
Seemandhra cuisine is spicy. Green chillies and red chillies are used generously in in Andhra kitchens. It focusses on vegetarian dishes, but delicious coastal fare and meat dishes are also there in plenty. The spicy pickles and chutneys are full of flavour and a must try. At Saffron, we were offered four flavourful chutneys to go with the starters: the tomato chutney, ginger chutney, curry leaf chutney and tamarind chutney were simply wow.
Chef Naidu from Hyderabad is well-versed with the cuisine, and talking to him and getting to know more about the flavours of Seemandhra, was something that I really enjoyed. The dinner started with an amazingly tangy and spicy starter: The Andhra Fried Fish (Seer fish with chilli and sesame oil). The fish was full of flavour, and the spice notes were cleverly balanced. I loved the fish so much that I could have happily eaten just this for dinner! It was fun, munching on the crispy Masala Gaare (lentil and onion fritters) and Nellore Vada (lentil dumplings), and both tasted yum.
The highlight of the menu was Chef Naidu’s Signature dish: a small banana pancake called Aratipandu Uttappam. The pancake had crunchy pieces of nuts in it and reminded me of my childhood days, when I used to gorge on unlimited banana pancakes! But this pancake was a little different, as the chef suggested that we eat this up with one of those spicy chutneys! Seriously? A sweet pancake with a spicy chutney? But believe me, it tasted out-of-the-world, so much so that all of us requested the chef to serve us more pancakes.
The Kodi Vepudu (wok-tossed spicy chicken) and the Venchina Mamsam (lamb cubes broiled with roasted spices and onion) were also very different: I was enjoying and re-discovering those bold flavours like never before.
The Guntur Kodi Koora (spicy chicken curry) and the Mamsam Pulusu (lamb cooked in a broth) had tender, succulent meats. The curry was very flavourful with the Steamed Dosa (lentil and rice pancake), whereas the broth tasted better with the Pulihora (tamarind rice).
The chef made a special Mullakada Ullipayalu Sambar (shallot and drumstick broth) for us, which was quite different in taste, as compared to the sambars we generally eat in Mumbai restaurants. It was not overloaded with vegetables and had a comforting flavour. I ate the The Kodi Pulao (chicken with flavoured basmati) with Andhra Vegetable Korma (seasonal vegetables in cashew-coconut gravy) and Bangaladumpa Jeedipappu Fry (pan-tossed potatoes). The vegetables were cooked impeccably and complimented the menu very well.
The Semiya Saggu Biyyam Payasam (vermicelli and sago cooked in milk) was, however, quite plain. I was expecting something unique as a dessert, rather than the monotonous vermicelli, which is a very common Indian desert cooked in any home kitchen.
I have tasted Andhra food before, and those dishes were much spicier. The good thing is Chef Naidu’s spice level in his dishes was tolerable for me. Since most of the dishes were spicy, I think, including a bowl of plain curd would have been great. But I still felt that the food would feel a bit too spicy for Mumbaikars, though, who are not used to this level of spiciness. But that’s what Seemandhra cuisine is all about! Chef Naidu’s Seemandhra food is a must try for its character, boldness and flavour factor!
All-in-all, the food was good. Whenever they have another Seemandhra food festival, I would go back just for the Aratipandu Uttappam and the Andhra Fried Fish, and loads of them!