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   I notice that the Taj's Tanjore, which I think is the finest... (June 19, 1986)

I notice that the Taj's Tanjore, which I think is the finest Indian food restaurant in town, provided you order all the right things and sit with your back to the music and dance performances, is having a South Indian food festival. Which is just the thing to have in this wet, monsoon weather; the peppered and gingered-rassams, the hot Madras chicken curry and rice.

I have been to the South only once, and I made a grand circular tour of it in the Indian Railways, parts of Andhra, most of Tamil Nandu and Kerala, parts of Karnataka.

There is a misimpression that the South is vegatarian, it is far from so. When it comes to well-cooked meat, seasoned in the fragrant masalas of the South, you may keep your gross Punjabi rogan joshis and dry tandoori chickens, and, perhaps, your Punjab also.

I remember a chicken biryani in the temple town of Tirupathi. A half plate was enough for two people, a full plate was for the family. The rice was flavoured with the meat juices and cooked in the stock, and, for service, they stirred all the masalas into the rice, instead of keeping them at the bottom and putting a saucer of rice on the top.

I have vague memories of food in Madras, on Mount Road in a large Muslim establishment. But the real South began at Madurai, in the early mornings, in the shadows of the Meenakshi temple, where I would begin my days with strong coffee and fluffy idlis.

The coffee took me through little railway stations all the way to Rameshwaram, with its clear beaches, where the sand dunes keep shifting, and restaurants which served spiced curries and rice on plantain leaves.

In Kerala, I stayed at Ernakulam, then daily took a ferry across the harbour to Mattancherry for my meals of warm rice Kanjis and shrimp curries with grated coconut. The ferries were like Bombay's suburban trains, people got in with their briefcases, read the high-selling Malahalam newspapers, played cards; the restaurants served food faster than any fast foods, the waiters placing glasses of the rice kanji in front of me instead of water. At first, I thought I would have to pay for it, then I realised it was free, as water is in some of Bombay's restaurants.

Hyderabad is delicately-flavoured meats and Nizami traditions, but further East, in the valley, of the Godavari, it is rice and red chillis. The red chillis are put in every thing, including dahi. You eat them and you wipe your eyes and you eat some more.

I am sure the Tanjore's South Indian food festival will live up to the restaurant's considerable reputation. It will be good… excellent, and it will be expensive.

 
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