As we draw closer to the end of 2020 under grey skies, buffeted by gusty winds, city chefs lean on popular, simple and most importantly, familiar foods to bring some cheer to a challenging year
In 2020, therapy comes in unexpected guises. As we batten down the hatches, in anticipation of cyclone Nivar howling past, perhaps it is apt that Chennai turns to its favourite therapy: biryani.
Started in late August 2020, Biryani Macha has already served over a lakh biryanis. Run by Chef Koushik S, the cloud kitchen has a deliberately concise menu. There are two kinds of biryani: Ambur style, made with basmati rice and cooked dum-style on a wood fire. And their just-introduced Panai Olai biryani, a fragrant, coconut-milk-based version made with short-grained seeraga samba rice.
“When it comes to biryani, I like to eat a good quantity,” chuckles Chef Koushik, explaining why he decided to launch this cloud kitchen in a city seething with biryani-speciality restaurants. “Our version is made home style on a wood fire, and we keep it simple, using good ingredients… The rice is from farms in Erode. Coconut milk is an amazing tenderiser. And the meat is cooked in stock: we use no water at all.”
The biryani, wrapped and delivered in banana leaves and nestled in a palm leaf box, is rich with flavour. “The panai olai, or palm leaf, is a traditional South Indian packing material,” says Chef Koushik, adding “It reminds me of biryani I ate as a child: the leaf also imparts a certain flavour.”
And unlike the biryani snobs, for whom vegetarian biryani is an oxymoron or a pulao (you know who you are), Kaushik is just as excited about his meatless versions. “We do an Ambur biryani with vegetable stock,” he says. “We also just launched a mushroom panai olai version, which is delicious.”
Call Biryani Macha on 9952000984.
The pandemic triggered a rash of sourdough. Stuck at home with little to do besides wash our hands and sanitise the door knobs, bread making became the sport of choice all over the world. And, it quickly became evident that while bread can be a comforting hobby, it can also be infuriatingly complex.
Enter the Honey Box. Positioned as India’s first DIY (do-it-yourself) bread making kit, the product was launched this week by Chef Shereen Perez. Formerly with the ITC Grand Chola, where she worked on luxurious Fabelle chocolates, Shereen has spent much of this year formulating four kits: Artisan Crunchy, Multigrain, Focaccia and Pizza.
Starting at ₹130, each is neatly packed with her proprietary blend of bread flour, along with little packets of pre-measured pink Himalayan salt and yeast. There are also parchment sheets, and a detailed list of instructions. The result is warm, satisfying and promises to fill your kitchen with the scent of victory.
“I realised that it is a challenge to formulate the right flour,” says Shereen, explaining the technique behind each blend. “For the multigrain loaf, I add flax seeds, bran, malted barley, oat flakes… Then, I teach people how to knead, because it’s very different from how we make chappatis,” she adds.
While bread making is fairly scientific, once you learn the rules, she promises it gets much easier. “For beginners, it is important to first understand how the dough feels, and how it should look.” She adds with a laugh, “Then you can start adding olives, rosemary, basil… I have a client who put bacon on focaccia as well.”
HoneyBox kits are available at JK Cheese N more, Amma Naana and Tryst Gourmet.
When Ehjas M recently launched Meraki, all he wanted was a place to chill. “The idea was to have a nice neighbourhood café. Somewhere calm, where people could come in and relax. With that Pondi feel…” he says.
Ehjas M and his partner launched Sushi and Box and Café de Paris a few years ago, but Meraki has a whole new vibe — think of surfer shack meets progressive diner. Spread over 3000 sq feet, and bright with art, the café does a multicuisine menu, putting a spin on classics.
Chef Vijaykumar Manikandan (better known as Chef Mani) of Chef’s M&N, has focused on creating simple dishes from scratch — we would recommend the handmade gnocchi and ravioli. As well as the fish grilled in home made harissa.
Meraki Cafe is at 4/18, 4th South Main Rd, Sri Kapaleeswarar Nagar, Neelankarai.
“We are a family of sailors who decided to start a restaurant,” says Varun Shreyas, at the newly opened The Void in Anna Nagar. A labour of love, the space came together slowly, and is still work in progress.
“We are opening as a restaurant now, and then plan to transition into a bar,” he says. “We called it The Void because it is so large…” Eventually, each floor has a different energy, with a sports bar on the first floor, a restaurant on the second and a rooftop dining.
The first floor is open for now, making use of a spacious outdoor section: perfect for this COVID19-wary year. Chef Mohamed Siddiq, formerly with The Taj Club House, promises an inventive menu blending popular, and familiar, South Indian flavours: Chettinad chicken winglets, for instance. Or mini lamb uttappams topped with cheddar cheese. And the only type of brain fry you need to handle this year: served on toasted brioche.
The Void is at L33, G block, 1st Ave, Brindhawan colony, Anna Nagar East.
This weekly column tracks the city’s shifting culinary landscape. Heard of a new food venture? Tell me: email@example.com