The Bangala is a boutique heritage hotel nestled among the 75 villages (lying east of Madurai in Tamil Nadu) that is today referred to as the Chettinad region. A dream project of Meenakshi Meyyappan, the doyen of Chettinad cuisine, The Bangala opened its doors to the public way back in 1998.
This hotel stands as a testimony to the glorious heritage, culture and food of the Nattukottai Chettiars. Derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Shresti’, the Chettiars, Chettys or Shettys, Seths or Muslim Saits all indicate people belonging to a unique merchant guild. Most of the people of this vast community were traders, merchants and bankers. The Chettiars remain unique in the fact that most of them went overseas where their trades flourished returning back to build palatial, splendid bungalows and improving the quality of life in the region in the form of schools and hospitals.
In an attempt to capture the renowned cuisine of this land, referred to as Chettinad cuisine, The Bangala Table has now taken on a cookbook form. Penned by Sumeet Nair, Meenakshi Meyyappan along with Jill Donenfeld, this cookbook is a true tribute to Chettiand cuisine and its unique place in the traditional cuisines of India.
Anyone who is interested in learning the basics of the Chettinad cuisine must own a copy of this book. The language is easy and simple and great emphasis is given on explaining any native ingredient or cooking technique so that you can reproduce the exact results in your kitchen.
The photography is by Rohit Chawla and he beautifully captures the bygone era of the Chettiars, the grandeur of their homes, vignettes from The Bangala and the food, shot in traditional settings so reminiscent of the cuisine.
The book begins with an introduction to the history of the Chettiars and life during those early times, the story behind The Bangala Table and an introduction to the Chettinad cuisine.
The cuisine of the Nattukottai Chettiars or Nagarathars is not just rooted in South India but draws influences and inspiration from the travels undertook during the trading times, especially with Southeast Asia. There are also Anglo Indian influences to the food, often referred to as ‘butler cuisine’, a term that came to be during the times of the British Raj. Though the Chettiars were traditionally vegetarian, the influences of the yesteryears during the periods of trade and colonization introduced non-vegetarianism into the cuisine; and today, some of the most flavorsome meat and seafood dishes come from this region.
Apart from the ingredients and cooking techniques, there is also an extensive write up on the different traditional cooking utensils used in The Bangala kitchen and also in the homes of this region.
There is a good selection of recipes spread across several categories. The book is a treasure house for those who are seeking to learn the traditional way of making breakfast staples like dosa, idli, appams, upma, pongal and paniyaram; there are also recipes for the staple chutneys and accompaniments.
Learn to make the perfect sambhar and rasam; in fact there are recipes for different types of these much loved dishes. There is hardly a non vegetarian who does not drool over the famous but much misrepresented ‘Chettinad Chicken Masala’; this book will teach you how to make the real deal.
But my favourite recipe from the entire book is the Uppu Kari or Chettinad style mutton fry – a slow cooked delicacy infused with the flavours of the ‘gundu milagai’ (dry round chillies unique to South Indian cuisine).
There are plenty of simple vegetarian dishes, soups and salads featured in this book; all of which can easily be prepared and adapted to your everyday cooking. And the book ends featuring some delectable desserts including the famous Western ones like bread pudding, cheesecake and crème caramel.
The Bangala Table is not a mere coffee table cookbook filled with glossy pictures; it is one that you will use again and again to learn and create gems from the Chettinad kitchen in your own home. It is one that will bear witness to your spice stained fingers while trying to re-create the delicious and lip smacking dishes so beautifully explained. It is a book that you will proudly show to your friends when they praise you for the Chettinad delicacies that you have painstakingly prepared.
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