By Alifiya Khan
Maybe a decade ago if someone mentioned south Indian food, idli or dosa with a sambar and chutney would immediately come to mind. However, thanks to the few restaurateurs who dared to be different, the cuisine now is not just limited to the usual “tiffin” items.
From Tamil Nadu’s Pavvakai fry and Andhra Pradesh’s Karam Petti Potato Roast to Kerala’s mutton fry and Pundi Gatti — foodies can now confidently rattle off names from the platter of all four southern states at a drop of a hat. So when did south Indian food move from being a breakfast item to a main? And when did it get so popular in Pune?
“Even today, when you ask people about south Indian food, idli and dosa come to mind naturally. This perception is largely due to the south Indian fast-food and tiffin culture that was prevalent in this state for a long time. It was quick and tasty breakfast. People started thinking that this is the only food served in south Indian homes,” says Manu Nair, Brand Chef at South Indies in Shivaji Nagar. He adds, “When we decided to start a fine dining restaurant focusing on south Indian cuisine, it was a risk.” The brand deliberately decided not to serve “tiffin” items on their menu.
The latest entrants in the city, Dravida’s Bistro at Dhole Patil Road, is run by three young entrepreneurs — Indira Sukumar, Monish Rohra and Pothen Cherian. “The funny thing is we wanted to start a bar cum food place, leaning more towards the international food favourites. Our restaurant was actually born out of a need to educate people about our regional food. The oily, heavy dishes being served in the name of south Indian food in most places, is something you would never actually see in a south Indian home. Though no one had tried a bistro concept, we took the risk and so far, the patronage has been overwhelming,” says Cherian. In fact, some of the food on their menu is quite exclusive, for instance — kootu (healthy dal curry served with vegetables and mild spices), kachiya moru (flavoured buttermilk curry form Kerala)and Vazakai Bhaji ( batter fried, sliced raw banana served with chutney).
However, while the city is inundated with fine-dining restaurants that dish out robust Punjabi fare, heady pan-Asian cuisine and Spanish spreads, south Indian food seems more or less restricted to humbler establishments and the fine-dining experience, clearly amiss sans a few options. “It’s sometimes due to the playing-it-safe attitude of restaurateurs. If you see the current food trends, the youngsters in age group of 25-35 years are the ones with lot of money to spend and want to experience fine-dining. But they are travelled, exposed to various cuisines and hence want the same taste on their plates. Most often, they are unwilling to pay substantial amounts for regional cuisines such as south Indian food,” says chef Arun Kumar, Corporate Chef at Zambar, adding that at the Pune outlet though, it has seen much better business and response than other states pointing towards the willingness of people to spend on regional South Indian food.
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