A couple of months ago, on the eve of a trip to Coimbatore, we asked the members of a Coimbatore Food Group on Facebook about the one dish that we should be having in their city. The responses ranged from “biryani with mutton pepper chukka at Kovai Biryani; ghee masala dosa at Sree Annapoorna; and country chicken soup at Hotel Kannapa to bun porotta at SMS Hotels and chilli porotta and coffee at Aaryas”. The one dish, though, that kept popping up in the recommendations was the Chicken Pallipalayam, especially the one available at Hotel Junior Kuppanna, which is where we headed to on a pleasant evening.
Chicken Pallipalayam is named after an eponymous town that is close to Erode, and about a 100km from Coimbatore. Junior Kuppanna was, incidentally, set up some sixty years ago by a certain Mr Kuppuswamy, in Erode, and is today a fairly well-known chain present in most large cities in Tamil Nadu.
Its compact menu lists robust delights such as quail roast; brain fry (mutton); kalakki omelette and vanjaram (seer) fry; and there is also its famous mutton biryani. The restaurant, on Avinashi Road, is spacious and clean, and most tables afford a view of a modern kitchen. There are murals on the walls that depict bucolic idylls, the staff take orders on tablets and and the food is served both in steel plates and on plantain leaves.
We order the Chicken Pallipalayam along with wheat dosas, and when it does arrive on our table, the dish, a dry-ish preparation with chunks of chicken and dry red chillies, looks sort of an everyday thing. And, that is exactly what it is. An anonymous author on Opos recipes feels, and rightly so, that the Pallipayalam is a working class curry, which “carries a big flavour punch, but use(s) the simplest of spices and cooking methods.”
He goes on to add: “The spirit of this recipe lies in the Spartan simplicity — simple spices and simple preparation are hallmarks of this curry and point to the working class origins of the recipe. Recipes that call for roasting/grinding go against the spirit of this theme. The workers had no access to such equipment!” The workers he refers to are possibly labourers, carpenters and other sundry workmen who travelled from Pallipayalam to bigger cities such as Coimbatore in search of work, and these men and women invented a flavourful curry that could be cooked with very few ingredients when they were on the move.
The Pallipalayam is essentially very little oil, lots of dry red chillies, shallots, ginger garlic paste and bits of coconut. You temper the dry chillies and sauté it along with the shallots and ginger garlic paste. You add the chicken, a bit of salt and turmeric and towards the end some grated coconut and curry leaves. About five to seven minutes later, you are done.
The Pallipayalam at Junior Kuppanna stays true to the traditional recipe, and is a memorably piquant advance on the palate. We especially loved the crunchy, mildly sweet coconut bits that helped briefly dull fire of the red chillies. The Chicken Pallipalayam might not be from Coimbatore, but it rightfully deserves the love it gets from its food-loving citizens.
Get the recipe for Chicken Pallipalayam here.