Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Touch Of Italy On The Kerala Coastline

The Aromi Di Italia, at Cherai Beach, with its authentic cuisine, is rapidly gaining in popularity

Photos: Soju Philip, Executive Chef-food production; a lobster dish. Snaps by Albin Mathew  

By Shevlin Sebastian

On an April night, IT professional Sarat Chandra, 39, decided to have his meal on the first-floor verandah, of the Aromi Di Italia restaurant, run by Club Mahindra, at Cherai beach [25 kms from Kochi]. “It was a full-moon night,” he says. “From where I was sitting I could see large waves hit the beach. There was a strong breeze blowing, and the sky was filled with stars. The ambience was so beautiful.”

While his children Nishita, 7, and four-year-old son Virat played nearby, Sarat and wife Bharti placed the order for a soup: Patate E Porri Zuppa Con Pollo Rosmarino – thick soup, with leek potato, and roasted rosemary chicken.

A few minutes later, when the soup arrived, Sarat noticed one telling difference. “Unlike, in most restaurants, they did not mix cream with the soup,” he says. “It was original stuff all the way and very tasty.”

Thereafter, he had the Penne Shrimp Alfredo – pasta, with shrimps and white cream sauce. “The shrimps were fresh, and, I was told, it was sourced locally,” he says. “Since we live in Hyderabad, we do not have the opportunity to have fresh sea food.” This was followed by fried chicken fillet served with sautéed zucchini, tomato, red peppers, and potato chips. “The beauty of authentic Italian food is that it is so light on the stomach,” says Sarat. “We enjoyed ourselves.” 

Soju Philip, Executive Chef-food production, is not surprised.

The Italian cuisine is known for its simplicity,” he says. “Every dish has, unlike Indian food, just four or five ingredients – tomatoes, onions, garlic, olives, cheese and herbs like basil and rosemary. But the cornerstone is olive oil. We have selected the cuisine of the southern part of Italy, like Capri, Sardinia, Sicily and Naples, which borders the Mediterranean Sea, because it is regarded as one of the healthiest diets in the world. Nowadays, people are looking for health options.”

One healthy dish is the Pesce Bianco Al Spinaci. This is a fish, roasted with extra virgin oil, along with vegetables, olives, lemon, spinach and topped with pesto – a basil and garlic sauce. It is spare and light, yet with a distinctive flavour.

However, interestingly, nowadays, many of the guests are opting for vegetarian fare. So the Aromi Di Italia offers pasta with vegetables and cheese, or pan-fried aubergine slices layered with Parmesan cheese and tomato sauce.

But the most popular item, among the veggies, is not pasta. Instead, it is a corn meal cake. “We cook powdered corn with butter and milk,” says Soju. “Salt and pepper are added. Then it is placed in a tray so that it can settle down. Later, we cut it into fancy shapes. Thereafter, it is grilled in butter, along with sauce.”

Guests come from Kochi and the nearby towns like Kodungallur. “We also get a lot of Westerners who are keen to try our seafood, like shrimps and prawns,” says manager Shinow Baby.

And they like what they eat. Danish tourist Foogen Oruteft says, “The food was very good. It is a very good idea to have an Italian restaurant at Cherai.” Dr. Jose Ukken from Kodungallur says, “Loved the fish.”

But even in an Italian eating-place, there is a demand for rice. So the staff provides the patrons with an Italian rice called arborio. “It is similar to our Basmati rice,” says Soju. “To the rice, we add chicken stock, cream, milk, and Parmesan cheese. Then it is cooked, till it becomes like a thick porridge. It can be a full meal if you add chicken, vegetables or seafood.”

Meanwhile, Soju, as well as the Chennai-based corporate chef, Dr. P Soundararajan, and his team, are planning to add new items. “We want to make a classy menu that will appeal to everybody,” says Soju, about the six-month old restaurant. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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