Monday, December 04, 2017

A Taste That Grows On You

So good was chef Anjappar that Tamil Nadu superstar MG Ramachandran hired him on the spot. Today, the Anjappar restaurant chain, which has opened its first unit in Kochi, is going from strength to strength

Photos: The inside of the Anjappar restaurant at Lulu Mall, Kochi; a variety of items; the late founder Anjappar

By Shevlin Sebastian

Malayalam singer Madhu Balakrishnan was very happy when the Anjappar restaurant opened at the Lulu Mall, Kochi, a few months ago. “I have been a fan since long,” he says. “Whenever I would have music programmes in places like Dubai and Singapore, I would always go to have the Chettinad food.” (this is the cuisine of the Nattukotai Chettiars, who belong to the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu).

Asked the reason for his liking, Madhu says, “It is light on the stomach. And the food has a different taste.”

This is affirmed by the Food and Beverages Head S. Gandhinathan. “Our base is black pepper and spices, instead of masala powder,” he says. “To get the best spices we buy from wholesalers, instead of retail outlets. And to maintain quality, we grind the spices ourselves. Our USP is that we use different spices for every dish.”

So, for the mutton sukka dish, the spices used include cinnamon, cloves and pepper cumin. But for the chicken dishes, it is chilly and coriander. Some of the other spices, which are used, include star aniseed, tamarind, fennel seeds, fenugreek, as well as curry leaves and peppercorn.

We also use a lot of shallots (small onions),” says Gandhinathan. “It makes the dishes tastier.” For a first-time visitor, there is an initial feeling of the food being a bit hot, but gradually the taste grows on you. And, indeed, at the end of the meal, you don’t feel heavy at all.

According to Gandhinathan, the most popular dishes are the special Chettinad meals, as well as the different varieties of dum biriyani: chicken, fish, prawn and mutton. “In fact, the biriyani is very popular abroad,” he says.

There are Anjappar restaurants in the USA, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, while, in India, the majority are in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Pondicherry, and now, the 79th outlet in Kerala.

In Kochi, interestingly, most of the Malayali customers who come, have already had meals at Anjappar restaurants while working in West Asia. There are also Mollywood stars like Aju Varghese, Mamta Mohandas Asif Ali, Vineeth Sreenivasan and former cricketer S Sreesanth who are regulars. In the comments book, Sreesanth wrote, 'Amazing food and service'.

A life-changing move

When the founder Anjappar left the village of Ponnamaravathy, in the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu, with his family, to Chennai, 400 kms away, in the 1950s, to better his economic prospects, little could he have imagined that his life would turn out the way it did.

What helped was Anjappar's natural talent for cooking and a fateful meeting with the colossus of Tamil Nadu, the filmstar MG Ramachandran, on the sets of a film, where Anjappar was providing the food. “MGR Sir liked Anjappar Sir's food so much that he immediately hired him as his personal chef,” says Gandhinathan. Thereafter, he worked in MGR's kitchen for the next 20 years. Then, with the blessings of the superstar, he ventured out and started his first restaurant in Royapettah in 1964. And never looked back.

The success story has continued for decades. Unfortunately, Anjappar passed away on January 7, 2001. Now his two sons, Kandasamy and Maruthu Pandian are running the show. “We are focused on expanding our chain,” says Kandasamy. With their unique taste, success seems to be assured. 

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

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