South Of Vindhyas Is An Experience Of Authentic Regional Cooking

The ambience of South of Vindhyas – a restaurant located in the bustling locality where the Orchid Hotel is situated, is as captivating as the food itself. The well-lit dining hall, adorned with exquisite artworks is inspired by the rich cultural heritage of the south and immerses you in an atmosphere reminiscent of a traditional Mangalore estate. As one settles down to savour the mouth-watering delicacies, the soft melodies of southern instrumental music playing live, serenade your senses. Whether you’re a connoisseur of South Indian cuisine or a curious food lover eager to explore new flavours, South of Vindhyas is everything you dream a hearty meal would be.

We paid a visit to the restaurant during the auspicious occasion of Vishu – to sample the sadhya – a feast spread of 56 preparations that Chef Bala Subramanian personally curated. We’re seated at a table closest to the area where musicians fill the air with the sweet notes of Carnatic rhythms, as a steaming bowl of rasam arrives at the table. Tangy, peppery and spicy – the rasam promises to be a fitting prequel to what’s in store for lunch. As we meander through the festive menu, bookmarking dishes that we’re eager to try, chef Bala elaborates on his vision for the restaurant.

He says, “My commitment goes beyond planning; I've actively engaged in menu engineering, ensuring that each dish embodies the essence of South Indian cuisine while meeting the highest standards of quality. Execution is paramount and I’ve worked closely with the team to ensure seamless delivery of our culinary vision. Training the staff has been a personal priority, as I believe that the success of South of Vindhyas hinges on the expertise and passion of our team members. Through a hands-on approach, I've imparted the necessary skills and knowledge, fostering a culture of excellence and dedication.” And this is evident in the way, almost as if on cue, the staff brings out small plates of snacks – two types of vadais, pappadum and a glass of tempered buttermilk to the table.

Once the perfectly fried snacks have been nibbled on, it was time for us to walk over to the buffet-style spread of the sadhya and sample some of the dishes. The Vishu menu at South of Vindhyas is meant to celebrate the vibrant culinary heritage of Kerala, drawing inspiration from its rich traditions – highlighting Kerala’s culinary history with an impressive array of dishes. From the savory paruppu trio to top up steamed matta rice and crispy kal dosais to enjoy with chammanthi or pachadi, each dish is crafted with authentic spices. In what can be best described as a vegetarian’s paradise, the saivam menu features classics like kose thoran – a stir fry preparation of cabbage with coconut, avial – a mixed vegetable curry, kootu curry, kizhangu stew made with yams, puliserry and even the breakfast staple of coconut sevai.

In addition to this, there was also the beetroot pachadi and and a host of desserts like the ada pradhaman, pazhampori, pal ada payasam and nei payasam on offer. Some of the stand out dishes of the spread were the ulli theeyal – a preparation of baby shallots cooked with coconut oil in a gravy of tomatoes and chillies, and the mambazha pulissery – celebrating the fruit of the summer in a sweet and savoury gravy dish that is meant to pair with rice. The authenticity and excellence was a reflection of the commitment chef Bala spoke about, emphasising that the sadhyas were now a part of the trademark perception the restaurant was associated with.

Speaking of staying true to his roots and touching upon the challenges that Bala faced during the course of his years of association with the restaurant, he said that, “My culinary journey commenced back in 1978 and has been an ongoing odyssey of exploration and refinement ever since. Over the years, I've delved deep into the intricacies of South Indian cuisine, mastering techniques that range from the art of steaming to the aromatic roasting in tandoors, from the meticulous boiling of sambar and rasam to the skillful tawa frying technique. Each of these processes is like a brushstroke on the canvas of flavour, contributing to the vibrant tapestry that defines South Indian gastronomy.”

Understanding that although simplistic in idea, South Indian cuisine possesses immense depth of flavour, he emphasises that each masala or spice blend is carefully curated to enhance the essence of individual dishes. Each dish demands its own bespoke blend of spices and it is this nuanced approach to seasoning which becomes a hallmark of authenticity and ensuring that every bite delivers a symphony unique to that particular creation. Speaking further, he quips, “Conveying this concept to guests unfamiliar with South Indian cuisine can sometimes pose a challenge. Educating them about the significance of masalas and the intricacies of flavour balance requires patience, empathy and a genuine passion for sharing culinary wisdom.”

As a diner, if there is a challenge of any sort that one must encounter, it would most likely have to do with the fact that no matter how small your tasting portion is, that it is almost impossible to power through the delicious preparations waiting to be eaten at the sadhya. The addition of chaya kada classics like the achappam (rose cookies), banana chips and nei appams boosted what was an already sublime dining experience – giving guests the full scope of what it would feel like to enjoy a festive spread replete with the finer details, in Kerala. As the Vishu sadhya was hosted at the brink of summer, we asked the chef what he was most looking forward to working with during the season. “A refreshing selection of beverages and traditional delights, including chaas, lassi, coconut water, curd rice, mango payasam, raw mango pachadi and raw mango pickle,” he says.

Image Credits: Rediff

Also Read: 

Seafood and Spices: Kerala Backwaters And Their Culinary Adventures

Chef Bala’s personal cooking philosophy, as he describes, focusses on the details that really round off a dish – enhancing its character. Tempering, the art of pouring spiced hot oil before or after making a curry, is something that holds his attention currently. Elaborating on how it can really make or break a dish, he describes, “It’s not just about adding flavour; it's about orchestrating a symphony of tastes that elevate each dish to new heights. For me, mastering the delicate balance of tempering is not just a skill – it’s a philosophy that guides every aspect of my cooking. (Tempering) isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair; it’s about understanding the nuances of each dish and selecting the perfect combination of spices and aromatics to complement it – whether it is the earthy warmth of mustard seeds, the subtle heat of curry leaves or the aromatic fragrance of cumin, every ingredient plays a crucial role.”

While the chef draws inspiration from the cuisines of Chettinad, Mapla and Kongunadu – especially those from the Coimbatore area, he divulges that his favourite cuisines to work with mainly involve Kerala and Andhra food. Signing off on a rather intriguing note about what his work really stands for, Bala mentions that, “I place great value on the wisdom passed down through the ages, as well as the insights gleaned from ancient culinary texts that offer a window into our rich culinary heritage. By relying on these traditional recipes and methods, I strive to preserve the authenticity of our cuisine and capture the essence of its cultural significance. By honoring these age-old practices, I seek to not only create memorable dining experiences but also to pay homage to the culinary traditions that have shaped our culture and identity.”