So much conversation!
I left a drenched, rain-soaked Goa, running on a severely inadequate amount of sleep. But I was so excited to finally be off, I couldn’t catch a nap on my early morning flight either. I was met at the airport by two bright and smiley faces, because R and S came to fetch me in time for breakfast. All traces of fatigue and sleepiness vanished as soon as the chattering began, of course. Needless to say, we began to gab from the moment go. I don’t think there was a doubt about how much we would talk, and we lived up to our own prediction of non stop chatter.
So much food!
The other prediction we made was that food and everything food-related would score high in guiding the way the itinerary would pan out. Between the three of us, we knew the food was a large part of the reason we decided to venture into the Chettinadu region, and literally everything else was great-to-have, but incidental. We were right on that count too. We sought out all the food we had been hyper-ventilating about in the run up to the holiday. This was particularly endearing and satisfying for me because I’ve been feeling incredibly homesick for South Indian food of late. Goan food is great, but I’ve grown a little bored of it of late. Contrary to popular belief, Goa isn’t a superb destination for a variety of cuisines that deliver on quality, and I have really felt the lack of it in recent times.
We hit Saravana Bhavan as soon as I landed and I didn’t drink a single cup of chai until the very last day. And the food, oh the food in Chettinadu region, omg, deserves a post of its own. But I will probably never get down to writing it. So let me sum it up: lunch on day 1 was a banana leaf affair with 25+ things to eat, including some really unique things like a traditional black rice pudding, some highly local assorted curries with no generic or overlapping flavours, fish and chicken. Dinner on both days was a sit-down, set-menu deal with not as many dishes as at lunch, but fulfilling none the less because it also featured really obscure (from where I come from) flavours and preparations with such distinct character and textures. We didn’t repeat a single dish across the three days we were there. Breakfasts were so special, and I ate some steamed and fried sweet and savoury dumpling type things that were totally new to me. So yummy I gave the dosas a miss! On day 2 we went to a local mess for lunch. The kind that only accommodates about 5-6 tables that you sometimes share with strangers, eating off banana leaves that are placed after you swish away a multitude of flies. The meal included mountains of rice served by these smiley women with hairnets on, who served us like they were serving us in their homes, not taking no for an answer. Accompanying the rice was a huge array of curries that we could pick from, and were then brought to us in small single servings. The curries on offer included chicken, prawns, fish, mutton, liver, paya, talae or “head meat”, bheja, crab, and fried fish on the side. Everything we ate was awesome and it was so hard to pick a favourite.
R and her husband E cooked us some amazing food in their home. A fabulous mutton curry and coconut milk rice one day, and a layered beef biryani with fried prawns that E kept ready for us the night we drove back to Madras. Multiple cups of amazing filter coffee punctuated the entire trip of course.
So much fun.
Every evening S and I took a dip in the hotel pool, after sunset when we’d returned from our wandering. And we couldn’t help but realise that none of us had felt the need for alcohol. Except for the first day at R’s, I didn’t have a single drink during the entire course of the trip. I just didn’t need anything for additional mellowing. We went to sleep early-ish every night, sleeping in, in our comfy extra luxurious beds and waking up to filter coffee and a day out.
We met some wonderfully hospitable people at the hotel. The kind that makes a trip memorable and extra special. Conversations that go beyond the hello-where-are-you-from, bonding with inspiring people who make you question your thinking and realign your perspective a little, leaving you with a fair bit to think about even as you drive out waving goodbye.
There was a lot of wandering in markets. In Karaikudi we walked endlessly through the veggie market, antique gully, two Chettinad cotton saree-weaving units and an Athangudi tile-making unit. On the last morning we also took a short cycle ride through the village we stayed in, much to the amusement of people going about their regular Sunday morning.
Back in Madras we visited Mylapore, where I bought a saree and ogled mogra and other local market wares. Topped it up with a South Indian thali meal at Saravana Bhavan and shopping for fried things, masalas and filter coffee powder to bring back to Goa.
Much fun was had all round. And now that I have put much of it down here, I know why my heart (and belly!) felt so full.
Here, happy song to capture the mood: