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Call for a community meal - Madras Mandi

December 8, 20235 mins read

'Kootanchoru' was a unique farm-to-table gathering, fusing tradition with the allure of farm-fresh ingredients and inventive culinary techniques.

Getting on a 70-km road trip in the middle of the week is not a task I would normally undertake on a regular working day. The overcast Bengaluru weather and peak evening traffic didn't help either. As soon as I got past the city limits and the chaos started fading, I had no choice but to sit back and relax. Now, I believe that everyone, who misses the opportunity to take a moment to unwind during their weekly hustle, should be forcefully taken on a drive away from all the madness. But I digress.

South First was recently invited for a curated pop-up dinner Kootanchoru by Madras Mandi -- a Chennai-based suppliers of fresh produce. Unlike their previous pop-ups held in Chennai, this one was unique.

The set-up for this curated dinner, marking the team's three-year anniversary, was at Om Betta Farm, situated in Thirubeedi village. And that's where I was headed to.

A community meal

"At its heart, Kootanchoru embodies a cherished childhood memory. The simple joy of sharing a meal crafted from a medley of ingredients and good company," shares Vikram R, Co-Founder, Madras Mandi.

In its traditional sense of the word, Kootanchoru means a one-pot meal. But here, it meant 'community dining' -- where people from different places and backgrounds come together for a wholesome meal. And that's exactly what it was.

Among the 15 selected guests, one could find bloggers, journalists, lawyers, accountants... an unlikely motley.

"The idea for our event sprouted from a desire to honour our core values on our third anniversary. Community, good quality, and the simple joys of local cuisine. We saw an opportunity to bring together individuals from various walks of life. Our aim was to unite them for a meal that offered an escape from the hectic pace of our city lives," Vikram added.

Away from the city

We reached Chiguru Farm at around 5.30 pm. After a quick stroll spotting fig, mango and jackfruit trees and petting some friendly pooches, we quenched the weariness of the commute with some fresh black coffee and crispy nippattu.

After the refreshments, we reached our venue which was 10 minutes away. Set in the backdrop of the moonlit sky, the sight of the venue itself made the journey worth it. The slight nip in the air and Tamil songs being played in the background made for a perfect setting.

We walked into the Gazebo-like structure which displayed the produce from Madras Mandi. From oranges, pineapples, bananas to carrots, tomatoes and asparagus, the decor highlighted abundance and variety.

Soon, we got our hands on a simple starter -- Cheese on Chakli. It was nothing but our humble chakli topped with cheese, fresh herbs and jalapeños.

"The aim of this course was to highlight that amazing food need not depend on an exotic recipe. Even simple ingredients can elevate a dish," we were told.

Accompanying the starter was a Kokum jeera cocktail. While the sweet and sour Kokum flavour is not for all, the non-alcoholic alternative was more palatable.

"But the cocktail version is more fun," one of the guests joked.

A wholesome dinner

Every aspect of the event, from the decor to the smallest details of the meal, was carefully planned to showcase sustainability, abundance and creativity.

We were taken upstairs to the beautifully decorated table where fresh fruits, veggies and herbs made for stunning table decor; warm lights and throw pillows and cool breeze added to the magical ambiance.

Pleased to see our name cards, we settled down on the seat allotted to us and waited for the appetizer. The first course was Narthangai Rasam with Maapilai samba bread croutons.

"At times, certain ingredients fade from our memory as they disappear from the local market. Other times, they become scarce simply because we've overlooked them. It's a cycle that perpetuates itself. That's why we're reintroducing the regional citrus flavour of Narthangai (Citron), to revive the memory of its delightful, warm, citrusy flavour," the team explained.

Warm, mildly spiced and tangy, the rasam was the perfect start to our meal.

What followed was a Vegetarian Seasonal Galette. A visual delight in itself, the three galette varieties -- asparagus, cherry tomatoes and aubergines -- were simple yet delicious.

Onto the mains

It was time for a palette cleanser. A surprising infusion of lemon and mint water in frozen watermelon, it made for a refreshing pause for our forthcoming meals.

We warmed up for the night ahead with some dinner-table games and another cocktail -- the Chas Sour. The latter was a soothing combination of rum and buttermilk, thoughtfully curated to cleanse the palate and accentuate the flavours of these unique ingredients.

The much-awaited main course arrived -- the Baked Maqluba with pepper curry. The accompaniment of pepper curry gave the Arabian specialty rice a unique touch, and enhanced the aromatic medley of vegetables.

Additionally, the team requested us to add to the dish, our choice of ingredients from the display at the table. There were lime, mint, fresh herbs -- it was up to our imagination. And each ingredient we tried did elevate the taste of the dish in a surprising way.

A perfect ending

While waiting for our dessert, the team introduced us to an exquisite Indian fruit, the Persimmon. It is not something you come across on your regular supermarket runs, they told us.

And on that note, the last course of the night was a delicious semolina persimmon cake with coconut ice cream and candied permission -- a delightful symphony of flavours.

And just like that, it was time to wrap up. The night had not just witnessed a shared wholesome meal but also laughs and some friendly banter over which state's sambar is the best. By the end, our hearts and stomachs were full, strangers had become friends, and the Madras Mandi team said out loud something that we were all thinking.

"Take home all that you want from the fresh produce decor," they said. And none of us could have imagined a better ending to the night.

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