"The coconut festival that began June 13 is on till Jan 21. A meal for two would cost around Rs.2,000 ($33)."
By Venkatachari Jagannathan

Chennai, June 17 - A seafood salad made with coconut apple, a prawn dish partly cooked inside a tender coconut and served in the neatly cut nut with a spoon jutting out, a mocktail of tender coconut water with a dash of galangal and lime juice; a yummy creamy dessert filled in a copra and much more!

Well, for those who are nuts over Thai food and coconuts, it is time to visit the 44 cover Thai restaurant Lotus at The Park Hotel here.

The use of coconuts by the Thai people in their cuisine is not just restricted to their popular curries. They use coconuts in varied forms in their cooking and we wanted to showcase that, R. Rajesh, area director-food production at The Park hotel, told IANS.

A cursory look at the special Go coconuts-celebrating coconuts menu card would reveal that the chefs have decided to wow their guests with dishes made with different forms of coconuts - starting from tender coconut and its water, coconut, coconut milk, coconut apple and finally the copra.

The missing items were the coconut tree trunk and its leaves. The flowers were used for decoration.

For 39-year-old Rajesh, a Keralite, coconut is one item that he has been familiar with since childhood. Keralites use lots of coconut and coconut oil in their food.

Rajesh has also innovated the frozen elaneer payasam - a sweet dish made with tender coconut water and milk.

At the pastry kitchen, we use liquid nitrogen. I got an idea of freezing the elaneer payasam. I poured some quantity of the elaneer payasam and fished out the frozen dish immediately. The outer was frozen while on the inside it was thick liquid and tasted great, Rajesh said.

Similarly processing curd rice in an ice cream machine would give out tasty thayir sadam/curd rice, he added.

Soon taster's portion of appetisers started arriving on the table.

The crispy fried asparagus with coconut slivers and honey chilli sauce was mildly sweetish.

On the other hand, the curried coconut prawns with kaffir lime, basil and the coconut crumbed chicken nuggets lemongrass dip tasted good.

While one was savouring that, the innocent looking white coloured seafood salad with coconut apple, red chilli and lemon dressing arrived on the table.

Coconut apple is the white/creamish spongy material that develops inside the sprouting coconut with medicinal properties and can be eaten raw.

As the seafood in the salad tasted normal, the dynamite in the form of pieces of coconut apple was at the bottom of the heap.

A couple of eager and fast bites of the spongy pieces that had soaked up the chilli juice immediately activated the taste buds.

While quick sips of chilled coconut water - galangal mocktail or plain water - failed to soothe the buds, the tamarind paste did the magic. And soon the salad plate got emptied.

After my 12th standard, I was interested in studying medicine and gave the entrance exam. A friend of mine suggested to me to write the entrance exam for catering technology. I succeeded and there are no regrets till date, he said.

Passing out of the Institute of Hotel Management Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition here, Rajesh joined the Taj group of hotels and moved to the Middle East for a brief period.

Meanwhile, small portions of the main course and accompaniments (plain and coconut rice) started arriving on the table.

The okra/ladies finger tossed with roasted coconut crumbs tasted really nice and different from the manner the vegetable is made at home.

The prawns cooked in coconut cream, galangal and part baked in coconut shell were mild and tasty with plain rice while the steamed chicken with herbs and coconut slivers went well with plain and coconut rice.

For sweet lovers, there's lemon grass infused coconut parfait with mango and berry relish and coconut and chestnut pudding, peppered banana gelato and cashew praline.

The coconut festival that began June 13 is on till Jan 21. A meal for two would cost around Rs.2,000 ($33).

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at [email protected])


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