Celebrating Vishu by treating your taste buds

Celebrating Vishu by treating your taste buds

You don't need to travel to the Indian state of Kerala to enjoy Vishu-inspired dishes; there are places to go that are a bit closer to home

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Junior reporters (from left) Anushka Purohit, Joy Pamnani and Minnie Yip with chef Justin Paul.
Junior reporters (from left) Anushka Purohit, Joy Pamnani and Minnie Yip with chef Justin Paul.
Photo: John Kang/SCMP

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Organic Carrot and Eendappazham, Pazham Jelly, Palada and Jackfruit Payasam.
Organic Carrot and Eendappazham, Pazham Jelly, Palada and Jackfruit Payasam.
Photo: John Kang/SCMP

In the Indian state of Kerala, April 15 is this year's Vishu, or the first day of the Malayam New Year. To celebrate, Asia's only Michelin-starred Indian restaurant, the Golden Peacock at The Venetian Macao, will be serving a Kerala-themed menu called "Journey Through God's Own Country" from April 10 to 20.

Young Post's junior reporters embarked on the journey, and this is what they thought …

Understanding the importance of Vishu and Vishukkani

Vishu, which is also known as the Malayam New Year (Malayam is the official language of Kerala), is a festival that welcomes a prosperous New Year.

Cheers to sampling traditional Keralan dishes! Photo: John Kang/SCMP

The most important custom of the festival is Vishukkani, where on the first morning of Vishu, people must open their eyes to items which symbolise prosperity, like money or flowers. These items symbolising prosperity are arranged in the family prayer room the night before, and on the morning of Vishu, people must walk to the prayer room with their eyes shut to ensure the first thing they see is an auspicious image - the Vishukkani. Literally translated, Vishukkani means "the first thing seen on the day of Vishu after waking up". The custom stems from the strong belief that what a person sees when they first open their eyes on Vishu morning is what they can expect in the year to come.

Nicknamed "God's Own Country", Kerala is known for its stunning natural beauty, with pristine beaches, gorgeous landscapes and abundant greenery. The state is also rich in culture, with influence from many other parts of India and abroad.

Kerala follows the Malayalam calendar. Vishu is celebrated when the sun is considered to move from the southern to the northern hemisphere, between April and May every year.

In celebration of Vishu this year, Golden Peacock's guests were given the chance to experience an authentic Indian atmosphere while enjoying a five-course "Journey Through God's Own Country" menu.

The menu takes people through the state, along with a selection of traditional dishes chosen by Kerala-native and head chef Justin Paul.

There are both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, featuring traditional and tasty delights.

Golden Peacock have all their spices, bright red pomegranates and clay-serving pots imported from India. With this year's special menu, Paul hopes to let his customers experience the culture and cuisine of his state in celebration of Vishu.

Joy Pamnani


Vegetable goodness

The vegetarian menu begins surprisingly with sweet flavours. The Kodappan Kannu Pathiri, Paneer Ney Pettyappam Koonu and Chuvannu Cherra Kozhukkatta, consists of pumpkins, banana flowers, and tapioca ice cream! I expected the ice cream to be bland, but it tasted like coconut and went really well with the rest. The decorative flowers were also edible and had a sweet aftertaste.

Thakkali Malliella Rasam. Photo: John Kang/SCMP
 

Then came the Thakkali Malliella Rasam: a bowl of tomato soup with a white, vegetable dumpling in the middle, and a boat of bread sticks on the side. Rasam, which is a popular dish in southern India, is usually tangy and spicy, but the tomatoes in the soup took the edge off, making it more palatable. The dumpling was made up of a mixture of rice and vegetables, which worked well. If the rice was put directly in the rasam, it would've become soggy, but because it was in a dumpling, not only did it hold its shape, it made the flavour more intense.

My favourite dish was the Appam with Urulaikizhangu Stew - a rice pancake with cream and baby potatoes on top. Nothing beats this combination!

Appam with Lamb Stew. Photo: John Kang/SCMP

Vendakka, vendakka, vendakka - which translates as "okra, okra, okra" - was a dish that saw the vegetable cooked in three different ways - stir-fried, marinated and baked. Although it was the same ingredient, they all tasted very different.

The dessert was the highlight of the night. The five-piece platter was beautifully presented, with specks of gold foil to reflect prosperity. The Pazham Jelly, a golden banana ravioli, was a stand-out. The ravioli had a jelly-like texture, but with a sour aftertaste that was the perfect way to end the meal.

Anushka Purohit


Delicate nibbles and tasty meat

"Kozhi Adda, Chara Kada Pettyappam, Chemmeen Kozhukkatta." That was the name of the starter on the "Journey Through God's Own Country's" non-vegetarian menu. Yes, it's a mouthful, but it was a mouthful of deliciousness! It had three delicate nibbles - a savoury, crisp pocket filled with tender French chicken breast, a roll with shredded quail and curry filling, and a fried prawn ball with curry leaf paste inside.

Meen Pollichathu, Kerala Konchu, Kariveppila Koonthal. Photo: John Kang/SCMP

Next on the menu was Thakkali Malliella Rasam, the only main course dish that overlaps with the vegetarian menu.

There are two main courses, and the first is Appam with Lamb Stew. Appam is like a sweet pancake, but instead of flour, it is made from fermented rice batter and coconut milk. It's also cooked in a wok, making it delightfully crispy at the edges and soft in the middle. On top of the appam was a deliciously savoury and creamy stew with a tender lamb chop. It's especially delicious if you wrap the lamb chop and stew with the appam and eat it like a crepe.

The other main dish was seafood. Meen Pollichathu consisted of a shallow-fried cod fillet covered in a rich gravy. While the outside of the fillet was heavy with the taste of beans, the inside was fresh and white. In the centre of the dish was Kerala Konchu, a huge prawn cooked in savoury masala sauce. As well as being extra meaty, the prawn was also perfectly cooked, as the flesh was very soft and melted in the mouth. Next to the prawn was Kariveppila Koonthal, a cone-shaped squid with chopped vegetable fillings. The squid was gently roasted but firm, balanced perfectly by the lightness of the vegetables.

Kozhi Adda, Chara Kada Pettyappam, Chemmeen Kozhukkatta. Photo: John Kang/SCMP

Dessert did not disappoint. The organic carrot & eendappazham looked like an ordinary chocolate cake, but was actually a carrot and Arabian date cake. The cake was moist and spongy, with shreds of carrot throughout, and tasted great with the creamy coconut ice cream.

A pili nuts macaroon was served alongside the cake, which was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

The Palada and Jackfruit Payasam, a traditional Indian yogurt made of rice, milk and sugar and topped with sliced jackfruit, was smooth and sweet, ending the meal on a memorable high.

Minnie Yip

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Eat, drink and celebrate Vishu

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