Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Fiery Fingers

Next on the schedule was lunch, and my first Chettinad Thali Experience at Kaarikudi. The Thali is the definitive Indian meal, being a selection of small dishes (the dishes themselves being called called Thali) eaten from a banana leaf or large silver plate, along with rice. It's an all-you-can-eat meal deal, and when you finish the rice or the dishes the waiters just bring you more. Not a bad deal for about 50p to 75p!

There are different types of Thali, and the Chettinad (adjective for Chennai) one is very spicy - remember, this city used to be called Madras and was the birthplace of the Madras curry. With Navin and his friend as guides I decided to join in with the finger food, and off we went. The Sambar I noticed immediately was much hotter than that I had eaten with my Idli's that morning, and I quickly learned the first lesson - the Curd is used to cool down the dish to suit your own 'parameters'. The dishes are mixed together with the fingers of the right hand (sit on that left hand, it is used for something else), then picked up with the fingers and shoved by the thumb into your mouth. That, at least, is the theory - try this some time when no-one is watching, it is much more difficult than it looks.

Especially when it is scorchingly chilli-tastic! Before discovering the cooling qualities of Curd I had done the full damage already - the fiery agony shocked me, not only in its intensity, but the fact that this was not my mouth, throat or GI tract that were burning. It was my fingers!

The discomfort lasted an incredibly long time, but Navin assured me that most places don't serve food so hot as this. The delight at the end came from the 'dessert' dish (one comes with every Thali) - cloudy like lemonade, Navin would not detail its contents but told me to just drink it. And I did, to my delight - it was like sweet rice noodles in a runny sugar sauce, and was the perfect end to an "interesting' cullinary experience.

Another point learned here was that Navin and friend did not lick their fingers when finished as I had done, but took their rice-coated digits to the washroom to be cleaned.