What comes to your mind when you think of the Malabar region? For me, a mere mention of the place conjures up images of lush greenery, gorgeous beaches, swaying coconut trees, banana chips, appams and stew, toddy, little chai shops, red rice and a whole lot of other things that are quintessentially Kerala. That said, I don’t have any personal experience of visiting the Malabar, that coastal region in Kerala that runs from Goa to the southernmost part of the country. All the impressions I have about the Malabar region are purely based on things I have read and holidays undertaken in other parts of Kerala.
So, it was with great curiosity that I recently reached Nook, a restaurant by Aloft Hotels, in Cessna Business Park, Kadubeesanahalli, Bangalore. I had been invited to experience the ongoing ‘The Taste Of Malabar’ food festival at Nook, and was very eager to check it out. Let me hasten to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, savouring the lovely food that was served to me.
The Taste Of Malabar food festival at Nook by Aloft
The festival is an attempt by Chef Aniket Das (Executive Chef at Nook) to showcase the cuisine of the Mapilla community from the Malabar coastal region. Mapilla – also called Moplah – is community of Malayalam-speaking Muslims in the Malabar, with a distinct cuisine of their own. There is a heavy-handed use of coconut oil and spices like dried red chillies, cloves, cardamom and pepper in Mapilla food, as is the use of curry leaves, tamarind, ginger, coconut and rice. The cuisine borrows heavily from the Arabic world, thanks to widespread trade relations between the two places. Though non-vegetarian food rules the roost in Mapilla cuisine, there are several vegetarian delicacies worth savouring as well.
Ambience and decor
I loved how the food festival brought Kerala to life. A little stall was set up to represent the chai kada (tea shop) of Kerala, complete with a variety of chips, bananas hanging off hooks and Malayalam newspapers. Coconut-leaf decorations adorned the ceiling, and most of the food was presented in earthenware utensils that are so typical of Kerala. Another small stall handed out tender coconut water to the guests who requested them. An exhibit showcased a few ingredients that are indigenous to Kerala – coconuts and red rice and red bananas. The front office staff were dressed the Kerala way too, with golden-bordered kasavus, white shirts, mundus and veshtis.
I am a sucker for attention to such little details as these, which indicate that research and thought have gone in into providing a complete experience to the customers.
Food and drinks
The food festival menu is in addition to the regular buffet at Nook, at no additional charge. A walk around the buffet showed me that it was quite, quite expansive, spanning a vast variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. I really mean it – the spread here is HUGE.
A live fish fry counter that had been set up for the food festival elicited sighs of pleasure from my fellow diners. I sampled only the vegetarian fare, of course.
As we settled into our seats, little pots of Kerala delicacies were brought to us to munch on – assorted chutneys, poppadums, rose cookies, tapioca chips, sweet and savoury banana chips, and jackfruit chips. Every bit of this was thoroughly enjoyed by yours truly, especially the lip-smackingly gorgeous pumpkin, curry leaf and raw mango chutneys.
Next up, I tried out the somasi – wheat flour shells stuffed with different types of fillings and then deep-fried. I loved the two vegetarian versions, with paneer and mushroom stuffing within.
The onion samosa that I sampled alongside was also beautiful, crisp and perfectly done, the filling delicious.
I understand, from my non-vegetarian fellow diners, that the somasi with chicken and beef filling was exquisite too. The stir-fried squid and chicken was, apparently, very well done as well.
The buffet also included three drinks (if I may call them so!) that are integral to Kerala – neer more or mildly spiced buttermilk, cumin-flavoured water, and water that is infused with a herb called pathimugam or sappanwood.
I chose some salads from the regular buffet to sample, next. I must say I absolutely loved the salad counter at Nook, it is so very expansive, with several types of vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions available. There are different types of chaats on offer at the counter as well.
I loved the Capsicum Salad here, with a sweetish dressing, served with bits of feta. The Jackfruit Salad (yes, you read that right! Nowhere else have I come across a salad like this!) was a close second favourite. The Ripe Fig Salad was good too, as was the Soya Nuggets Chaat (the latter, again, something I have never come across before).
For main course, I tried out the Kerala Red Rice with Ulli Theeyal, a tamarind-based preparation with shallots. While I loved the earthy taste of the red rice, I felt the ulli theeyal could have done with a bit more flavour. The Cabbage Mezhukkuperatti or stir fry that I sampled alongside was very well done, too, mild and simple, yet full of deliciousness.
I also tried out the Vegetarian Pizza, Singapore Noodles and Hot-And-Sour Vegetables from the regular buffet, which I felt were just about okay. I loved the Paneer & Papad Sabzi I sampled from the buffet, too (Just how innovative that is, right?!)
As per my fellow non-vegetarian diners, the Mapilla Chicken Biryani was out of the world, and the appams with chicken stew were fantabulous too. I didn’t have space enough in my tummy to try out the vegetarian versions. The sheer variety of pickles that was part of the buffet – from chicken and prawn pickle to lal mirch ka achaar and mixed vegetable pickle – was mind-boggling!
The dessert counter at Nook is vast, just like the salad bar, including stuff for every kind of sweet tooth there is. Thanks to the food festival, the dessert counter had typical Kerala sweet dishes like buckwheat halwa, Calicut halwa and Vattayappam (sweet steamed rice cakes made with toddy). This was apart from the regular sweet dishes like ice cream, pannacotta, mousse and various Indian desserts.
I was able to try out very few of the desserts, of which I adored the chocolate gateau and the buckwheat halwa. The vattayappam, basboosa and mango-ginger mousse were so intriguing that I had to pick them up but, sadly, they did not hit the right taste notes with me.
- Type: Lunch and dinner buffet
- Price: INR 1099 + +
- Date: March 15 to 27, 2018
- Timings : 12.30 – 3.00 PM & 7.00 – 11.00 PM.
- Address: Cessna Business Park, Sarjapur – Marathahalli Outer Ring Road, Kadubeesanahalli, Bellandur Post, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560103
- Phone: 08045101010
Overall, the buffet was quite interesting, not to forget vast. I loved how the kitchen has gone to great lengths to add that element of surprise to some of the dishes. Also, like I said before, I loved how the overall look of the place and the food makes the mind travel to Kerala.
A few of the dishes I tried out from the regular buffet were just okay, while the others were beautiful and par excellence. That said, the buffet menu changes regularly, so the items (and taste) I encountered might not be the case with you, when you visit.
Considering that Mapilla cuisine is predominantly non-vegetarian, options for vegetarians are relatively limited on the food festival menu. However, the regular buffet more than makes up for it.
The buffet is definitely value for money, with or without the food festival, considering the huge spread. I don’t think I can try out all the items at one go, even if I tried to.
That was quite something, right? Do book yourself a slot at The Taste Of Malabar before the food festival ends!