Monday, May 31, 2010

Dakshin - Southern Indian Cuisine

The ITC Maratha houses 8 different restaurants.  I was a bit skeptical about it all since I don't find hotel restaurants in the States to be the best of the area.  But apparently, some of them are pretty darned good, and even the locals affirmed this.

The first evening, we chose Dakshin, which specializes in Southern Indian Cuisine.  Each of the menu's several pages represented a different state in the Southern part of India, and though it was in both Hindi and English, it was still hard to imagine what each dish would be like.  So I did what I always do in the US - ask the servers what they considered to be the best.

On a tray with a large banana leaf nestled into it, the first server came by with a series of chutneys.  "I'll try them all," I said, and he carefully spooned them all along the left side of my tray.  Then came what the savvy server described as "chicken fingers."  I almost spit out my water.  Alongside, he placed some fried vegetables.  It looked delicious, and as I looked around my place setting, I saw only that tiny spoon on the right side of my tray.  I looked at the server, like the ignorant American that I am, and said, "Um... Is there a fork and knife...?"  He looked at me and lifted his fingers, then wiggled them.  "You eat with your hands.  But I can get a fork for you, if you'd like."  Oh no, no.  If the Indians eat this with their hands, then by all means, so will I.  Fried veggies were a bit overrated, but the chicken fingers were full of flavor and tender.  And you know, eating with my fingers was extremely liberating.  I quite liked it and think I shall make it more of a common occurrence.

For the entrees, we ordered a lentil stew, on the left, and prawns braised in a beautifully savory and slightly sweet onion sauce.  They placed a large rice pancake on the tray, and we began tearing off pieces and using them to dip and pick up the saucy prawns.  The thing is that the prawns were HUGE - approximately the size of the tail of a 1-2 pound lobster.  No kidding!  

At the end of the meal, they set a little bowl with a tea-colored liquid and sweet limes floating in it.  I whispered, "For our fingers, right?"  My coworker was fairly certain and said, "Yes, I don't think this is tea."  And then I came to understand how those Chinese dignitaries felt all those years ago when they began to sip the finger cleaning concoction that was placed in front of them, forcing everyone else at the table to do the same.   You gotta love all the different cultures.  It certainly makes for interesting stories.

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