I have always had the perception that all Andhra food was spicy, and with my fairly limited taste palate, I always avoided anything spicy. Well not always, I do remember eating some really delicious Andhra style food more than a decade back in Bangalore at a restaurant called Nagarjuna. I do not know if the restaurant is still functioning, but I remember loving the food even though I found it really really spicy.
So when I was in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh and my very generous hosts, Dindi by the Godavari by Sterling Holidays, offered me Andhra style lunch, I agreed, but only because I am a fan of eating local food wherever I go.
Before I get into details of my fabulous food, it might be a good idea to understand more about the Andhra food. first thing first - there is no such thing as standard Andhra food and it changes quite a bit form the costal areas (which is where I was) to the inland. Godavari is the dominant river and plays quite an important role in the food as well, providing the people with ample varieties of fish. As Godavari gets closer to the Bay of Bengal (East and West Godavari districts), the fish also becomes a source of sea food, especially prawns.
This part of Andhra Pradesh also has the most fertile land and grows about 80% of the rice that the state eats, giving it the name, ‘Rice bowl of Andhra’. Non vegetarian food is extremely common, but vegetables are no less, and a meal often has both.
Pickles are also extremely popular in Andhra cusine. The other important part are chillies. An interesting food item is called Oriperapakaya. Now Oriperapakaya is green chilli which dipped in butter milk and sun-dried, and this repeated the process 5-6 times over a number of days. The buttermilk takes out the hotness and and the chilly with a distinct flavour can be eaten with curd-rice. Another popular side food is papads which are mostly fried. There are umpteen number of papads and they are made with different materials, giving them different colors also.
Food eating habits also vary between different communities. Brahmins, like their brethren in other parts of the country, eat only veg food while others eat mainly non-veg food.
I met a gentleman on the flight who added a bit more to my understanding of the coastal Andhra food. He was particularly keen to tell me that all South Indian food is NOT the same, and Tamil food is not the only south Indian food. Of course, I knew about it already so asked him to explain himself better. The first thing that came out of his mouth was about sambhar.
Accordingly to my new food-friend, Sambhar is central to Tamil food and everything else is around it, while in coastal Andhra, Sabhar is just another part of the meal. Also the order of eating food is a little different in Andhra Pradesh. This is the algorithm he came up with for me to understand it better - start with Rice and daal (called pappu in Telugu) then rice with curry and chutney. Next comes sambhar, then rasam and finally curd rice.
Now that we understand a bit more about Andhra food, let me just jump at my special Andhra lunch. Let me start with the list so that everyone can have their salivas flowing :)
Fish curry - Lilavati fish fresh from Godavari
Guttivankaya Kuva - Brinjal/ eggplant curry
Munagakaya Royyalu - Prawn curry with drumsticks and mango
Avakai Biryani - mango pickle Biryani
Tomato pappu - tomato daal
Aratikaya Vepudu - Plantines fry
Saggubiyam Vediyalu - Sabudana fries
Koinga fish fry - fresh from Godavari
Perugannam - Curd rice
Avakai pickle - Mango pickle
It was certainly to much food for me, but I didn’t complain as I got to sample. I was really tired so I had planned this to be quick meal, but it ended up being a two hour long lunch with so much food that I slept off right after food and got up only in the evening.
So what was my favourite? Well it was certainly the Godavari fish food - both the Lilavati curry as well as Koinga fish fry. Both of these are full of thorns and it was quite a task for me to eat them, but they were so tasty that I forgot all about the headwork!
There was no dessert after the meal. However I was quite keen to explore my sweet tooth and this made me follow the journey of an exquisite Andhra sweet, popularly known as paper sweet. Curious? Read more about Pootharekulu.
I had this fantastic lunch at Sterling Resort's Dindi by the Godavari. If you plan a visit, don't forget to ask for this special meal - if the chef is in mood, he might just oblige :)