I was all excited when Lalitha Akka invited me for dinner, as she has the most amazing reputation for creating a feast for the eyes, mind and the palate.
As Akka ushered me in, a row of neatly stacked water jars caught my eye.
Tulsi water, Mint water, Jeera water and Vetiver water. I was stumped! Did not expect my food expedition to start with a water Platter! Trust Akka to come up with something as innovative as this.
In her little kitchen garden, Akka grows a few herbs and so the first item on the menu was a healthy juice made with a mix of her home-grown herbs.
As I sipped her juice, a heady mix of interesting aromas wafted through the room. Akka was setting out the main course.
The lavish spread was skilfully arranged and painstakingly labelled by Akka’s husband. She had chosen simple cutlery for the evening – traditional stainless steel and earthen pots.
My eyes went straight to the bread chaat – rows of identical bread squares had been arranged on a platter with a delectable mix of yogurt and chutneys.
Also on the menu were Phulkas, a Paneer Pasanda and a mixed vegetable sabzi. This was a precursor to a kashmiri pulao that was embellished with dry fruits accompanied with Akka’s signature pineapple raita.
As I was admiring Akka’s creative expressions blended with perfection for every single item on the table, I noticed another table with more items!
Thayir semia with a range of home-made pickles rounded up the main course, with a variety of vathals. If this wasn’t enough, there were 2 desserts beckoning us. Our meal ended with a bang with her payasam and halwa, and our tummies were very happy indeed.
As Akka offered me some dry paan from her vethalai petti, I thanked her for the meal, and asked her when and how she learned to cook.
Akka grew up with a strong love for good, tasty food, and this motivated her to start cooking. She kept cooking regularly and perfected her dishes. She even walked the extra mile to learn about indigenous ingredients, their nutritional values and their health quotient. Today, she has a home remedy for most common ailments and, believe me, they work wonders!
She armed herself with books, engaged in conversations with chefs, watched cookery shows and kept experimenting with food.
She is so popular for the variety of sundals, desserts and innovative salads that she is even referred by some as the “salad lady “
Akka is so happy keeping herself engaged that she even went on to pursue her Masters in Vaishnavism in her late 50s.
Every dish that Akka crafts showcases her innate love for creating the tastiest of dishes. It brings out her passion for the culinary art and also her enthusiasm to keep innovating! As I took leave, Akka politely asked me to come again and without losing a second, I responded “when?” ☺