Well, it certainly is interesting as for Tamilians the world over, the pongal dish normally means two types - cream-coloured ven pongal which is light on the stomach or the dark brownish sakkarai/sweet pongal made on special occasions.
On Pongal, the day of the Tamil harvest festival, sakarai pongal is the main dish as a part of thanksgiving to god. This year, the festival will be celebrated on Tuesday.
The ven pongal is made with rice, dal, ghee, pepper, jeera and salt and topped with cashews while the sakarai pongal is made with rice, milk, dal, jaggery and ghee and topped with raisins and cashews.
But J. Prabhakaran, junior sous chef at the Madras restaurant at The Raintree, Anna Salai, has decided to soup up the most down-to-earth dish as a part of the Pongal celebrations.
He is offering 20 different types of pongal in varied hues and tastes ranging from the reddish hot and spicy to sweet and salt pongal.
"As a part of Pongal festival celebrations, we are offering 20 different types of pongal dishes Jan 10-19. The Pongalo Pongal Thali priced at around Rs.650 (vegetarian, excluding taxes) and Rs.800 (non-vegetarian, excluding taxes)," Prabhakaran said.
He said the ven pongal and sakarai pongal will be a standard feature on all days while three different pongals would be served daily as part of the thali.
"We wanted to offer different varieties of the pongal dish as a part of our Pongal celebrations and arrived at 20 varieties," Prabhakaran explained.
As to the varied colours he said: "It is the natural colour of the ingredient and we have not used any artificial colours."
The different pongals that are on offer at the Madras Restaurant are: Ven pongal - blend of rice, dal and ghee topped with cashews; Milagu pongal - spicy variant made with pepper, rice and moong dal; Seviyan pongal - combination of vermicelli and dal; Rava pongal - semolina and dal, flavored with ghee, curry leaf and ginger; Godhumai pongal - broken wheat blend with dal, nuts and ghee; Puli pongal - variant combination of rice and tamarind; Khara pongal - pongal infused with chilli, turmeric and coconut; Beetroot pongal - pongal enhanced with flavored beetroot; Sarkkaraivalli kizhangu pongal - sweet potato infused with dal and tempered ghee; Amritha pongal - sweet pongal with fresh fruit blend; Kalkand pongal - ven pongal topped with sugar candy; Aval pongal - beaten rice savory pongal; Oats pongal - oats cooked with moong dal topped with flavourful tempering; Dates and Honey pongal - sweet pongal enriched with dates and honey; Sarkkarai pongal - sweetened jaggery pongal; Kadhamba pongal - mixed pongal; Chakkavaratti pongal - pongal made with jackfruit; Ellu pongal - pongal with the touch of sesame; Ragi pongal - a traditional pongal made with ragi and Poosanikkai pongal - White pumpkin, topped with nuts.
"It is not that we have added some new ingredient and calling it as pongal. A lot of thought has gone into the innovation so that the essence of the dish - the taste and flavour of the dal and rice - are not changed," Prabhakaran said.
Broadly the 20 varieties can be classified into three categories - sweet, spicy and mild.
While the ven pongal is mild and with liberal amounts of ghee tastes good, the khara pongal with its spicy taste gives an entirely dimension to the simple dish. Pongal -which normally means ven pongal - is generally given to convalescing people as it is light on the stomach.
"We have added onions, green chilli, ginger, curry leaves, a little grated coconut, red chilli flakes and Kashmir chilli powder," Prabhakaran said as to the ingredients of Khara pongal.
Puli/tamarind pongal is not very tangy and tastes good.
On the sweet pongal side, the sakkarai pongal tastes great while the kalkandu/sugar candy pongal can take a bit more of sweetness.
The dates and honey pongal has a heavy taste of the dry fruit overriding the tastes of other ingredients.
At first sight, one would certainly not believe a red dish is a pongal. However, once the Beetroot pongal is put inside the mouth, the taste buds would tell the brain that it is indeed a pongal variant.
The other great-tasting item is the Amirtha pongal - a sweet pongal with different fruits like grapes and pomegranate, among others.
The restaurants at the Taj group of hotels in Chennai are also planning an elaborate offering as part of Pongal festivity.
At the Southern Spice restaurant in Taj Coromandel, an elaborate Pongal Virundhu comprising a spread of traditional dishes like palagarams, murruku, seedai and sakkarai pongal will be served for lunch between Jan 14-16.
The Verandah restaurant at Vivanta by Taj-Connemara will offer a lunch buffet between Jan 14-16 The Raintree restaurant there will offer a set pongal set dinner menu Jan 14.
Buzz, the all-day diner at The Gateway Hotel, IT Expressway, invites you for Kannum Pongal on January 16 for a special buffet dinner.
(V. Jagannathan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
--IANS (Posted on 12-01-2014)