Popular legend has it the way to identify a Son Of The Telugu Soil is to ask him to enunciate "zero" and "Giraffe". If he says "Jero" and "Ziraffe", he's the genuine article. By this yardstick, a restaurant that lists "Zeedi Pappu" on its menu, has to be true-blue Telugu. But in truth, Kuchipudi's provenance needs no such voodoo verifications. This is just about the best Andhra food served in the capital.
WelcomGroup's Fortune Katriya is a relatively recent addition to Hyderabad's hotels. The entrance and car-park of this 3-star hotel match those higher on the ranking-lists. The lobby cries out for anechoic furnishings as the click-clack of shoes and cell-phone conversations resonate disturbingly, somewhat reminiscent of the Gol Gumbaz's Whispering Gallery.
Kuchipudi, one of the two restaurants on the ground floor, is a step in the right direction. Footfalls are deadened suitably, and conversations generate a pleasant buzz. The two small tables that flank the doorwell hold the promise of a different kind of buzz, one sporting bottles of fine spirits and the other a tray with paan and supari.
Large wooden pillars go splendidly with the wooden railings, wooden chairs, superbly maintained tables and the tiled "faux roofs". Affable waiters clad in white dhotis and kurtas, complete with kanduvas, add to the verisimilitude of this facsimile of a traditional - and rich - household's dining areas.
To drive home the fact that this is traditional, there are no forks or spoons unless you ask for them, the music makes statements that are a little louder than necessary, and yes, there's even a separate smokers area.
The menu is a set of thick placards bolted together. The rigid fastening makes sense when you open it - dishes are packed shoulder to shoulder, standing room only. Just reading all the names is a primer on the eating habits of wealthy Telugus.
Tantalising comestibles leap off the pages, just crying for your attention. If you don't know Telugu, revel in the feast of syllables. Munagakaya Zeedi Pappu Iguru. Nati Kodi Guddu Pulusu. Khushka. Gutti Vankaya Kura. Ah, this is the good stuff. And if you do know Telugu, then lick your lips, for this is no Barmecide's Feast. This is the real thing, baby!
The basket of Beeyam Vadiyalu and appadams that is brought to your table together with two welcome drinks (buttermilk and rasam) make it unlikely that you'll want to dawdle over the starters. Unless you're having a drink or two, in which case the Podina Pachadi Mamsam and the Telangana Kodi Roast are exemplary. Vegetarians can do worse than the Garelu. Come to think of it, the starters could make a full meal in themselves, but make sure you leave some space for the main course.
The servings are lavish, fragrant, and attractively presented in gleaming copper-and-steel vessels. Usage of spices is delicately understated, and makes you eat more than you probably should. Restraint has its rewards. Temper the urge to heap food onto your plate from just one dish, and sample at least two side dishes.
The Vegetable Pulao and the Kodi Pulao practically invite themselves to your tabletop. Majiga Charu, Palakoora Pappu and Cauliflower Tomato Masala are justly acclaimed choices for the vegetarians. The Nati Kodi Guddu Pulusu is good, while the Bamadaila Koora - fish in coconut gravy - is outstanding. Vankaya Uppu Chepa is not too bad, either - dried fish with eggplant.
Leaving the main course with regret, the dessert pages present dilemmas plentiful. Stay away from the run-of-the-mill ice-creams, good though they are. The Pappu Payasam is a rare delight. The Rava Kesari beggars description.
Yes, Kuchipudi is certainly for "the truly Telugu taste". A shade expensive, but well worth it. Like we said, this is just about the best Andhra Food served in the capital.
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