Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Traditional Tamil Lunch at INDeco Heritage Hotel: Swamimalai, India

My traveling companions and I left the Swamimalai Temple hot, tired and hungry. We had toured two temples that morning traveling through back roads in Southern India. Then, enroute to a Heritage Hotel, we got lost. Fortunately our driver spoke Tamil, the local language, and we eventually found the place. We stepped out onto beautiful grounds and were immediately transported back to 1800's. The check-in area at INDeco Heritage Hotel sits within a beautifully restored British villa from 1896.
Foot Massage

We were welcomed with cool hand and face towels and a refreshing Ayurdevic foot massage. How lovely!  That restored our hot and tired bodies, but we were still hungry.

Being Welcomed to the Restaurant
Fortunately, we were soon on our way to lunch where were treated to a Tamil meal called the Thali.  The word "Thali" means "The Plate" and was traditionally served on a banana leaf. Ours came on a round dish lined with a banana left. The center features a dish of white rice and many small silver bowls surround it containing a variety of choices.

Appetizer and Beer
For starters, we had crunchy puffed rice crispies and sweetened rice and wheat cakes called Appam... and a beer. My, that beer hit the spot. Next came a soup with almond and orange, grown on the grounds, accompanied by bread sticks. Delicious.
Then, the Thali luncheon plate arrived which I was told was normally eaten clockwise. It included such items as vegetable curry, yellow lemon rice, roasted potatoes, another curry made with lentils, pickles , yogurt, and an egg dish or chicken dish. White rice and Indian bread were served alongside and dipped into the curries. I tasted each item, none was overly spicy, and found I liked the lentil and chicken dish best.
The Thali Lunch Plate

Desert was Semiya Payasam, a mixture made from milk, sugar and vermicelli rice- like a rice pudding. Then I was served a small glass with a shot of Paan, a concoction from beetle leaves which is an elixir, mixed with nuts and vanilla and perhaps a dollop of ice cream. It tasted and smelled like India to me - mysterious, exotic, spicy, and flavorful, but was not strong enough for any hallucinogenic effects.  A basket of fruit was also offered and we were once again full and happy.

Beetle Leaf Drink

Afterward, we toured the Heritage Hotel property which are an authentic 1800's restored village of Southern India. Our guide explained, "This is not a hotel, it is rural cultural experience." No two rooms are the same, most have sit outs and some have private courtyards. A few royal suites have a living and dining area as well.
A lovely room at the Heritage Hotel

The swimming pool at this hotel resembles a village Temple Tank and there is a Steve Borgia Museum containing an array of fascinating objects. Steve Borgia, an Indologist, founded INDeco Hotels to be a combination of leisure, heritage, health, nature, aesthetics, spirituality, fine arts and fun. This was the kind of hotel where you meander the grounds and discover all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies. You might run into statuary, fountains, courtyards, benches, antiques or animals. The Swamimalai 1896 Tanjour Village Heritage Hotel is India's only winner of the Global Eco Tourism Award. I would agree with the brochure that states the hotel itself has emerged as a destination.
Statue in the Courtyard

Steve Borgia Museum 

Another Guest Room
The Beautiful Grounds of the Heritage Hotel in Swamimalai