Lost Recipes of Mughal Era

Eating

The last time I had heard anyone mention about Akbarnama or Ain-i-Akbari, it was probably in the history class, way back in school. Or perhaps in a periodic cinema of Jodha Akbar, I don’t even recall.

If you have been a vegetarian all your life, it is unlikely that hearing Mughlai cuisine will excite you one bit, especially if you are as ignorant as I was about this kind of food.. until now.

Cuisines like Awadhi, Rampuri or Mughlai despite being hyper local, are much celebrated in its own way. Flaunting a loyal clientage and following, it does make sense to have its own festivals now and then, despite the risk of running losses. Either to educate people about the rich history and culture they carry with it or to revisit the stories of the bygone era that we can only imagine now. I was lucky to be able to get that glimpse into centuries ago for the authenticity this festival happened to bring with his recipes.

May be that was one of the reasons I had been yearning to pay a visit here after I couldn’t make it to Rivaayat-e-Rampur that happened in early March this year. Rich food and I share a love hate relationship. I know I want to have it, but usually I almost regret it right after. As if you have to compensate for it by working out double time. So I prefer to keep such meals for lunch but this was to happen during dinner instead.

A set menu card of three course was brought upon that laid out all the details that we should be expecting. I was preparing myself for all the richness and over- eating to follow as often happens during an Indian meal out. May be its pointless to say at this point that I was in for a surprise.

As soon as the drink appeared, the pan flavoured cocktail in a champagne tulip – the prettiest one i have ever seen so far (having spent considerable time in F&B – I believe I have seen many). This glass, enclosed in a silver framework stemmed in opulence that speaks oodles of royalty, was just a start. I was hooked in its intricacy and the beauty of the design that held my pink coloured drink. It was a beginning of a royal reconnaisance, a story of a princess who decides to explore a cuisine that she knows nothing about.

The flighty dream is soon enhanced by the entrance of a time traveller in the shape of Osama Jallali, who claims to have had ancestors who worked as the chefs in the kitchens of Mughals, now appearing straight from the Oberoi‘s kitchen to start the story telling around what I have in front of me.  I devoured the starters and left the plate like it was never used in the first place- wiped clean like a mirror.

It would be an understatement if I said the ingredients used were not only basic but usually the ones that are overlooked and underrated, like colocacia leaves and its roots (arabi), pearl millets (bajra) buckwheat, etc. Cooked without the use of tomato or chillies ’cause it never existed in India at that time, spiced only through the use of peppercorn. I mean who gives a sh!t? But thanks to Chef Ravitej Nath, who supervised and facilitated the whole festival; to attain such levels of accuracy of the palate that once existed.

I was waiting for more, when they actually went and got a lot more for the main course in a big round thali. The dream was in its second phase, the flavours were at its peak, the storytelling even more intense and the appetite just about whetted.

Saffron, dry fruits, grapes in curry, were the things that kept the royals full on there vegetarian days. Yes! apparently Akbar was a vegetarian on Fridays and Sundays. While Aurangzeb was vegetarian for a larger part of his life. I am glad i have some similarity to share with them. The Maestro continued with his stories and secrets from the box of his spices. I felt like I was sitting across someone who has time travelled and paid an exclusive visit to us just so he can showcase what that era was like.

After recovering a short fatigue from thali, we advanced towards the dessert, raring to go. So he appeared again, this time, with one dish that he restricted me to have. He didn’t know how that action makes someone to want it even more. So I dived right in with my little silver spoon and just tasted it preempting no such danger – except one. It had me totally dumbfounded, when the messenger of Mughal Era mentioned that it was the gosht ka halwa meaning MEAT!!! Not in the wildest of my dreams I could’ve expected such smooth deception of my tastebuds.

Only such a self committed crime could’ve peaked the dream further and get the princess back into a reality. So it did and how. But there was more! The naankhatai in a silver sandook with the most subtle and loveliest tea ever made. Now before I drift off into reminiscing the smell of that tea and the details of the delicate silver cup it came in, you have a chance to experience something similar at Le Meridien Gurgaon for Shahjahanabad Food Festival until 20th Sep, 15.

Ethiopian Encounter

African, Eating, Vegetarian

Following from the last post, and continuing my search on – for more Slow Food, I landed in the Cultural Embassy of Ethiopia in Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri.

I will skip the details of how I got the entry and managed to get a table. As that might be in the territory of shady business. But like we all know everything is fair in love and war, and especially for the Love of Food.

The thing about good food – No matter how good it is our tastebuds will get used to it eventually. Just like life, no matter how glad it becomes, you can be addicted to a certain kind of sadness. dum..da da dum..da da dum..da..da..dada da da.

So with full of a new kind of anticipation, I was waiting -wondering how the vegetarian food is going to be. Meanwhile a lot more people occupied other tables and I thought ‘Wow this place is really popular!’

And finally when my tray arrived, appetising was the last word on my mind but I was still drooling, may be more out of curiosity than hunger. Like how we have banana-leaf lined plates in South India, this one was fully lined with a thick-white dosa like pancake. A bit frothy and thicker in texture, its much blander and perfect to go with the accompaniments that are served on it. About 7-9 different accompaniments, few stir fried, few pastes, some stew, and one in powdered form were rather scattered around on top of this crepe, which I found out later is called Injera. It was made of teff– that was another mystery revealed to me.

I took a minute to figure out how one should start eating this, as there was cutlery lying by the side. And I wondered if this white pancake is for decor or actually edible. A quick instinct later, i just started tearing it and dug in to feed myself. What followed was so bustling that I stopped only when i couldn’t tear it anymore. And mind you, i managed to finish only half of Injera. It was so filling, and delicious and wholesome!

This is by far the simplest looking meal I’ve had, that am including on this blog. Not so much of an appeal to your eyes yet the most titillating to the tastebuds. Owing to the ingredients used and basic methods of preparation that makes it worthy to be part of the SlowFoodMovement.

An ultra-rare combination to find. Much like its’ listing. This place is so exclusive that you won’t even find it on Zomato; even if you search Ethiopian cuisine!

Now doesn’t that make my website uber exclusive?

Rosang Soul Food

Eating, NorthEasternCuisine, RestaurantReview, Vegetarian

You wouldn’t even know about this place until someone seasoned recommends to you or just takes you there by surprise.. like it happened to me. Located in some corner of some street in Green Park, it stands on its own only for its loyal clientele. And what a clientele to boast of, well.. let me keep it until later so you read it till the end.

For the uninitiated, it is the only restaurant of its kind which serves north-eastern cuisine from the seven sisters of our country and more! If you are a meat lover, then you are in for a treat. And if you are not, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Not only do they use exclusive herbs from the region, they also source their vegetables from there. Soon it gets validated as the aroma of what you’ve ordered wafts towards you. By the look of it, I get curious with the simplistic presentation and can’t wait to dig in. It’s the same ingredients like mushroom, onions or any other vegetable, but the taste has a stark difference and so in its texture. A little spicy in a very novel way. Then looking at the red Mizo Rice along with bamboo curry which were both absolutely new to me. My tongue does a little dance inside! A mouthful of new flavours and textures – little earthy and fuller perhaps, that manifests only when the contents have been grown in a place where our rest of day-to-day food doesn’t. You just know its special in some way.

I wish I knew more about where my local Safal guy gets his vegetables from. And we wondered how as a kid we had access to so many varieties of vegetables alone. My friend reminisced how he knew and had about 21 varieties of Spinach itself. I realised how less we know about our food these days, when it’s grown, where it comes from. As no produce is as natural as it used to be or supposed to be and is gradually resembling closer to an industrial product, thanks to the genetically modified seeds.

However, this place right here, makes an effort towards keeping the authenticity alive, and that makes all the difference. A lot like Slow Food Movement where the focus is on knowing what you are eating, finding out where it comes from and how it affects the environment. The entire process of the meal then becomes a lot more lively and fiery in a good way. You become a part of the god’s gift that this place literally means and feel it. With the writer of God of Small Things from god’s own country smiling at me as she finishes her meal and leaves.. it does become a situation like.. ‘O my god!’

Gaggan

GourmetTasting, ProgressiveIndian, RestaurantReview, TastingMenu, Thailand

Kuh-ggannn, is how our cab driver read it to us. I was excited for we had planned this for sometime. The moment the cab stopped, I thought we were entering someone’s residence. Someone posh, someone classy and elegant. As we usher in, I get the feeling of being at the right place at the right time.

Subtle noises, clinking of glasses and hushed laughter fill in the room, along with the black bus boys meandering in the middle. We are seated on the extreme left end on a corner table –  nice for us to have our conversation, away from everyone else, until another couple joins in soon to sit to the far right end of the corner.

We settle for the most elaborate, between 14-16 course Best of Gaggan Tasting Menu, not wanting to miss out on anything. Vegetarian for me and non-vegetarian for him. Once we choose the fancy drinks, we sit back, ready to be lured and get on the gastronomic journey that Gaggan promises.

The drinks, I have to admit floored me at once. I forgot what it was called, but it came in a coconut shell with all of its smoky flavour AND the smoke, little like Pina colada to sip on. Ah! The jazz that it started with, i was loving it already. And believe you me, it happens so rare!

It will turn out to be a very long post if i go on describing each course, and will totally lose the point. So i’ll stick to what held my sway and what swayed off.

Starting with a bunch of mini-bites that kept coming in the span of half an hour had me on a roll. The white-chocolate golgappas were definitely innovative for me, what with that edible packet of nuts on the side and a yoghurt bubble that bursts in the mouth. Beautifully decorative and deliciously textured bites were in the order, and I could hardly keep my hands off it. At one point it was hard to differentiate between the presentation platter and the food that was served on it. To have a sneak-peek you can always go to their page and drool over.

Next up was the soup. I mean who can ever fall in love with a soup? Sure they can fall in soup. but this .. here.. was.. sheer.. orgasm. The truffle soup, the way it came, the way it smelled, the way it smoked, it was love at first sight, smell and taste. I could hold on to that little rock and make love to it while I sipped little sips of it so it goes on forever and ever. This was my nirvana. And I did not want it to get over. I moaned unapologetically.

That was the highest point of my entire meal. The charcoal, although exquisitely presented couldn’t have possibly kept up with the truffle soup. And it was not meant to either. Subtle, gooey, it was the surprise element that it was supposed to be. Later, followed by other familiar flavours and textures, I was beginning to get full but the presentation kept alluring me no matter what. I ordered another drink that I remember the name of. Sexy Poison was served in a glass with a cat tail, and tasted like an elixir. There was a certain fun element that most of the dishes and drinks flaunted. The way it was written, presented or tasted, it was sort of a tease throughout. A bit of this with a bit of that seemed easy to pursue.

Meanwhile we spotted a loner ordering shorter version of Tasting Menu. He would nod at himself while eating, a little too often. Like he was justifying that he has come for the sole pleasure of eating and nothing else. Like its not a social place but a place where they serve your taste buds only. He had to be a banker, I at once thought; an investment banker to be precise. Who comes alone in a destination restaurant that is currently at no.3 and pitted to be the no.1 restaurant in Asia?

Well, the story doesn’t end here. He’s then seated on the table that’s between the two couples which is us. Did I mention, we’d got talking to the other couple discussing the food and drinks and restaurants, and life and it had become quite a group affair, until the gentleman butted right in. I saw him enjoying his chhole chawal with a lot of chaw (interest). All awkward, he decides to strike a conversation with the other couple. Seemingly disinterested, they give in out of courtesy, while we all slyly wait for him to leave. His dessert is now over, and the waiter signals for him to leave. Whats funny was how shocked he appeared and sorry he felt to be leaving the table that he had just interrupted with.

I was only glad with the way waiters use their discretion at such places. Thats one of the things that makes this place such top-notch. Not to my surprise, he confirmed that he works at Morgan Stanley, Hongkong before leaving us to get back to our merrymaking and dessert courses.

With some ostentatious dehydrated miso look, the desserts looked very Japanese except the Lollipops that were crumbly on the outside and yummy on the inside. I felt like complaining how this could be Indian, but then again, just a thought later I knew how diversified India truly is. So no matter how far away you go from making Indian, or variate it on multiple levels, it could still somehow easily belong to atleast one of our states, or city.

Indian Accent

Eating, GourmetTasting, RestaurantReview, TastingMenu

It been over a month and a half that I went to this restaurant. I can’t claim for my memories to be fresh that I still remember the taste. However what I do remember is that it was different in a way that Indian cuisine isn’t supposed to be. Not greasy yet fulfilling, light yet varied, Indian yet had an European touch. None of those elaborate saucy-curry like spreads or a mix of all that you can’t tell what has gone in. Simplicity of flavours intact along with complexity of textures, is what makes Indian cuisine. The way it’s presented in mind-boggling forms makes it modern.

Now that we have defined roughly what modern Indian cuisine is, I wonder whats the market viability of such a restaurant within the Indian market. Like someone recently said, people don’t buy a Louis Vuitton everyday, but sure they will go splurge on the street almost daily without a second thought. So is there truly any business value and sustainability in an instance like this? Well.. i don’t know. But I’d sure like to see where it goes and how.

Everyone craves temple food once in a while but would they appreciate it as much if they had it everyday? I had similar thoughts after I’d had my pig-out session with my sisters with the tasting menu last month. The restaurant is known for its classic twist and top-notch clientage, not to forget the celebrated chef whose first-mover advantage in this segment in the country has gone to make it the acclaimed restaurant that it is today. So i have a mixed bag of a story to tell.

A three-hour traffic barely goes for a good opening to any evening, and would usually end up in a brawl in Delhi, except in this case where it was a determined drive to explore this restaurant no-matter-what. In a place that is hard to find, nestled in some corner of a colony that makes you walk and wonder if all this trouble is worth the effort. I was making mental notes to trash the restaurant for all the inconvenience it caused me even before i dined there.

Gladly, it’s not going to be that. All the doubts are soon put to rest once you set foot inside the club like environment and see families happily enjoying some classical music with their food and few hi-flying executives equally engrossed with their phones and plates alone. It’s not unusual, but not a usual feel as you enter an Indian restaurant in a five-star hotel. This one is bustling in a continental way. And i forget all about my traffic woes immediately.

It’s difficult to not appreciate the exceptionally well curated courses and pin down the quirks in the ingredients used. Just to summarise, I loved the blue cheese naan-lets for starters and beetroot tikkis with wasabi chutney. The potion control through little shapes and sizes is just whats needed where you can’t decide when to stop. The khandvi ravioli with cheese arbi mash, and the potato sphere chaat was nicely deviant while the baingan bharta cornetto.. left me quite offbeat and curious throughout.

The dessert platter was another playground of all the distinguished flavours and textures that round off the meal on another queer high. Am still contemplating if its time to go back and mull in a familiar yet a contrast of taste, that only Indian Accent can justify.