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.