Sunday, 16 August 2015

POUSH: The Essence of Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine

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Every meal has only thought me and given me more insights into this wonderful cuisine and the culture associated with it. My assumption until very recent was that wazwan was synonymous with Kashmiri cuisine. Not true at all, and I'm so glad that doesn't hold good. Very recently, I was exposed to and learnt about the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine.

Are you thinking 'Vegetarian'? No way; then what's the difference?

Wazwan is a food feast associated with the Kashmiri muslims while Poush is the feast of Kashmiri Pandits. Kashmiri Pandits are also known as Kashmiri Brahmins. While brahmins in other parts of India do not consume meat, here Kashmiri Brahmins / Pandits enjoy their mutton, lamb and fish. This is just not sufficient to differentiate but let's move on.

With this community scattered and the cuisine and it's heritage in danger of passing into oblivion; it is a great initiative taken up by ITC Gardenia under the aegis of Kitchens of India to create an experience and spread the love for this exquisite cuisine 'POUSH - The essence of Kashmiri pandit cuisine'.

Spearheading this magnificent food festival from it's roots is master chef Suman Kaul who hails from the very land known as 'Paradise on Earth'. After having presented the finesse for her cuisine at ITC Rajputana; ITC Kakatiya, Hyderabad; ITC Mughal, Agra; ITC Grand Central, Mumbai and other ITC properties across the length and breadth of India; master chef Suman Kaul is here at ITC Gardenia's Cubbon Pavilion stirring a storm until the 16th of August.

The food festival started with a bang with Area General Manager Mr. Virender Razdan hosting a party to launch this treasured food festival. It was a lovely evening with spirits high both socially and from behind the bar. Appetizers mover around the hall as guests enjoyed sipping on their drinks, having food for company and an experience enhanced by the lovely Kashmiri and Sufi band.

As we began our evening, we knew we were in for a hearty and indulgent meal. Appetizers moved around the elegant Mysore Hall at ITC Gardenia as guests enjoyed conversation over some Kashmiri music, conversations and drinks.

In the mains, there were vegetarian classics like 'Nadru Yakhney' - Lotus stem simmered in a yogurt based gravy that was wonderfully flavored with Kashmiri spices; 'Aloev Chamman' - a cottage cheese / paneer delicacy; brought back memories of sharing tiffin box with a school friend who happened to be a Kashmiri. Subtle flavor is the key to making this dish a winner.

There was also 'Dum Aloo Kashmiri' - whole potatoes coated with a healthy dose of kashmiri chilies and cooked in mustard oil. I've heard it's impossible to complete a Kashmiri Pandit food spread without 'Haak'. 'Haak' are Kashmiri greens cooked in a broth that exudes aromatic flavors of the greens, cardamom and various other spices used in the making. Really light and perfectly whets the appetite for more that was on offer.

Moving on to the non-vegetarian section; there were primarily mutton, lamb and fish preparations and clearly not a trace of chicken or egg. This was intentional as chicken and egg are traditionally not the preferred meats in this cuisine. To sum up the experience; heavenly is a word that may just not do justice to the food dished out from the kitchen of master chef Suman Kaul at ITC Gardenia.

It will be disheartening or a sin to sum up the experience in a statement, so here's more about the non-vegetarian dishes:

I started with 'Mousch Aloev' - a dish where succulent lamb dumplings slow cooked over dum in a gravy that is silky in texture and rich in spices. The Kashmiri chili used in the preparation really brought out both the flavor and color. The minced lamb dumpling were perfectly seasoned and succulent; a result of the slow dum cooking.

'Mousch Aloev' was clearly declared my favourite but that does not mean other delicacies were not high up there. It's rare but each one of the dishes on offer were really high up there setting a benchmark on their own. My favourite was short lived. 'Tosch Gaade' was phenomenal and became my new favorite. Perfect tang in the curry coming from the use of tamarind and the fish was cooked to perfect tenderness in a gravy that was rich in spices and consistency.

'Naine Yakhney' involves the use of lamb meat in it's preparation. The yogurt based gravy is flavored with saffron, Kashmir spices, liberal amounts of Kashmiri chili powder, asafoetida and bay leaves among other ingredients.

As I relished the meal, I wondered how on earth a cuisine as diverse and rich as the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine could express flavors the way it did with out the use of onion and garlic in it. Surprised? I was  surprised too when master chef Suman Kaul brought this up saying, "Kashmiri Pandit food does not involve the use of onion and garlic."

Next one needs no introduction; it's Kashmiri, it's delicious; it's 'Rogan Josh'. Classic, ever favorite and down right delicious; mind you with out the use of onion and garlic. I won't say more about this.

There was the 'Yakhney Pulao' which was fragrant enough to mesmerise me and convince me that inhaling the fragrance alone for the rest of the evening was enough to feel content and satisfied. It's never that easy with me so I just dug into it and what a burst of flavors it was!

Desserts were simple stuff but really rich preperations. My pick was 'Modur Pulav' and 'Shufta'. Former being a sweet pulav laden with dry fruits and the latter was a preparation of dry fruits, honey and saffron. Both these desserts were polished off in no time and then followed by a piping hot cup of 'Kahwa' green tea with crushed nuts, strands of saffron and flavored with cinnamon, cardamom and more. There surely is no better way to end a Kashmiri meal than a cup of freshly made 'Kahwa'.

Bangalore seriously lacks a restaurant serving Kashmiri cuisine. Be it Kashmiri Wazwaan or Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, I'm in love with this cuisine that exudes a mesmerising fragrance in every dish it stands proud of. With just a day to go for this food festival, ITC Gardenia's The Cubbon Pavilion is 'THE' place to dine at for the true essence of the the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine that's curated by non other than their only Kashmiri chef 'Master Chef Suman Kaul'.

Address: No. 1, Residency Road, Bengaluru - 560025
Phone Number: +91 80 2211 9898

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Bangalore's Legendary Past - 'The Cuisine of the Navaithas'

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It's raining back to back festivals in Bangalore. Food festivals or cocktail festivals a lot is happening on the Bangalore food and beverage scene. ITC Gardenia, under the aegis of Kitchens of India … brought about an experience of the rare culinary jewels from Bangalore’s legendary past 'The Cuisine of Navaithas'. A festival run at The Cubbon Pavilion between 24th July to 2nd August was ITC Gardenia's ode to the age old cuisine rich in its roots.

Navaitha Cuisine has a rich historical background dating back beyond the times of Tipu Sultan. However; it was since the times of Tipu Sultan, the Navaitha Muslims have formed an integral part of Bangalore’s living fabric. Originally brought to fill the barracks of the British army in the war against Tipu Sultan, the Navaitha Muslims are the Urdu speaking community from Gingee. Nestled in the heart of Bangalore, they chose to stay back in Shivaji Nagar, bringing with them their unique cuisine. Now you surely know what I am speaking about. :)

Like every other food festival, the Indian section this time was dedicated to the legendary cuisine of the Navaithas. Famous for mouth-watering and tantalizing preparations like sheek rolls, grilled chicken, grilled raan, pathar gosht, paya and more were reasons enough for me to head back to Cubbon Pavilion.

My focus was clearly on the non-vegetarian part of the cuisine. Being a rotational menu on the buffet, my evening saw starters like the classic chicken kababs being dished out. When I say classic chicken kababs, you know I mean the Bangalore famed kababs that you find at numerous food hangouts across the city. These were nice and succulent; perfectly seasoned and coated; and fried perfectly to offer the crunch. It is comfort food and I could not help resist myself from multiple helpings. 

There was also the brain fry which I really looked forward too. However, the lack of enough spices and marinade failed to excite my taste buds. I missed the punch that usually pepper and curry leaves can bring out in this dish. The tala machi was a very simple batter fried fish that was well cooked and nice to taste but had nothing to rave about. 
Brain Fry
Tala Macchi

There was one vegetarian starter that I really liked and that was 'Zimikand (Yam) ke kabab'. Melt in mouth and laden in ghee, this preparation showcased the connection between the Navaithas and the nawabs.

Overall, the starters was a mix bag and I really looked forward to that first dish that I really get raving about. The wait was short lived for what arrived next was the 'Paya Khamiri'. Delicate, rich, flavorful, succulent, melt-in-mouth are adjectives not enough to do justice to this dish. I enjoyed every morsel and spoon of this preparation. 

Now I really did look forward to the mains, there was a good spread of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. My focus mostly on the non-vegetarian section, Of this, I really enjoyed the Seena Gosht which was mutton in a wonderfully spiced gravy. A perfect accompaniment for this dish were the light and airy butter naan or steamed rice.

A chicken dish that I loved in the mains was 'Dum ki Tangdi' - Chicken simmered in a really rich and creamy gravy. The chicken was melt in mouth and did soak in all the flavors of the gravy. I enjoyed this dish all by itself and did not need any accompaniment to go along.

There was more, the Soya Lauki was a hit among the rest on the table but for me it didn't work its magic. The Tamatar ka dacha was an example of simplicity at its best. Palak in the palak prawns was really nice but the prawns were a tad bit dry or overcooked for my liking. The Sukka Macchi was a nice and simple preparation of seer fish and made for a good eat with the other mains on offer.
Palak Prawns

For me the highlight of the day was the 'Gosht Timatar Biryani' followed by the 'Paya Khamiri'. I admit I am a sucker for biryani but when its this good, it clearly will have be raving about it. The mutton was succulent and tender imparting great flavor. The flavor of the rice, tomatoes, spices and the mutton married to create a match made in heaven. I so wished that my evening should have started with this lovely biryani and also ended with the very same dish.

I'm not much into desserts and they just form a customary course in my meal. I like to sample and taste dessert for a sweet taste to linger post the meal. There was a lot on offer but what I relished completely was the Roohafza Kheer.

I clearly love food festivals and when a food festival has a story or a history to relate to it's clearly a treat in every sense. There's a lot on cards at ITC Hotels; both at Windsor and Gardenia - So stay tuned for interesting experiences that you can explore.

Address: No. 1, Residency Road, Bengaluru - 560025
Phone Number: +91 80 2211 9898

Sunday, 2 August 2015

HIGH On Power @HIGH Ultra Lounge - A Cocktail Festival

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The bar at High Ultra Lounge headed by the able and super-talented Guru Prashanth has always been known to churn out great and innovative cocktails. This time around High is back at doing interesting stuff where in they create an opportunity for folks like us to meet with the politicians like Barrack Obama, Bill Clinton, Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal, Silvio Berlusconi and the likes.

On 19th July, it was nice to be in the company of these powerful politicians at the highest lounge of South India. Wondering if it was a world summit meet or something? Nope, it was an interesting cocktail tasting session. Innovation and uniqueness written all over; High has introduced special cocktails named after and concocted based on the personalities of these world famous political leaders. To may be rephrase a part of the previous statement, "the public personalities of these political leaders."

The evening set in on the Eastern section of High while the sun set on the west, Sandeep took stage for some lovely stand up comedy and cocktail concoctions flowing all through the evening. We tasted around 10 cocktails each depicting or connected to a personality type in one way or more. Below is more about what I enjoyed the most that evening; not in any order of preference.

The first for the evening was something we at Bangalore are so familiar with as a phrase 'From Russia with love'. Does this phase ring the bell? Either way, this cocktail did ring the bell and surely in the right way. Going by the personality type, this drink did exude chivalry. It was a frozen snow drink with flavors of vodka and elder-flower clearly evident. In fact, the drink left a nice and long after taste of the elder-flower.
'Just Putin some drinks!' ~ Vladimir Putin

While the taste of the first drink continued to linger on, the next arrived and this time it was a flamboyant, cunning and a bitter sweet drink. Any guesses? No! Okay, it was 'The BARlusconi' a drink made from Campari, grapefruit and Jim Beam; all married in perfect harmony.
'For a Bunga Bunga time' ~Silvio Berlusconi

'Potus Passion' was a wonderfully concocted drinks and it ingredients included some of my favorites - Beer, Ginger Ale, Jim Beam Whiskey. Building on the flavor was passion fruit and lime.
'Uncle Sam wants you to drink' ~ Barack Obama

'SourCozy' or the 'Classic French 75' was elegant and refreshing. Lovely herbal notes from the gin, refreshing bubbly with flavors balanced with the inclusion of lime juice and sugar. Needs little to be written about - a lovely drink for a romantic evening.
18 till I die' ~ Nikolas Sarkozy

No point for guessing this association, the next cocktail was named 'Monika Blewinsky'. The cocktail portrayed confidence, charm, style and enthusiasm. Made with Caramel, honey, campari and Jim Beam whiskey at the base, this cocktail came topped with a roasted peanut bar meant to be enjoyed along with the drink. Interesting flavor profile of sweet, bitter, fruit and smoke all in a glass. A few drinks of this are sufficient to end an evening at High; well in a high.

Have you noticed the new kid on the block? I'll say no more about this personality and instead just speak about the drink which is named after an accessory 'The Muffler'. Made of warm red wine, honey and spices this drinks reminded me of the mulled wine made during Christmas. A perfect drink for the cold chilling winters (not Bangalore for sure).

While I really enjoyed the ones above, the ones below either didn't appeal much in comparison or just did not really appeal to my preferred flavor profile.

On till the 6th of August, bring your social self out and meet with all the politicians (10) with a power sampler worth Rs. 1250 or meet with interested politicians at a price starting from Rs. 450.

It's surely #HIGHonPower

Address: 39th Floor, World Trade Center @ Brigade Gateway, Malleshwaram - Rajajinagar, Bangalore 560011
Phone Number: +91 80 4567 4567