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

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