Savouring delicacies at Dawat-e-Awadh food festival stirs the memories of Lucknow’s Aminabad and our very own Walled City

It is not often that I find myself talking of Noori pansari and Shivdayal masalewale at a five-star in the Capital. This is, however, exactly what happened over the course of a leisurely dinner at Shangri-La’s-Eros Hotel’s Café Uno which is hosting the Dawat-e-Awadh food festival. Noor and Shivdayal are widely respected names in the field of ingredients for Mughlai cooking but somehow connoisseurs have failed to give them due credit. Noor Ahmed’s shop is in the Walled City’s Bazaar Chitli Qabar while Shivdayal works out of Khari Baoli. From these obscure’s lanes nondescript shops they whip up magic.

Their names cropped up because I nudged Chef Anwar, the brains behind the festival, about the source of the wonderful masalas that he has so liberally used in his non-vegetarian preparations, ranging from kalmi kababs to lamb chops to fish curry and mutton korma. The chef, who has spent around a decade learning about the spices in Old Delhi, was understandably hesitant in revealing his sources, insisting that they can only procure stuff from approved sellers. And does that mean Noori and Shivdayal? Umm.

Well, mum was not quite the word even if the chef resisted clarity. But a few bites of the kalmi kababs and I could make out the distinct taste. The ingredients had to be from the Walled City. The kababs, tender to the end, were slightly low on spices. Understandable considering more than half the guests at the restaurants were foreigners. I personally found the paneer kakori seekh better with the seekh retaining its tanginess. However, the dish which screamed that it had a touch of a seasoned Old Dilliwallah was Awadhi malai ka murgh. The cream was not too thick or too layered to overwhelm the taste of spices. The murgh had been diced well and as a consequence had been cooked uniformly right up to the bone. The bones were not quite a challenge for a set of teeth well looked after. Just the way it should be. And yes, importantly, there was not a dash of tomato, just a mild sprinkling of coriander. My friend Aslam Khan nodded his approval,

The dish that competed with it for the top show of the evening was, surprisingly the good old dal. As the veterans tell you, making a simple dal is a complicated exercise. And he who can pull it off can take care of an entire five course meal. The chef passed the test in style with dal anas. The dal with fried sabut lal mirch made for a fine preparation and went just well with light, really light, tandoor rotis. Of course, I had had a bite of sheermal with my murgh and did not really mind its somewhat sweet taste. Somewhat reminiscent of Lucknow’s famed sheermal from Aminabad, it was a tasty affair.

Again in the next course, one could make out the deft touch of a man from Old Delhi in a couple of dishes like Fatmi raan ki biryani and murgh samina. There was a dash of kuti hui lal mirch to kadhai gosht which I found unique. It tasted quite different from the preparation made with chilly powder and took me to the chaotic market of Khari Baoli where you got to know your stuff before buying for the shopkeepers won’t have the time or the patience to explain.

In traditional style, I rounded off the meal with chana malai kheer and bhune kaju ka halwa and asked the chef once and for all, the secret of his good meals. Is it Aminabad where he has spent many years? Or Old Delhi? Never mind. The ingredients are just raw material; the food at Dawat-e-Awadh, (It ended this Sunday) is the finished product of a seasoned chef. Have a bite.

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