His eyes are intensely focused on the simmering kadai as he adds spices to fine tune the aromas emanating from within. Contended that the right mix is in the right place, he gently stirs the meat as it marinates within the irresistibly inviting flavours... until it was time to sample it for approval. He is Chef Mohammed Rais from Lucknow Dilli, the direct descendant of a unique culinary tradition and legacy that his forefathers had perfected over 300 years as famed chefs handcrafting gourmet in the Royal Mughal kitchens of Delhi.
What he has inherited as a priceless gourmet repertoire was long forgotten and hidden away in the annals of Delhi’s turbulent past, its narrow lanes and alleys, Mohallas and old homes, relegated to oblivion…well almost. Chef Mohammed Rais has now revived the fascinating delights of Dehlvi cuisine, ancient Delhi’s own gastronomical saga. Recasting and reviving this culinary heritage once enjoyed in Mughal courts and by royalty, “Kitchens of India” has recreated these delicacies at ‘Hornby’s Pavilion’, the ITC Hotel Grand Central in Mumbai.
The uniqueness of Dehlvi cuisine lies in its fascinating mix of traditions, geography, culture and community influences that have partaken to lend their own intrinsic stamp: The Mughals after their many invasions, the hardy Punjabis after Indian partition and settlement, the Kayasthas and their peppery flavours, the Vaishyas and the Marwaris with their rugged aromas. The myriad blend of spices, aromatic infusions, base ingredients and staples juxtapose with earthy relish in the vast array that’s Dehlvi cuisine.
Dehlvi wonders span an interesting breadth of culinary repertoire, each very “catchy” on the palate. The racy yet invoking aromas of Lahsuni Fish Tikka (chunks of fish marinated with spiced hung curd flavoured with garlic and cooked in an earthen oven), Bhashi ki macchi (cubes of boneless fish marinated with whole spices and deep fried) lend a mmmouth-melting sensation. Then the absolutely delicious Bhatti da murg (chicken morsels marinated in cooked onion masala and finished in a clay oven).
To carry the sensory perception to permanence, go ahead with the Angaaron ki Dawat, straight from the skewers… a range of piping hot starters like Dhoka Kebab, Matar ke Teekhe kebab, Gosht Methi Tikka (this one’s truly unique), Angaron ka Murgh (succulence personified), and Palak Anjeer ke Kebab (a fascinating combo of two unlikely oven-mates).
Chef Mohammaed Rais’ varied list keeps growing. For the rustic, farm-grown Khetaadaan Swaad the Punjabi Chinauti ka Khana scores with Pakorean di Kadhi and Paneer Khurchan. Kaleji Keema on Tawa is intriguing and if lentils are your style then Dal dhaba Wali brings alive the pleasures of fresh highway-side gourmet. Appetite notwithstanding, you can’t complete “Dehlvi” cuisine without Murgh Kali Mirch with its cheery tang or the wonderfully comforting Murgh Makhani, both one-of-their-kind dishes.
The Dehlvi platter extends further into a playful spread of alluring masterpieces. With a right-n-propah welcome drink, the chilled Thandai, you’re set to travel on the Dehlvi journey. The special dish is Mahi Mussalam or whole fish rustic cooked with spices in a Dum (slow earthen fire), while Murgh Nihari Dehlvi makes a grand entrée with it’s taste bud teasing spices. That’s traditional Nihari cooked with chicken. Next is the Kali Mirch Gosht, tender lamb stewed with generous doses of crushed peppercorn, and another marvellous creation, the Jhinga Dehlvi Masala that has its own juices blending with Delhvi spices and finished semi-dry for your palate.
One has to make space and time for the irresistible Sarai ki Biryani with its enchanting aromas, relished with another unusual companion, Palak ki Daal with a mélange of lentils with spinach, the flavours are so very distinctive. Dehlvi treasures implore your indulgence with nuggets like Khushk Makai Ka Pulao, Aloo Mandra (stuffed potatoes in golden spicy gravy), Aloo Bukhara Kofte, resplendent as Dumplings stuffed with dried plums in traditional Delhi style. Not to be missed is the amazing culinary synergy in Kairi Bhindi that’s a delectable match of tender lady’s fingers with raw mango!
Want more? Look up the other Dehlvi delight, Khile Hue Phool or cauliflower cooked in curd-based gravy; tongue smacking indeed, as is Gosht Parcha or Dilli ka Doodhiya Kebab honestly rates as fantastic.
Winding up myriad cultural and historic gastronomic legacies into one sweet ending, Dehlvi cuisine signs off with Gulab ki Kheer, rose petals in mildly thickened and sweetened milk, Atte ka Halva (true Punjabi Langar style) and Dum ke Gulab Jamun (fine-tuned in a Dum, until soft and seductive on the tongue) that vanish with endearing grace.
For those connoisseurs of great cuisine, the adventure never ends. Dehlvi Khana ensures a total recall with such symphonies of grand bygone kitchens.