Adil Hussain on his experiments with masor tenga and pandit mutton

Like his performances, Adil Hussain loves his fish steamed or grilled very well. At TK’s Oriental Grill in Hyatt he is all set to engage with teppanyaki cuisine. Here the chefs prepare the food on live grills with the ingredients of your own choice. “I wish food was not that important in my life,” says Adil with the tone of an ascetic. But at places like TK’s you don’t mind indulging. For Adil the crucial factor is care. “When I eat I eat food made with a lot of care. When I travel I prefer local food. When I say local food I mean that I don’t like to have paneer butter masala in Kerala. I like to go to the cheapest restaurants where the labourers eat and try there. Then I go to five-star restaurants to see the difference and quite often I end up liking the previous food.”

Here he opts for steamed sea bass fish and asks for just a sprinkling of garlic, ginger and black pepper to spike it up. Adil took to both acting and cooking early. From mobile theatre to cinema, he tried every genre of acting and then took admission in National School of Drama because, as he says, “I needed to know more.”

“By 18 I moved out of home and if you have to survive you need to learn the basics of cooking.” Wherever he went he picked up the nuances. “When I went to Kerala I fell in love with Kerala food. I learnt mutton stew and the Nair style of cooking vegetables – they don’t cook anything that grows under the ground. I can prepare Kashmiri food, yakhni and pandit mutton, which is made without onion and garlic. I can try a lot of Bengali cuisine like chorchori, aloo posto, shukto, bhate alu.” In Delhi he was introduced to mutton burra by none other than Naseeruddin Shah. “When I was in NSD he took the whole class to Jama Masjid area. It is the best mutton delicacy that I have ever tasted. Only mutton in white sauce at London’s Q Gardens gives it competition.”

When I take him to home territory, Adil blurts masor tenga even before I canframe my question. He compares cuisine with language. “If Bengali language is sweet then Assamese language is softer. So Assamese food is very gentle. We have lots of greens. There are hundreds of varieties of vegetables. We have a lot of wild ferns that grow in the backyard of the house. You just have to pluck and take them to the kitchen. They are tasty as well as good for the stomach.”

“We have dishes for specific days of the week. And we have a very typical thing which I have yet to find in any other Indian cuisine. It is called khar. It is natural alkaline liquid made of a specific variety of banana peel. It cleanses the stomach. We put it in boiled papaya and add onion, green chilli and coriander.”

Adil takes his cooking skills to shooting. “I cooked masor tenga and pandit mutton for 200 people on the sets of English Vinglish in New York. Then I remember Kareena (Kapoor) having my fish curry. I made it in Latvia when we were shooting for Agent Vinod. Saif (Ali Khan) came to know that I cook and I gladly responded. Now you don’t get rohu there so I used salmon and made it with tomato curry. In the beginning Kareena was like, ‘let me try’ (he gives us an idea of her apprehension) but then she jumped on it. When they came to shoot in Delhi I got to make it one more day. Then I prepared it with rohu and told them that this is how it actually tastes. They were impressed.”

But food wise, his most interesting experience was in Bastar district while travelling across India on his bike. “My teacher Khalid Tyebji took me to this village where they had not seen cars, buses or match boxes. They used to light up fire every night and drink mahua (liquor made out of flowers of mahua tree). The drink was also offered to us with a chakhna (snack). It was salty and crunchy. When I looked it was made up of meshed live ants. It was a strange feeling which I couldn’t forget for days. I am not too adventurous, I can go up to horse meat and that also I don’t really relish.”