Chef Narayana Rao is extremely knowledgeable about our culinary traditions.
FOR A change, it was the chef who was more interesting than the food that was served. Not that the food was unappetising, but because the chef had quite a few surprises lined up. Chef Narayan Rao, part of the promotional venture, By The Bay, a coastal food extravaganza, at The Oberoi's Le Jardin, has interesting things to say about food. He also talks about the religious and environmental influences on food. In fact, he has done a two-year research on religion and food!
Not just seafood
The name, By The Bay, makes you think it is seafood and seafood all the way. Not true. "That's because the people who live by the bay eat much more than seafood. This way even the vegetarians can have a go at our food here," explains the chef, a man of many languages and culinary skills who can cook for a Kashmiri Brahmin as well as a Keraliyan.
By The Bay offers a special buffet, dinner only, and offers food from all regions that "touch the bay" on the Indian map. So you have cuisine from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Konkan, Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Bengal. "As you travel towards the bay, you find that the spices get milder and milder. Even the kind of spices used varies from region to region."
By The Bay's menu changes every day. For starters there was crisp fried mirchi, kanda vada, shrimps peri peri (the taste of vinegar and the tomato ketchup gave it a tangy taste), and the posto kebab (poppy seeds paste cooked with mashed potatoes and the raw taste of poppy grows on you).
Since the food is served in a buffet, it gives you the freedom to walk around and choose what literally catches your eye. At the live counters there is chat, rotis (includes roomali and kerala parathas), and dosas (also uttappams). All this can be mixed 'n' matched with the main course that serves doi maach, simply irresistible. (The fish is cooked in the Punjabi Kadi style, with sour curds, and the combination works like magic). Then we chose the vanyache bharit (the baigan ka bharta which is cooked in the Andhra style with crushed coconut) and the mango daal (really tangy). Must say By The Bay offers your palette some new tastes in varied combinations.
There are plenty of options for vegetarians too. By The Bay is truly a feast for the vegetarian. Chef Narayan now explains how coastal cuisine has been influenced by the Portuguese, French, English and Mughal. He gives the example of how people in Kerala started using the cardamom and cinnamon in their main course (biriyani), while initially these spices were restricted to only sweets. The well-informed Chef explains while most food habits were determined by environment, a lot of it underwent a change with the kind of professions that was taken up.
On to our table comes a tiny earthen matki with a sweet. It is banana srikhand. As you start relishing it he asks: what did you have for dinner?" Bread and lady's finger sabzi, you say.
"So, you had some wheat and one vegetable. You see that explains our festivals spread; it's a rich and balanced meal to keep the nutrition intact. During any Indian festival you have dhal, two to three kinds of vegetables, salads and sweets."
He then adds that the use of the spices and the cooking methods vary every three km. "Like the sambar you make at home will be different from the sambar you have on Mysore Road or the one cooked in Mysore."
Must say it was good food topped with interesting lessons on environment and its influence on food.
The promotional venture is on till March 27.
SHILPA SEBASTIAN R.
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