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A taste of Nawabi `dum'

The Dum Pukth festival, `Shatranj Ke Khiladi' at the Chola Sheraton offers a royal spread cooked with tremendous patience

Chef Srinivas with the royal platter. - Pic. By S. R. Raghunathan

THE YEAR was 1856. And being the Nawab of Awadh was a tough job. Having to clamber on smelly elephants and wander through creepy forests was bad enough. On top of that, there were the British invaders to contend with. A nice easy-going man, apolitical and fond of the good things in life — poetry, art, dance and fine cuisine — the Nawab and his merry band had better things to do than sweat over maps and worry about strategy.

And who could blame them? The tables of the Nawabs, groaning under platters of food created by chefs who used their palettes of spices like artists, were far more tempting than political intrigue and power tussles.

So, if you're heading to the Peshawar at Chola Sheraton anytime this week, don't take a sneaky business partner, You might be left with nothing but the kebabs on your plate.

And even they won't last too long.

Long drawn cooking

A festival of Dum Pukth, `Shatranj Ke Khiladi,' boasts food cooked with tremendous patience. The cuisine, which originated on the frontiers of war, is cooked on very slow fire for long periods of time. As a result, the ingredients soak in each other's flavours, yielding intensely aromatic results.

The Peshawri version, however, is Awadhi with a twist. In deference to colonialism, and how it changed food habits, the festival, orchestrated by Chef Srinivas of the Jolly Nabob — incorporates the influence of the Anglo-Indians.

The meal begins with Khubab Country Captain, which is delicately spiced chicken marinated with garlic and ground herbs, and then cooked on charcoal. It is followed by flaky fish kebabs spiked with fennel and spicy sheek kebabs, reddened with ground chillies and sizzling with the flavour of garlic. "The secret is in the cut of the meat, and the marination," says Chef Srinivas.

Unusual breads

Try the gravies with his unusual breads: taftan, which is a spongy thick bread sprinkled with saffron and the sheermal, shaped like a horse shoe and scattered with toasted sesame. The quail's ok, but you have got to try the Shab Degh. It's a concoction afloat with bright spinach, interspersed with pieces of lamb and turnip quarters. "Here's a piece," beams Chef Srinivas, bending over the pot excitedly brandishing an intimidating turnip chunk, "It's all cooked together, very slowly. So the meat and turnip have the same flavour."

Of course, there's Dum Biriyani — an Awadhi classic — cooked in a pot sealed with what the chef calls a "purdah" of dough. And there's the other Hyderabadi classic: green channa, cooked in butter and tomato. "We used to eat it coming home from school," says the Chef, thoughtfully.

Dessert's more slapdash than royal. Sponge cake piled with fruits that were supposed to be "sherry and Drambuie enriched." However, this particular collection seemed to be of the teetotaller variety. Nonetheless, they were blanketed in creamy custard and a pretty end to an extravagant meal.

The festival is on till March 27. Call 28110101 for details.


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