Eating Out A whiff of the Garhwali mountains comes your way at the food festival at The Residency

Cows moo next door. “Time to feed them,” says our hostess, and asks my kids if they want to help. The kids can’t believe their luck, and besides themselves with excitement, they rush out. I don’t know if they remember anything of this, but I do. We were in a small village called Kaunla near Dwarahat in Uttrakhand, staying with friends. And the three days or so we spent there is the best holiday I have had. So, when The Residency announced a food festival from the mountains of Uttrakhand, I jumped at it, hoping to recapture some of the magic.

Chef Robi Roy orchestrates the fest. He has travelled extensively and has found the flavours of the Uttrakhand mountains appealing enough to have a festival based entirely on it. It is a difficult proposition. Because the people from the hills are simple, straightforward, no nonsense and unfussy, and their food can be described in the same way. Chef Roy can’t therefore impress us with cashew gravies, almond garnishes and fancy swirls of cream….

But that is exactly what I am hoping to savour, the honest taste of the mountains, cooked with whatever grows on the hillsides. Chainsoo, Kafuli, Arsa, Baadi …the names bring a rush of memories. Meals, served hot, eaten with our fingers, sitting on windowsills looking out at the moon-washed mountains. Chainsoo is whole black urad prepared unusually. Black urad is roasted and ground coarsely and then cooked with the masalas. “They use either mustard oil or ghee,” says Chef Robi. It is all ghee as mustard oil preparations do not go down too well here, says Chef Ashok.

Ashok says he was intrigued at the cooking techniques used in Garhwali cooking. Take the Bhurbhuri chicken. It is first steamed then marinated before being deep fried. The non-vegetarians can also relish smoked mutton, prawns, fish and lamb all cooked and served Garhwali style.

In a dish called Phaanu, traditionally, gahat or horse gram is used. The dal is soaked and ground. Half of it is turned into dumplings and then added to the gravy made with the rest of the ground paste.

Residency serves up a delicious Kafuli with ghia kofta. It is a silky puree of greens (mostly green and red spinach and methi leaves), cooked simply with jeera, hing and ginger. Khus khus, sesame seeds, melon seeds are used generously. Chef Robi says even the bhang seeds are used in their cuisine, but he has not done so in Coimbatore, which is such a pity!

Live and luscious!

But console yourselves at the live counters where hot stuffed parathas will jump straight off the griddle into your plate. They also have a Garhwali vadaa paav.

Be sure to ask for Arsa that are sweet puris made out of rice flour. Rice-eaters can have Bhaat with its saffron flavour and cooked with soya beans. These are tastes you will not find at restaurants. These are everyday food as it is cooked in the kitchens of the hospitable inhabitants of Garhwal.

Sweet memories

We walk out clutching sticky bal mithai in our hands. Back in the hills, these are laddoos made of khoa and coated with white sugar globules. In Residency instead of khoa there are chocolate balls covered with colourful balls of sugar. We also have the beautifully warm, syrup-coated, dry fruit-stuffed samosas that they call Singhori. The meal experience is pleasant, and should keep me going till I return to Uttrakhand for another holiday.

The food fest is on at the Pavilion till May 5. You can enjoy the spread at both lunch and dinner on weekends and only for dinner on weekdays. For reservations and details call: 0422-2241414.

PANKAJA SRINIVASAN

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