Food spot Metroplus

Destination Banaras


ROMANTIC FLAVOUR Baigan kalonji  

As The Leela Ambience conjures up memories of Grand Trunk Road, RAHUL VERMA falls in love with the food of the holy city all over again

There is something about the Grand Trunk Road that evokes romance. Years ago, a friend — who is now quite a well known politician — travelled in a truck on the road that takes you from Delhi to Kolkata, and beyond. GT Road is also the subject of a book, written by Pushpesh Pant and Huma Mohsin, which, of course, focuses on the food that you get along this old and bustling route.

The road interests me, too. I can imagine going down GT Road, stopping at some of the cities, and trying out the food there. The road will shows you the common thread that ties the food of different regions, as well as highlight the variations.

Sometimes, the mountain comes to Mohammed. I find that I don’t have to travel down GT Road after all. Quite a few enterprising chefs have been showcasing its food right here. Chefs at the Leela Ambience Convention Hotel in East Delhi have been holding periodic festivals to mark the food that is eaten in cities and villages along the road.

On now is the Banaras leg of the festival. Since Banaras sounds so much nicer than Varanasi when it comes to food, I am sticking to the old name. It at once pops up an image of a carefully folded paan, a dona of chaat, and a kabab being grilled in some busy street.

A lot of this comes alive at the festival, organised in an open area, with food laid out on a buffet table as well as on small carts. I tried out many of the street food dishes and the entrees — and came to the conclusion that the food of Banaras, indeed, is memorable.

I had an interesting chat with the Chef de Cuisine, Ashwani Singh, who spent some time in Banaras to pick up recipes there. It helps that he comes from Bihar, which abuts Banaras, and the food of the two States have similarities. And what also helped was that Executive Chef Rohit Tokhi’s in-laws belong to Banaras.

I thoroughly enjoyed the chaat items, especially the chhena dahi vada, a special Banaras chaat prepared with a soft chhena ball which is almost like a rasmalai (without the sugar, but doused with curd). The kachoris, especially the chhoti kachori, a soft deep fried ball with a spicy filling, served with a vegetable bhaji and jalebis were excellent. But the palak ki chaat didn’t work for me — the batter was too thick.

Because of its proximity to Bihar, you will find litti chokha with chutneys in many parts of Banaras. There is even Rajasthan’s batti chokha, though there is sattu in the Banarasi batti. The mutton curry that it came with was deliciously light and flavourful. Chef Singh tells me that the curry is prepared without any souring agent. But onions and the meat are left on a low heat to simmer over long hours.

I tried out some of the vegetable dishes, and found them mild, but nice. The baigan kalonji, for instance, is a dish of tangy brinjals cooked with onion seed. The non-vegetarian counter includes liver fry, brain fry, boti kabab and even chilli chicken, which is sold and eaten with relish on the streets of Banaras.

I have eaten better non-vegetarian kababs elsewhere, but I liked the gosht biryani, primarily for two reasons — the softness of the meat and the flavour of the ghee that it had been cooked in.

The dessert cart consisted of a great many sweets — ghee-laden besan laddoos, magdal (dals roasted for long hours with ghee and sugar), pedas, launglatas, gulab jamuns, parval ki mithai, malpua and so on.

I had a very enjoyable meal there, though I think the outside area can do with some more lights. The dishes were outstanding, no doubt, but the festival also revived old memories of Grand Trunk Road. And I thought I could even hear anklets tinkle.

(The buffet dinner costs Rs.1632 with taxes. The festival is on till October 29, from 6.30 p.m. to 11.45 p.m.)

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 10:52:05 PM |

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