Food spot: soaked in flavours

Delicacies from the food festival at Ssence in Hotel Suryaa which ends this Sunday. Photo: special arrangement

Delicacies from the food festival at Ssence in Hotel Suryaa which ends this Sunday. Photo: special arrangement   | Photo Credit: 20dmc rahul1

When M. Venkaiah Nadu said he longed for a change in the name of Delhi – thankfully, the minister clarified that it was just a personal wish – I don’t quite think he had Shahjahanabad in mind. I am told he was dreaming of names such as Hastinapur and Indraprastha. But actually the area that is now Old Delhi was once known as Shahjahanabad. The name has long been forgotten. What remains in our memories and hearts is the food of Shahjahanabad.

Alert readers (and even some of the more sluggish ones) would know, I love the food of Old Delhi. Give me a nicely mashed haleem or slow cooked nihari from Old Delhi, and I can spill every state secret that I know of. So when I was urged to try out the food at Hotel Suryaa, which was celebrating the cuisine of the region, I agreed wholeheartedly.

The food festival – aptly called Shahjahanabad ki Sair – is on till December 21 at the hotel’s multi-cuisine restaurant, Ssence. Curated by fellow-food writer Osama Jalali, and prepared by his mother, Nazish Jalali, the festival has on offer a great many dishes that Old Delhi is known for. And while some of them, like the nihari, are easily available, a few – like the kachche gosht ke kabab – are rarely to be found outside the homes of food aficionados.

Nazish Jalali is a homemaker – and an excellent cook. Originally from Rampur, she picked up old recipes of Shahjahanabad after she moved to Delhi. The festival, which was on for a week, had a different menu every day. The day I was there, I was happy to spot some old favourites like aloo gosht and nihari. And, of course, there was kachche gosht ke kabab.

For this kabab, the meat is not semi-cooked and then shallow-fried, as is done in the case of most shammi kababs. It’s difficult to cook this because there is no binding agent like powdered channa dal in the meat. And what makes the kabab special is the flavour of spices such as nutmeg, mace and black cardamom.

The spices, Osama tells me, have all been sourced from Noori masalewallah, which is my favourite spice store in Old Delhi. The garam masala is a mix of all the usual ingredients – cardamom, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cloves, etc, but the proportions vary from dish to dish. And that’s what gives each dish its characteristic taste.

I loved the aloo gosht – which had been cooked with korma masala, but with a pinch of turmeric. The gravy was lighter and thinner than the usual gravy. In fact, one of the reasons why I enjoyed the fest fare was the fact that every dish was tasty, yet lightly cooked. It wasn’t seeped in oil and spices as restaurant fare can be.

The mutton biryani was like that – light, yet aromatic. Even the light colour of the long-grained rice was pleasing to the eye. It came with a hot red chilli and garlic chutney, which gave it a zing. The hari mirch ka qeema was excellent, too. I had once cooked it at home and we had to (almost) call in the fire brigade to douse the fire. I later learnt that for this dish, you have to use, instead of those lethal green chillies, the big green ones that are flavourful but not very hot. Osama thought the nihari was too thin, but I enjoyed it immensely. I thought it had been cooked just right (but sons will be sons!).

There’s some nice vegetable fare, too, and I enjoyed the jackfruit kabab. The kathal had been well mashed with channa dal, and the result was mouth-watering.

When it comes to dessert, Old Delhi doesn’t have much to write home about. The shahi zarda (sweetened rice) and dry seviyan were all right. What I wanted was a hot and juicy jalebi, but that, alas, isn’t a part of Shahjahanabad food.

But the meal was superb. This was the first time I met Osama and Nazishji. I hope to keep meeting them!

(Rahul Verma is a seasoned street food connoisseur)

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 11:34:39 AM |

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