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Fragrance of composite culture

A dish prepared by Atiya Zaidi

A dish prepared by Atiya Zaidi  

Atiya Zaidi brings the flavours of the Doab to the city and leaves RAHUL VERMA licking his fingers

It’s good to be in Delhi. The Capital, which only had a few restaurants here and there when we were growing up, is now a food hub. And what excites me is that you get better regional food here than anywhere else in the country. To begin with, we had the state bhawans, which serve food from almost every state from the north east and Kashmir to Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Then the regional restaurants came up – offering food from Bengal, Kerala, Rampur, Hyderabad and so. And now we have caterers and consultants, who have been giving new life to old dishes, showcasing the food of regions, sub-regions and communities.

This was apparent at the India International Centre (IIC)’s October festival, which ended on Friday. There was a German dinner (with delicious pork and chicken) prepared by Alexander Moser, the executive chef at Andaz Hotel in Aerocity, and a Continental dinner by the in-house executive chef, Vijay Thukral. There was Kerala food organised by Prima Kurian and Bengali food by Chitra Ghose.

But what interested me in particular was the dinner that had been described as “Flavours of the Doab: A syncretic cuisine”, prepared by Atiya Zaidi. She is a publisher, and not a professional caterer or chef. But she is also a food adviser (attozaidi@gmail.com).

Doab, as we know is the land between two rivers. Her menu celebrated some of the dishes cooked for special occasions and otherwise in Doab region in Uttar Pradesh. They underline syncretism because of common traditions and influences.

There was a lot to eat – various kinds of starters, vegetarian dishes, non-vegetarian mains, chutneys and dessert, but let me tell you about just a few of them. The Allahabadi singhara gosht was something that I had never eaten before – and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Zaidi tells me that this is a dish in which the meat, onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric and coriander powder are mixed in mustard oil and slowly cooked. The masalas are not fried, and the method of cooking, she explains, is called “saundhahan”. The water chestnuts are added to the meat when it is almost done, so that they remain crunchy.

The murgh musallam was exceptionally good. The chicken had been cooked just right – you could slice off the pieces neatly with your spoon or knife (or fingers). The stuffing was delicious and consisted of shallow-fried almonds, cashew, chironji, makhana, coconut, raisins and a boiled egg, mixed in cooked masala.

Among the appetisers that I really enjoyed were the wonderfully juicy seekh kababs, which had been grilled by a kabachi from Meerut (Meerut, as I have often said, has the best kababs in the country) and crisp raw banana fritters. The banana had been halved, sliced lengthwise, dipped in a batter of besan, sooji, turmeric and cumin, and then deep fried in mustard oil.

The chutneys were varied and delicious. The katey dhaniye ki chutney is prepared by chopping coriander leaves, green chillies, garlic, salt and amchoor. This is mixed with mustard oil and put in the sun for a day or two. The lal mirch garlic ki chutney is, as the name suggests, a mix of garlic and red chillies (coarsely ground), again mixed with mustard oil. And seb ki mithi chutney is an apple chutney. Zaidi tells us that for this, onion seeds are tempered in ghee. Jaggery and sliced apples are cooked in it with whole red chillies and salt, till the apples are semi-tender.

The one dish I am going to try at home very soon is maanda – crisp fried chapatti ribbons in thickened milk. This was part of the dessert table (with chawal zarda – saffron flavoured sweet rice – and peda from Mathura) and, to my mind, won the first prize.

Doab food is worth celebrating. It tells the story of rivers and land – and of cultural fusion. And it’s delicious to boot.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 7:18:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Fragrance-of-composite-culture/article16086102.ece

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