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SEASON'S DELIGHTS Maachh paturi   | Photo Credit: 30dmc rahul3

Le Meridien’s “Romancing the Rains” festival brings to mind images of dark skies and heavy showers

As I look into the green expanse outside my window, the trees drooping with soggy leaves, I am reminded of those days when July and August meant heavy rains. We have had a good spell of rains in our part of town so far, but these days, you don’t know what the monsoons mean –– it rains on some days, and then there is no trace of even a mild shower for days on end.

Still, the word monsoon conjures up magic for many of us –– and especially in the kitchen. The first drop of rain, and we all want a cup of steaming tea and a plate of hot pakoras. An overcast day and I know that there will be calls at home for khichuri –– the Bengali version of that rice-and-lentil preparation –– with fried fish and brinjal. You can’t talk about the rains without thinking of food.

That’s why I liked the idea of a festival called Romancing the Rains at Le Meridien. And what interested me more was the fact that it had been curated by Pushpesh Pant, who knows so much about food that what he’s forgotten can make for a book the size of a telephone directory. For young readers, I must explain that telephone directories were, once upon a time, not just heavy and huge, but something that telephone owners eagerly lined up for every time the government updated the tomes.

But I digress. I went for the festival, at the restaurant Eau de Monsoon, and had a very nice time, indeed. Professor Pant (he used to teach international relations at the Jawaharlal Nehru University) had planned out a meal that consisted of delightful dishes from various parts of coastal India –– essentially Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa. The non-vegetarian dishes included fish, mutton, crab, prawn and chicken preparations. The vegetarian section included brinjal fries from Goa, pumpkin and coconut from Bengal, a drumstick curry and curried jackfruit from Goa.

I enjoyed the maachh paturi of Bengal, though it was prepared with sea bass. The kakrar jhol was excellent –– the crab curry had an aromatic flavour and a light taste that I enjoyed. Goa’s galinha cafreal, a chicken dish that you can’t go to Goa and not have, was nice, as was the spice-infused iraichi poriyal –– roast mutton –– of Chettinad.

I like my eggs, so I enjoyed the mutta chutney kabab of Malabar –– a boiled egg that had been mixed with masalas, fried and halved. The prawn curry, also from Malabar –– chemmeen manga charu –– came in a thick and spicy gravy.

I tried out some of the vegetable dishes, too. The thin aubergine fries were not very exciting, but the stir fried lotus stems, which came in a sweet and sour tamarind sauce, was delicious. The drumstick curry was superb. It was light and tasty, and reminded me of the drumstick tree in my in-laws’ garden, which fed everybody in the neighbourhood for long years.

I was looking forward to the bhuni khichuri of Bengal, but that didn’t work for me. It was a bit too dry. I also tried out the Malabari mutton biryani. I like southern biryanis, which are so very different from their northern counterparts, cooked as they are with local ingredients such as coconut milk. This one didn’t disappoint either.

I like the way the good professor has created a menu to match the rains. It’s not that the dishes are eaten only in the monsoon season, but the food does bring to mind pictures of dark skies and heavy showers. And of a time when the rains did spell romance.

The writer is a seasoned food critic

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 12:41:01 AM |

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