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Lucknow calling Hyderabad

COOKING UP A STORM Chef Meraj Ul Haque Photo: G. Ramakrishna

COOKING UP A STORM Chef Meraj Ul Haque Photo: G. Ramakrishna   | Photo Credit: G_RAMAKRISHNA

Chef Meraj Ul Haque brings us delicacies from the Nawab’s kitchens

Hyderabad during Ramzan is a food lover’s delight and just as city folk are eating their way through the season, Park Hyatt adds another option to the list with their Awadhi food festival. While making space for Lucknowi biryani and the rich gravies of Awadhi cuisine might seem a task during this season, the fact that renowned Chef Meraj Ul Haque, whose expertise is evident at The Great Kebab Factory, is at the helm and makes the festival hard to ignore. The third generation chef sat down to speak with us about his experiences in the kitchen and more importantly, on what’s on the menu.

Although Awadhi food is very similar to Hyderabadi cuisine – replete with meat dishes, rich gravies, aromatic spices and of course, its own version of the biryani – Chef Meraj Ul Haq says the two are fundamentally very different. “With Awadhi food, there is aroma. You cannot see or taste the masala as you can with the food of the Nizams,” he says. “It is about balancing the spices to bring out the flavours of the meat.” Meraj comes from a family that spent their lives cooking, so he grew up in an Awadhi kitchen. “My father was also a chef and he taught me a lot. This is why, today, every dish I make has a signature touch,” he says.

But Chef Meraj did not stop learning even after he left his hometown.

“When I left Awadh for Delhi, my specialties were biryani, galouti kebab and kakori kebab but once I got to Delhi I began to pick up much more,” says the Chef who has been cooking for over 25 years.

“At the same time, I learnt marinating and spicing from my father; that foundation has helped me through the years. Now, I also make Punjabi and Rajasthani food.” Skills honed from an early age are supplemented by the strong desire to learn, try and create dishes outside his traditional framework. This has taken him across the country and the world to places including Japan, South Africa and the United States. Chef Meraj does not limit himself to north Indian cuisine either. “If I make dosas, you will forget I was born and brought up in Lucknow,” he assures.

Chef Meraj has also made his fair share of television appearances and was a semi finalist on NDTV Good Times’ ‘Foodistan’, a show where Indian chefs competed with their Pakistani counterparts. He is also working on a book which chronicles food of the Muslim community in India. “In the book I want to bring to people’s attention the different food had by various Muslim communities in India, whether Kashmiri or Hyderabadi,” he explains, stressing the fact that the same dish may be prepared differently depending on your socio-economic standing.

“The biryani made in a rickshawallah’s kitchen may not be the same as the one made in a businessman’s. An affluent household may prepare their korma with ground cashewnut gravy, while others may make do with onion and yoghurt,” he points out.

The food festival at Park Hyatt will, however, offer a wide variety of curries and kebabs in both vegetarian and meat options from the Nawab’s kitchens. They also have a cold mezze buffet which includes dips, breads and vegetables. The festival goes on till July 29.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 1:22:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/lucknow-calling-hyderabad/article6221588.ece

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