The ambience says it all

A PUNJABI food festival - Sher-E-Punjab - is on at Navaratana, a restaurant at the Le Royal Meridien, till August 31. At the very entrance, one is allowed to feast his eyes upon the ingredients - wheat flour, nut meg, anice, fennel and bay leaves, among others - that have gone into the making of the delicacies.

Once in, the gourmet can give his taste buds a feast on some melt-in-the-mouth aperitifs - kesar-pisteywali lussee pedha de naal (saffron-flavoured yoghurt shake garnished with pistachio-laced khoya pedha) and kanjee (made from black carrots, fermented in earthware with mustard seeds and pepper). Among the shorba (soups) are kale cholayen di rassa (spicy black chick pea soup) and kukad da shorba (spicy chicken soup).

"The offerings are from pre-Independence India or the undivided India," says Chef Jugesh Arora as he introduces you to the main fare. "The dishes can be divided into two categories - one is Gharran da Khaana (the home spread), and the other Swaad Gallian Da (the great street foods)."

Each of the food has a story behind it. Here are a few examples. The vegetarian offering, tikkiyan rajmaah diyan, (griddle-fried patties packed with rich fillings of fresh vegetables, khoya and nuts) is a delicacy that entered Punjab through " the Dogra lieutenants of Maharaja Ranjit Singh."

Bharme aloo pothohari (made from stuffed potatoes, dried plums and nuts and served with mango ketchup) is "a gift from the cooks of Pothohar". Aloo Vadhiyan (lentil dumplings cooked with potatoes in tomato gravy) "is the gift of the Marwaris. More precisely, it was only the lentil dumplings that came with them when Guru Ram Das invited them to trade in Amritsar. The Punjabis started cooking the lentil dumplings with potatoes in tomato gravy". Pindi channa (a tangy melange made of chickpeas and dried pomegranate seeds) is "an offering from Kabul. Chickpeas came to India with the Kabuli Walla, the itinerant dry-fruit trader from Afghanistan. It continues to be called the Kabuli channa. Pindi channa is the Rawalpindi version of the same".

The non-vegetarian offerings also go with equally interesting stories. The Amritsari machi (fillets of fish dipped in an ajwain-flavoured gramflour batter and deep-fried in mustard oil) was "first put on the table hundred years ago when Chimanlal `Machchiwala' set up a small stall in Amritsar". Peshwari talley murgay (batter-dipped fried chicken drumsticks) comes, as the name implies, from Peshawar. "It came south of the border with Kundanlal Gujaral after Partition and has since ruled the taste buds at Moti Mahal in Delhi's Darya Ganj". Patialashahi machchi (fish cooked in dried plum and yogurt masala) "comes from the princely House of Patiala. The recipe was handed down by Raja Bhalinder Singh, a great gourmet chef".

Also available are many varieties of bread, rice and curd from the land of five rivers. The mitha and desserts bring Punjab alive on the platter. Examples: Phirni (reduced milk with rice flour and cardamom) and moong dal da halwa (dal blended with pure ghee served warm).

Adding to the Punjabi touch are the typically attired servers and singers who render Punjabi numbers.

Venue: Navaratna, at Le Royal Meridien. Ph: 22314343 On till August 31, 7p.m. to 11-30p.m.

The Choice: Gharran da Khaana (the home spread), and Swaad Gallian Da (the great street foods).


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