The Dhaba of authentic Punjab

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The Dhaba of authentic Punjab

Sunday, 23 October 2016 | Meenakshi Rao

The Dhaba of authentic Punjab

Sweety Singh is a down-to-earth ‘true’ Punjabi chef with no cream, colour or kaju to add to his preparations. Punjabi food is not just an extra-rich winter plate, he tells MEENAKSHI RAO at the GT Road street food festival curated by The Claridges

No cashew. No cream. No colour. That’s not good Punjabi food, you would say. The rolly-polly chef Sweety Singh vehemently differs.

On a round to talk to his guests, know their preferences and ask them if the food is to their taste at the quaint Dhaba restaurant at The Claridges, Singh tells you he serves only healthy Punjabi food. “Healthy does not mean insipid. Healthy means the real Punjabi food, not the bastardised version that is being sold out of quick restaurants all over the world,” he says.

Meaning whatIJ “If you go into the history of Punjabi food, you will find it to be a simple, healthy and everyday rural platter rich in nutrients. I am here to propel the original Punjabi food which has the love of a grandmother and a touch of a ma ke hate ka khaana. No cream, no cashew, no colour for me. Never ever,” he says.

As you bite into his succulent Prawn tandoori, which is part of an elaborate GT Road street food campaign by The Claridges, you believe him. The flavour, the lightness of being and the taste is incredible and rare.

Sweety Singh has been curating this festival’s last leg, showcasing the original Amritsari khaana, Singh calls himself “degree-less”. He has not done any chef course or even worked as a regular in any five-star hotel. But almost all GMS of big chains know him and seek him out. All he owns is a little dhaba at Asaf Ali Road and “a lot of passion, love and loyalty to food”, as he puts it.

The machchi ki seekh that he serves you after insisting that you take sips of his kesar lassi, shows you how and why he is head and shoulders above the rest of the Punjabi food chefs that dot the very Punjabi food trails of Delhi. After a round of at least five starters (achari soya chop, machchi da tikka, achari paneer tikka, kukkad anari and tandoori jheenga) you feel light in the stomach and hungry for the main course. That’s because Singh’s cooking is traditional, light and with minimum of oil.

“The only thing I am adamant about is to give enough time to the food to absorb all the flavours of my special spices and condiments. That’s why not just my dal makhani but also my rajma is cooked on embers overnight and only then prepared with no added fats, cashews or any such stomach killing ingredients,” he tells you. The soya chop is an excellent example of overnight marination. Soft to the core and full of unique flavours, it showcases the simple Sweety story as does the kukkad-dahi-da in the main course and, of course, the beetroot halwa in the dessert list.

For the record, Singh’s real name is Harjinder and not Sweety but his dictum is solo: Cook from the heart and remember Punjabi food is not just a winter food. It is a simple rural fest, he says as he rounds off The Claridges’ GT Road food festival before rushing off to Dubai for another fest and then to london for yet another one.

Never mind that his father started off his son’s love for food as a rehrhi walla selling to office crowd. He has been Singh’s inspiration, something he wants his son too inculcate too. Meanwhile, he says no to fancy molecular food experiments but has nevertheless made meat and lehsun halwa to check out new palates.

(The Dhaba food festival ends today)

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