The Baisakhi Food Festival at the iconic Dhaba at The Claridges was all about the taste of rural Punjab
Food is an integral part of all our festivals. No festivity is complete without a celebration of dishes that our part and parcel of our culture, traditions and heritage. It is not surprising that each festival comes with its share of traditional cuisine. North India, particularly Punjab, offers varied foods — from the five rivers that punctuate Punjab region.
The region, divided into the Doab and Malwa regions, offers varied cuisine. The Doab region which contributes to a bulk of the Punjabi culture, including the Pakistani stretch, brings to the table a unique blend of spices and taste to its dishes, something that the senior sous chef Mahabir Singh served at Dhaba without deviation. Since the produce is different, the cuisine also change as one moves from one river to the other, he tells you.
Baisakhi brings not just the people together but also the food. To celebrate this, Dhaba put together some of the finest dishes, sadly however for a brief period.
In between bites into blended arbi-til kebabs and palak tikkis, Singh regales you with what constitutes Punjabi cuisine. It is an amalgamation of foods of three communities — Sindhis, Punjabis and Muslims. “This means that the spices used in Punjabi food are a cocktail of cultures. “White butter was a special medium marinating many a dish, especially going down well with locally available vegetables. The region was part of the Silk Route. Whole spices though initially not used, slowly found their way into the cuisine. As did the chillies which are not indigenous to India,” Singh tells you.
That is why the mutton seekh has a bite to it, it has ground whole spices to give that extra zing. The chicken tikka, a staple of Punjabi food, is tender and moist. The tangri is cooked to the bone and has a great balance of spice without burning your mouth. But the winner is the meat-daal.
It is cooked to perfection. Though a little heavy with sabut kali daal, the dish is indeed the show-stopper of the main course. The mutton is tender and almost falls off the bone making you applaud the quality of cooking s well as the raw meat. Sittying well with delicate spices, the mutton daal is nothing short of amazing.
Singh says that each dish has been different spices and not cooked from a common curry. “That’s the reason for the distinct flavours,” he says.
The vegetarian fare is just as rich and becoming. As a starter, the arvi ki tikki with sesame seeds is a brilliant idea. Singh tells you that in rural Punjab the women boil the vegetable, peel the skin, mash it, add the spices and shallow fry it adding the til on top to give a bit of texture and crunch. The spinach and hung curd cutlet tell you how the cuisines inter mingle. This popular dish from Himachal Pradesh has found its way into Punjab as well.
Another interesting starter was the bhain (lotus stem) ki seekh. If one hadn’t read the description, there would be no way that one could have guessed it was made from — lotus stem filled with hung curd and radish. It is tasty and flavourful.
For the main course, the daal and khatte baigan with stuffed kulcha would tickle your tastebuds. And, of course, no meal is complete without the sweet.
The winner here is the cheeni ka parantha with kesar malai, an absolutely rural delight. The fennel seeds in the parantha add to your breaking of resistance to sweet and a great way to end a fantastic meal.