Food festivals have a way with the stomach particularly when they strive to bring the local foods and flavours to your stressed out platter seasonally. It's Lohri time and Delhi will be plucking into the juices of winter for that one last time before a long-haul summer takes over. The Lohri Food Festival at The Dhaba, helmed by Chef Tikka Manpreet Singh all the way from Muktsar, is one special pit stop you need to park in at least once during the next fortnight. A tasting report by Sunday Pioneer
Harvest time is all about food, authentic, rural and only from the roots. It is about celebration of a harvest, of the delightful result of all the toil and stress that has gone into growing a crop, nursing it through thick and thin and then worshipping the bountiful success reaped from Mother Nature. Hence, it is the time to celebrate what’s on your platter and how flavourful and authentic is it.
That’s Lohri for you, signifying the change of season too. From makkey di roti and sarson da saag, this is the time that the food plate starts making the shift to prepare for the long summer ahead. But for one last January-February push, the platter is all about the juicy kukkads on the roast and the flavourful bathu in the dal.
Bringing to you this root food from Punjab right into the heart of the Capital at Dhaba at The Claridges, is chef Tikka Manpreet Singh from Chandigarh. He may currently be ruing the Gurugramisation of Chandigarh but he makes sure he spends most of his time exploring platters deep in the rural hearths of his countryside. Hailing from Muktsar in between Faridkot and Bhatinda, the burly sardar is a simpleton who keeps his food mounts equally simple.
So, as you dig into the incredible Dal-Bathu (Whole green pulse sauteed with fresh Bathu (palak) leaves pot-cooked over slow fire and finished with desi ghee) you understand why the movement “go global, eat local” is becoming such a rage.
Chef Manpreet, who is as passionate about propelling a neem lakdi brush more in the morning as he is about using fresh local products in his cuisine, picks his own spices and says he adds to his dishes only what used to be added by women in the villages eight generations ago. For him, there is no oil other than mustard and no butter other than desi ghee, both of which he uses to optimum taste whether it be his saron saag boti or kali mirch ka murga.
You laugh and ask him why Punjabis are all about kukkads, marinated or otherwise, and he shakes his head to politely signal your ignorance. “All this is new fad. It was always bakra for the real Punjab. And chhota bakra at that,” he insists.
However, the dishes he has curated for the upcoming Lohri Food Festival at the Dhaba cater to the Dilliwala obsession for and chicken which outweighs the mutton on the menu. But that does not take away from the Muktsar Wala Saag Meat, the famous local mutton dish cooked in fresh mustard leaves. He has chosen his mutton well because it melts in your mouth without fuss and the sarson is unfathomable, thanks to the absence of even a hint of bitterness. Of course, the spices are all his and he has been busy shopping for khada masala to spice up the proceedings once the Tikka festival starts in real earnest from Lohri Day, January 13.
While at The Dhaba, it is always a pleasure to listen to food stories by corporate chef Tarun and chef Rana, both of whom have been striving to keep the platters tasty and healthy.
As Chef Manpreet talks about his experience with fresh jaggery right off the handmade churner in the bosom of Punjab, Tarun tells you how the sugarcane sticks are red and jucier in the Maharashtra belt as opposed to the Western UP zone. The gur, meanwhile, takes your attention away with the ajwain and the fennel flavouring, not to mention a crunch here and there of raw peanuts. Indeed, winters come alive, with this rural offering just before the main course fades into dessert with home-made Kalakand, Boondi Rabri which is malai all the way and the differently enabled Sund Makhaney ki Panjeeri. Just a dash of tulsi leaves would have completed the staple Punjabi region supplement made from wheat flour fried in ghee with makhana and dry fruits.
And just before one signs off, there is a whole lot of Punjabi take on jheenga and fish tikkas for starters where the Kalonji Wali Tandoori Machhi rubs fins with the traditional Bharwein Murgh Di Tangri which tells you why it is so good to be with rich Punjabi cuisine.