It’s a cuisine that has its roots more than 3,000 km away in salubrious Himalayan climes. Now, denizens of this Tamil Nadu capital, where temperatures can soar to the mid-40s, can savour delicacies like tabakh maaz (lamb ribs with turmeric, cinnamon and cardamom) and rogan josh (lamb in maval petals and red onion gravy) at an ongoing Kashmiri food festival – and they’re loving it!
This is the last leg of Culinary Express – a gastronomical journey through different parts of India – that began on June 26 and will run till July 12 at the five-star Hilton Chennai’s Ayna fine diner that had earlier Goan, Hyderabadi and other food festivals.
The waiters and the very fair hostess were dressed in traditional Kashmiri dresses. And missing were the songs from the Hindi movie “Kashmir ki Kali” to complete the setting!
“Now guests would be able to savour an authentic Kashmiri menu presented by specialty chef Mujeeb-ur-Rehman,” Hilton Chennai executive chef Achal Aggarwal told IANS, serving taster’s portions of Kashmiri tsaman sarson tikka (cottage cheese tikka marinated with mustard and garlic) and wazwani jheenga (char-grilled spicy king prawns).
Thirty-eight-year-old Aggarwal has more than 15 years of experience under his toque and has worked in leading hospitality companies like the Taj, the Leela and the Hyatt. He had also spent considerable time in Japan to get trained in that cuisine.
“Japanese not only do away with material waste in their factories but also inside their hotel kitchens as nothing that can used is thrown out. Even the shaved fish skins are used to make flavoured water preparation/stock for dishes. Food is money,” Aggarwal said.
The tikka was soft and tasty; so was the prawn tasty and juicy.
Queried about some tips, he said: “Normally the outer layers of cabbage and the onion are discarded. However these could be washed well, sun-dried and made into a powder in a mixer. Adding salt one has a ready to use flavoured powder that can be used while cooking.”
He said instead of throwing away the okra/ladies finger tops, they could be sun-dried and fried dipped in chickpea flour paste that is used to make bhaji.
By then, the kukur lebabdar tikka (succulent chicken tikka soaked in red curry) and the tabakh maaz that had arrived at the table also vanished.
“Lamb and yogurt are an integral part of Kashmiri cuisine. Wazwan cuisine is a 36-dish meal course and more than 50 percent are lamb preparations. The dishes are served in a big plate,” Rehman, partner of Lucknow-based Kitchenette Awadh, which specialises in Kashmiri cuisine, told IANS.
Rehman has come with his team to anchor the Kashmiri food festival at Hilton Chennai.
As a part of the deal, he will share the recipe of the dishes cooked and served during the festival with Hilton Chennai.
Meanwhile, the small portions of the main course began arriving at the table, starting with the vegetarian dishes.
On the bed of rice the various main course items were placed.
Kids as well as mushroom lovers can bet on heder kanti (stir-fried fresh mushrooms with onion, capsicum and tomato). The rogan tsaman (cottage cheese cooked with fresh tomato and cashew nuts gravy) was mild and tasty.
The unique dish is the nadur yakhni (lotus stem in yogurt gravy flavoured with cumin and mint powder). It was not only tasty but also fibrous, which health freaks can definitely go for.
Though the menu card listed dum alu (baby potatoes in a spicy red gravy) as spicy, it was not so as per Chennai standards but tasted good.
Kashmiri haakh (traditional Kashmiri spinach preparation) methi was there and the combination was nice.
Non-vegetarians can go for rogan josh or the interesting gushtaba (minced lamb meatballs in yoghurt gravy) with Kashmiri maaz palao (lamb pilaf of the Valley).
According to Rehman, the gushtaba is made with the thigh meat of lamb. The meat is beaten for a couple of hours so that it becomes very tender. One can bite the meat balls like a rosogulla.
The desserts – chilgoze piste ki phirini (flavored rice pudding with pistachio and pine nuts) and shufta (cottage cheese and dry fruits halwa) – were very good. But what was exceptionally great was the mirchi ka halwa (capsicum with dry fruits) also giving out the flavour of ground groundnuts.
Where: Hilton Chennai, J.N. Salai, Guindy
The festival is on till July 12. Dishes are available on a la carte basis and a meal for two would cost around Rs.4,000. There is also option for set vegetarian and non-vegetarian menu both priced at Rs.1,950 plus taxes.
Timings: 12.30 p.m.-3 p.m., 6.30 p.m.-11 p.m.