“If there is one place on the face of this Earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when Man began the dream of its existence, it is India” – Romain Rollan
India, a land of diverse cultures, languages, religions and more.. a plethora of colours, traditions and festivals.. but the two things that bind us all, a deep sense of pride for our nation and our love for food. Cooking and eating in India are not just mundane, daily tasks. They stem from a long love for feeding those around us and feeling a sense of contentment looking at joyful faces that surround the dinner table, enjoying fulfilling conversations and a great meal. Indian food is not just curries, papadoms and spicy dishes. It is an amalgamation of several hundred years of history, being ruled by various invaders, Western influences and a strong desire to revive and globalise traditional cuisine.
Masala Bay at The Taj Lands End Hotel, Mumbai, with the help of renowned Chef Mujeeb Ur Rehman and his team hosted the Rampuri food festival, a cuisine revealed as one of India’s best keep secrets. Best described as a ‘courtly cuisine’, seeing as it was born and developed during the times of the Nawabs, it is a blend of Awadhi, Mughlai, Rajput and Afghani kitchens. The dishes are cooked with an array of spices on a low flame for long hours in traditional utensils. Chef Mujeeb personally treated us to everything vegetarian on his carefully crafted menu and the experience was Royal, to say the least 🙂
Dinner began with a platter of appetisers – Paneer Saron Peeli Mirch Tikka, Paneer Hara Masala Pasanda, Mutter Ke Kabab, Aatishi Khumb and Neze Ke Aloo.
The two Paneer dishes were melting moments, grilled and spiced to perfection. The Mutter Ke Kabab was a beautiful potato patty stuffed with green peas, asafoetida and roasted cumin. Bursting with flavours, this one was a treat for the palate. The clear winner for me however, was the Aatishi Khumb or the button mushrooms which had been marinated in yoghurt with a pickled masala and cooked in a clay oven. I believe it was the genius of the oven that made the vegetable stand out. The Neze Ke Aloo or tawa-cooked baby potatoes with cream, sandal dust, red chilli amongst other spices were not a favourite, perhaps because this was my first time tasting sandal wood powder (I’ve only ever used it as a paste with rose water on my face!) However given time, I’m positive I’ll come around to its unique taste.
Mains included Paneer Noor Mahal, cottage cheese served with assorted bell peppers flavoured with a special chungezi masala, Nawabi Baigan Bhurta, smoked eggplant baked with yogurt, onion and mustard, Dal Aswad, the nation’s favourite black lentils, slowly cooked overnight with butter, tomato puree, herbs & spices in a tandoor, Ittr Ke Dal, a rich recipe of pigeon pea prepared by a rakabdar (gourmet cook) with cream, milk, pure ghee and a hint of sweet essence. There was also a handi of Subz Tahiri, a preparation of aromatic basmati and vegetables cooked on a dum. The smoked eggplant dish stood out because of its baked texture and yogurt goodness. The paneer again was extremely soft but did not impress the tastebuds. The two lentil preparations warmed my soul with their richness and spices which I enjoyed with a sweet Sheermal, a preparation of flour and milk which was unlike anything I have ever eaten before. The softness of the bread with the sweet, cutting through the spices of the vegetables made for a perfect combination.
Dessert comprised of Chukander E Afroz, a simple beetroot halwa much like a gajar ka halwa, Gur Ke Yaquiti, a traditional chickpea flour milk pudding with jaggery and Sheer Khurma that was made with vermicelli, milk & nuts.
The overall dining experience left me feeling like royalty. The efforts being made to revive local cuisines is certainly applaud worthy. Taj hospitality, wonderful food, delightful conversation all came together for a wonderful evening in Mumbai 🙂