A meal fit for kings
Chef Saikat Nag is a master of many Indian dishes, “but it is the palace cuisine that I respect the most,” he said, when we walked into the Taj Land’s End at Bandra on a rainy Wednesday evening. The very thought of sampling palace cuisine made us feel like royalty.
Kair Sangri comes with berries and dried beans cooked with yogurt and spices
As we settled down, Chef Nag regaled us with some interesting trivia about the rich cultural heritage of Indian royal cuisines. He informed us that the food that Indian regal families ate became hugely popular during the British Raj, as the Mughals, Rajputs and Hyderabadi nawabs threw many ‘dawats’ (elaborate feasts) to impress the British. “As the food was made with pure ingredients, keeping in mind the food preferences of the family members, it was quite rich.
In any royal kitchen, every chef would make only one dish. If a junior chef was in charge of raita, it’s likely that he would make that all his life,” Nag explained, as he asked us to bite into a piece of watermelon, topped with yogurt froth, which was served as a palate cleanser.
Hyderabadi Khatti Dal has raw mango in it. Pics/Phorum Dalal
As we chatted, the server placed Makai Ki Raab (R475) on the table. A Marwari soup prepared from roasted corn and buttermilk, we found it quite bland and too heavy to finish the entire bowl. We moved on to our first starter, Murgh Reshmi Seekh (R1,000). The creamy chicken kebabs melted in our mouth instantaneously. The taste of cardamom marinated with hand-shredded chicken was majestic and its fine blend with curd and cashew nuts was simply delicious.
Earlier in our conversation, Chef Nag told us that in palace cuisine, flavours of the vegetarian fare were at par with that of non-vegetarian fare. This fact rang a bell as we took a bite of Chane Ki Shammi (R875), a vegetarian version of
Shammi kebabs. The semi-mashed green chickpeas lent the dish a crunchy texture.
The chef informed us that staying true to tradition, he had used a mortar pestle to grind all ingredients as this process enhances the flavours of spices. Likewise, every Indian region had a distinct ingredient such as chillies from Hyderabad, saffron from Lucknow and cardamom from Rajasthan. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg (jaifal) and mace (javitri) were evident in this cuisine.
For the main course, we had Murgh Rezala (R1,250), chicken complimented with almonds, cashew nuts and boiled onions served with saffron treacle. This Awadhi dish was on the sweeter side and the cardamom flavour was too overpowering. If you are the kind who likes spicy food, then give this one a miss.
Next, we tried three Rajasthani dishes. The besan dumplings in the Gatta Curry (Rs 875) were rich and crumpled effortlessly when we cut it into pieces. The thick, pale yellow, curd-laden kadhi was creamy and filling. The Kair Sangri (Rs 875), which had berries and dried beans cooked with yogurt and spices, was the most unique dish of the meal. A dry vegetable, it was bursting with spices without being too fiery.
The last one — Pittod Sabzi (Rs 875) — had gram flour cubes in a spicy curd-based sauce. It was comfort food at its best. By now, our almost full appetites were proof of the foods’ richness. The Hyderabadi Khatti Dal (Rs 875) came with a twist. As we blew at the spoon to cool the contents, the first sip left us starry eyed. It was really tangy, thanks to the secret ingredient, kacchi kairi (raw mango). If tangy is your thing, you will not get enough of this lentil preparation, like one of us, while the other made faces involuntarily. Full, but not yet content, we tried a little of the Laal Maas (Rs 1,300), lamb boldly spiced in red gravy — a true game-style dish of the Rajput warriors. The slow-cooked gravy was dense, dark and deadly delicious.
We rounded it up with Lucknowi Subz Dum Biryani (R1,000). Saffron, cardamom and cloves were three musketeers that headed this flavourful trip.
Acclaimed English poet Robert Browning said: ‘The best is yet to be’. We believe so, too. Khoobani Ka Meetha (R575) was a dessert made of stewed apricots topped with fresh cream. A specialty from Hyderabad, the nawabs sure knew how to douse their fiery palates. Plated like little jamuns topped with cream, this easy yet innovative dessert left us wanting for more.
We then turned our attention to the Shahi Tukda (R575). We thought of the soggy Indian bread puddings we had eaten on earlier occasions but we stopped dead in our thoughts when we heard the crunch in the bread base. Oozing with rabdi, and topped with dry fruits, from this day, every Shahi Tukda we taste will be but a shadow of this milestone serving.
We cannot rate the experience as it was an invitation.
Cuisine of the Palaces is on till: Today
At: Masala Bay, Taj Land’s End, Bandra West
Price: Rs 5,000 for two