Food: Mumbai restaurant returns with Kashmiri menu

Popular Andheri eatery Kong Poush shut shop two years ago to return as a Kashmiri culinary service

In 2013, chef Sunil Mattoo packed his bags to leave for Goa to head the kitchen operations for a four-star hotel. By then he had already downed the shutters of his popular Kashmiri restaurant in Mumbai, Kong Poush that boasted of a regular that included names like Kangana Ranaut and Kabir Khan. "I wanted a break from the city," says Mattoo, as we meet him at his Goregaon residence on a Wednesday evening.

Rogan josh, a dish of Persian origin. Pics/Swarali Purohit
Rogan josh, a dish of Persian origin. Pics/Swarali Purohit

Panjim’s laidback life, the luxurious apartment he was living in and the greenery all seemed perfect. "But, I missed Kong Poush and the madness of running a restaurant. It’s a different kind of a high," he smiles. The void intensified when he started getting calls from customers saying they missed the food. "In a day, I would get eight-10 calls asking me to return." Eventually, Mattoo gave in.

The 44-year-old is now back in the city with his journalist wife and their two kids. However, this time, he has no fancy restaurant with beautiful shikaras and an army of staff, to call his own. What he does have is a functional kitchen in Oshiwara from where he has been running his five-month-old catering business of Kashmiri food for corporate lunches, parties and food festivals at luxury hotels.

"We have a party order in Bandra today. It’s chaotic because I have just three staffers," he explains, while pouring us a glass of Kahwa, an aromatic Kashmiri green tea brewed with saffron, cardamom, cinnamon that’s garnished with almonds. The menu includes signature dishes like Gostaba (Rs 375), a curd-based dish with skillfully pounded meat, rolled into soft spongy balls. "This is the most elaborate dish in Kashmiri cuisine. It takes about two and a half hours of pounding and another hour to prepare. But, once you taste the dish, you realise why it’s so tedious," he says. A new addition is the Nadir Munj (Rs 175), lotus stems cut into fine strips, dipped in rice flour and shallow fried. It works as a crunchy snack. While the lotus stems are available at Khar and Versova markets, other ingredients like Kashmiri chillies, aniseed powder, black cardamom, green cardamom and wadi (garam masala) are imported from Jammu.

 Sage Kabargah includes  lamb spare ribs, steeped  and slow-cooked in sage flavoured milk and pan-fried
Sage Kabargah includes lamb spare ribs, steeped and slow-cooked in sage flavoured milk and pan-fried

"Rogan josh (goat meat in chillies), kokur yakhni (goat meat or chicken in yoghurt) and dum aloo (whole spicy potatoes) are our most selling items. Rice is the staple grain in Kashmir, and go best with these dishes."

An interesting aspect of Kashmiri cuisine is that many dishes, vegetarian or meat, are made using milk and curd. For instance, milk is used in the gravy for the aab gosht. "Contrary to popular perception, Kashmiri food is light on the stomach and homely in taste. Onions and tomatoes are hardly used in our cuisine," he says. "Only the Kashmiris can do justice to their meat," he says proudly. However, that hasn’t stopped restaurants run by non-Kashmiris in the city to offer the cuisine.

Chef Milan Gupta of Café Haqq Se at Lower Parel is particularly proud of their new signature Kashmiri dish, Sage Kabargah, which comprises lamb spare ribs steeped and slow-cooked in sage flavoured milk and pan-fried. "Kabargah is an integral part of any wazwaan (a traditional Kashmiri spread) served for all special occasions. It’s a simple dish where lamb rack is steeped in milk with whole spices and then pan-fried just before serving in a liaison of yoghurt and roasted gram flour or besan," explains Gupta, adding, "To intensify the flavours, sage is used for its simple, yet warm flavour and saline taste to cut the milky tenderness the dish inherently has."

The ingredients for Kashmiri dishes at Café Haqq Se comes from the chef’s Kashmiri friends in the city. "They are early settlers and frequently store secret spices for seekers who would want to execute authentic Kashmiri cuisine," he says. The search for quality mutton, essential to the cuisine, made Gupta search the whole city for a worthy supplier. "We sampled several butcheries but finally found it in an obscure lane at Masjid Bunder, led by our seafood supplier who knew of one Pappu bhai. Pappu bhai hand delivers the neatly packed spare ribs on a daily basis," says Gupta. The restaurant also has Kashmiri rann (toughest meat in the goat) offerings that will be rolled out in April.

Holachef, a food delivery service in Mumbai has been offering Kashmiri items like favourites like dum aloo Kashmiri, mutton rogan josh, Kashmiri pulao, boti kabab and Kashmiri paya soup since September 2014. Its founder and CEO, Saurabh Saxena feels it’s the cosmopolitan nature of Mumbai that makes Kashmiri cuisine popular. "Out of the 40 different cuisines that Hola Chef offers, Kashmiri cuisine is one of the most popular. There aren’t many restaurants that serve Kashmiri food. We are trying to fill that gap," he says.

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