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Mumbai Food: Taj to recreate 70-year-old menu served on India's independence night

The Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai at Colaba pulls out a 70-year-old celebratory menu served on the night of India's independence from its archives

Delices al 'Hindustan (Vegetable Galouti and Paneer ki Gandheri served in shot glasses) Pics/Tanvi Phondekar
Delices al 'Hindustan (Vegetable Galouti and Paneer ki Gandheri served in shot glasses) Pics/Tanvi Phondekar

Flipping through the archives of the Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai, Colaba, Amit Chowdhury, the executive chef, found a menu crafted for the night of August 14, 1947, titled Independence Night.

The venue has been privy to many historic moments for the country, with Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten giving his last speech on the steps of the hotel.

In its 70th year, the Independence Night 2017 menu, to be served from August 12 to 15, begins with Consomme al'Indienne. "I have given the classic French bouillon broth a twist of tamatar shorba. The clear soup is flavoured with jeera, spice and coriander," he explains. For those wanting something more classic, the Veloute d'Amandes is a milky-thick Cream of Almonds.

Vacherin de Peches Liberartion
Vacherin de Peches Liberartion

The hotel was headed by French chefs during the British Rule and many Indian apprentices trained under them. It is likely that the original menu was spearheaded by then Goan-Christian head chef Minguel Arcanjo Mascarenha, who, along with apprentices, had trained under the French masters. They developed their own interpretation of Indo-French cuisine for the celebratory meal. "Back then, you mainly had Goan and Bengali Christian chefs, as the profession was not as popular as it is today," says Chowdhury, who joined the hotel in 1985.

"Mascarenhas was the bridge between the French masters and the Indian chefs later. After Independence, Indian elements started coming in, and people didn't want the bland French food. The menu does not mention the ingredients nor recipes. So, I have been using classic techniques that would have been used then."

Lord Mountbatten speaks at the Taj, two days after indepdendence
Lord Mountbatten speaks at the Taj, two days after indepdendence

The menu moves on to Delices al 'Hindustan. "This means 'delicate bites of Hindustan'. There were no tandoors then. The grilling technique came to India when Partition refugees from Pakistan arrived in North India," he says.

Two succulent tava kebabs in the form of chicken mince on sugarcane stick arrive. For vegetarians, there is a Galouti and a Paneer ki Gandheri.

A classic salmon Paupillete de Saumon Joinville in Veloute sauce topped with crayfish butter classic follows. The fish is flaky and the sauce, buttery. For Poularde Souffle Independence, he created a chicken mince mousse and stuffed it in a chicken breast and served it with pan jus. "Earlier, it would be served with green peas and carrots. It was the post-World War era and resources were rationed. We have adapted the menu with English veggies such as asparagus, peppers and broccoli. By the way, did you know that the French never believed in vegetarian dishes," he tells us.

Chef Amit Choudhary
Chef Amit Choudhary

The dessert is Vacherin de Peches Liberartion, a chewy almond meringue filled with a peach compote with wine, and topped with sorbet. Originally, it was served with sharbat, Chowdhury points out, adding that then, they would not care about how the food was served on the plate. "We have stuck to classic plating techniques to give a feel of the ancient times."

We end the meal with Friandises, a sweet assortment of bon, acting as a palate cleanser before the coffee arrives.

Also see: Then and Now: Smriti Irani's journey from a model to Union Minister
Then and Now: Smriti Irani's journey from a model to Union Minister

Did You Know?
On 1 Jan 1916, a meeting at the Taj between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League (probably hosted at Taj because League President the Nawab of Mahmudabad was staying in a suit there) led to an alliance which led to a common goal: the self-government of India. Sarojini Naidu, who was an attendee at this meeting, became synonymous with the Taj as a Bombay institution: for almost three decades, a suite was permanently blocked for her.

WHERE: Sea Lounge, The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai
WHEN: August 12-15, 7.30 pm
ENTRY: Rs 1,947 (plus taxes)

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