During a recent trip to New Zealand, the scenic nation's culinary innovations left an impression on Meldan D'Cunha, chef-owner of Soul Fry. "Its restaurants offer interesting fare in modern Indian cuisine. Like, the chicken kebabs are presented as a gravy dish and vindaloo is cooked with pulled pork. The restaurant communities also follow monthly themes. For instance, in June, they're dishing out junk-free menus; they also plan to celebrate dry July," reveals the Mahim resident. Taking off from the junk-free menu idea, D'Cunha will host a week-long East Indian festival at his Pali Hill eatery, known for its Goan coastal fare and susegaad vibe. "While many eateries serve Malwani and other coastal cuisines, we don't have a dedicated East Indian restaurant. The cuisine is integral to Mumbai since the East Indians are its original inhabitants," he says.

The East Indian food festival at Soul Fry features (clockwise from extreme left) Fish Cutlet, Chinchoni (Shark Fish), Prawns Atwan, Fugias, Drumstick Foogath, Bombay Duck Fry, Fish Kujit and Steamed Meatballs (centre). Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

What's on the menu?
From Mutton Khuddi and Prawn Atwan to Pork Sambaray, the menu features over a dozen dishes, including vegetarian options like Drumstick Foogath and Stuffed Masala Brinjal. Guests can tuck into these delicacies over strains of traditional East Indian music. D'Cunha, who learnt the recipes from East Indian homemakers in Bandra, Mahim and Marol, says, "The dishes are easy to prepare since their mainstay is a variety of preserved masalas. I sourced mine from B Curzai, who sells them from her Bandra home. Her masalas are so fresh that its aromas would fill our kitchen during trials."

What's in the bottle?
The kitchen shelves in East Indian homes feature a variety of homemade masalas like Frithad Masala, Vindaloo Masala and Fish Masala. However, a staple is the Bottle Masala, packing in close to 30 ingredients, including a variety of spices along with whole wheat and Bengal gram. Earlier, the masalas would be preserved in dark-glass beer bottles to protect them from harsh light, resulting in a longer preservation. Today, they are sold in glass jars or packets. The masala is used in numerous chicken, mutton and pork dishes, and even vegetable gravy. "These roughly cost `1,200 per kilo. East Indian food can be served only as per the order because the flavour of the masala comes through best when freshly cooked. Also, we can't afford wastage. So, the festival works only if the owner is also a chef, which is true for me," shares D'Cunha, who will also dish out a tweaked version of the traditional East Indian rice-flour handbread. "I hope more restaurants follow suit to introduce the community's cuisine in their menus because it remains authentic," he signs off.

FROM: Today to June 9
TIME: 12.30 pm to 3.30 pm; 7.30 pm to 11.30 pm
AT: Soul Fry, opposite Pali vegetable market, Pali Hill, Bandra (W).
CALL: 26046892