Kashmiri Cuisine Fest

Taj Banjara, which has an alfresco restaurant – Kebab-e-Bahar, is currently hosting a Kashmiri food festival. At the outset, let me say that this festival is for those who love their meats, do not care much for chilli and are curious about this cuisine. Having said that, Kashmiri food has a unique blend of spices and flavours, and I am assuming, because of the cold climate, the use of chillies is largely minimal.
But, the cuisine does have a rich legacy, and the Wazas, descendants of the master chefs of Kashmiri aristocracy, have crafted a menu for a special Wazwan cuisine fest. Chef Waza Tariq, who has flown down all the way from Srinagar, where he works with the Vivanta by Taj, put together a compilation of dishes for us to sample.

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We started with the Nadru Malai Tikki, minced lotus stem mixed with Kashmiri spices and cooked on a hot plate. The tikki was quite bland, enhanced only with the green chutney accompanying it. This was followed by the Tabak Maaz, a lamb starter cooked on a hot plate and shallow fried with spices. I gave it a miss, but I am guessing meat lovers would like it.
The main course included Mutton Rista and Gustaba, both of which are essentially minced meat dumplings or koftas, cooked in gravy. One was cooked with yoghurt and the other with spices, so the white and red colour denoted which was which. Again, I gave it a miss though I did try the Kukkar Badam Korma, chicken cooked in an almond based gravy, but it was as bland as chicken soup and did not appeal to my taste buds.

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The vegetarian dishes however, were way better and much tastier. The Kashmiri Dum Aloo and the Kashmiri Rajma, kidney beans cooked in a tomato base, were a good option to have with the butter roti and the Saffron Rice. The rice had the rich aroma of saffron and could be had on its own too.
Dessert included Badam aur Suji ka Halwa and Phirni, but I am not a fan of either, so I would say, you can give them a miss.
I wondered why the internationally popular Mutton Rogan Josh, a rich, thick lamb curry, dominating the cuisine, was missing from the presentation. It is on the menu but it wasn’t part of the bloggers’ lunch menu. Frankly, when you have such a show stopper on your list, why bother with the little known items? Especially in a city like Hyderabad, where chillies rule the roost, and spice is the order of the day for every dish. I would have much preferred to sample that and some yoghurt based curries that Kashmiri food is known for. Purists might disagree, and while the Rista and Gustaba are equally well known, I am not sure they will be popular here.

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This festival is on till the 30th of November and is for those who like to sample authentic food cooked in a traditional way by someone who knows the cuisine well. Or for those, who like to ask for a side of extra chilli, no matter what they eat.

Fifty Shades of Earl Grey

Sometimes, it becomes imperative, for one’s own sanity, to sit in solitude, with a good cup of tea, and watch the world go by. A ritual that can be immensely comforting in down times, a celebration on happy occasions, or simply, a quiet moment snatched and treasured in the hurly burly busyness of our lives.
In celebration of tea or chai as we call it, and all that is associated with it, the Lobby Lounge of the Taj Banjara Hotel, is hosting a two-week long teatime promotion called Chai Happenings. The Lobby Lounge is a quiet bar-cum-lounge so it serves as a great spot for a quick meeting or even a private getaway for anyone seeking a break.

img_8083Unlike my headline, Earl Grey is not served, but several other variants of tea, ranging from the green to the lemon variety, local favourites like the Sulemani to the Irani Chai, here named Salauddin ki Chai; and filter kaapi (filter coffee) for those who don’t like tea; is available along with a bunch of tea time treats to munch along with it.

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Just like the British have a high tea tradition, we Indians can lay claim to several snacks that taste best with a cup of tea. Right on top of this list would be the Bun Maska — a slightly sweet bun, slit into two, slathered with salty butter, and to be had after dunking into a hot cup of milky tea. The salty, molten butter, along with the sweetness of the tea, is a taste I remember from childhood. The Irani cafés of Mumbai still serve them with great pride and here too, in Hyderabad, it is a simple snack to quell hunger pangs.

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The Lobby Lounge of course, has included a host of snacks that make tea time that much more delicious. Aloo Samosas, Bread Pakodas — made with multiple layer of bread with different stuffings, batter coated and fried; Cut Mirchi (Mirchi Bhajji – slit jalapenos, stuffed with onions and masalas , coated with batter and fried); Bombay Toasties – a grilled sandwich stuffed with vegetables, Chutney Sandwich, Vada Pavs, Sabudana Tikki, Dal Wadas and Patti Samosas among others are the options available.

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From the dishes I sampled, I would pick the Bread Pakodas and the Patti Samosas. Both were served with different chutneys, and the Bread Pakodas had a layer of ketchup and a potato masala each, which gave it a sweet and salty taste. Besides, anything fried always tastes better, so, along with my cup of lemon tea, this combination was perfect.

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You can pick any one snack and the tea of your choice – for Rs 155 plus taxes. Between 3-6 pm you can sample any of the tasty bites with your favourite cuppa. If you happen to have a good book along for company, it will have been an evening well spent.

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A Sizzling Meal over a Chilled Beer

There are times when, after the day’s chores are done, I wish for nothing more than a chilled beer and a good meal. This time, my wish was granted – by the Kebab-e-Bahar open air restaurant – of the Taj Banjara Hotel. A food festival that is complete value for money is the Beer and Kebab… Continue reading A Sizzling Meal over a Chilled Beer