There is more than just a fine line between tasty dishes and tasty dishes from the kitchens of the Royals of India. The royal chefs did not just cook but cooked with a lot of energetic ideation thrown in. This is exactly what Chef Arun Sundararaj and the culinary experts of Varq, a part of The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi do to reconstruct celebrated delicacies once consumed by the royal families of Kashmir, Travancore, Hyderabad and Rajasthan.
The Chef informed me that the primary incentive for reinventing a dish was ‘the ingredient itself. It could be an idea which is related, a new cooking style, a flavour, or even a blend. When I’m learning a new cooking style, the base is the ingredient and the Eureka moment is when you start working on it though it does takes time for an idea to get crystalized over time’. Royal recipes deserve more than just existing as exotic pictures in coffee table volumes… and so let me tell you about my experience with a few royal dishes at Varq.
Our royal gastronomic journey had some really pleasant surprises. But first let me mention that Varq has a supremely charming mural done by Anjolie Ela Menon and is a great mood setter. The short address by the Chef and the servings that followed seemed to blend in seamlessly and there were times when I actually kept the fork aside to let my fingers too get at least some of this royal excitement. I mean, even Tujji chicken with its eclectic combination of coriander, chilli and mint with crisp bread at the bottom and Lahabi Kebab with a distinctive yoghurt flavour did better with my fingers waving an appreciative signal.
Saada aash did sound like a name that might initiate a revolution somewhere at some moment and so I wasn’t surprised to be informed that this was lamb soup that had been simmered for seven hours and tempered seven times. ‘Phew!’ I murmured, ‘This sure makes the soup hot!’
‘It is,’ whispered friend, ‘this soup manages to generate a lot of heat in the body, so only a small portion is generally enough.’ Well, the Lukhmi, which resembles a Samosa and some shreds of lamb chunks with pepper had soup poured on top. ‘This is getting better and better,’ I said to myself.
The Nawabi Murgh, or chicken supreme roulade served with nuts and sweet mango chutney seemed like the summit… and no, I am not going to use terms like ‘orgasmic’ here because I leave them all for the uninitiated food bloggers who go gaga over trivialities! Well, this dish was accompanied by Khichdi Rafat and Noori Hyderabadi Biryani with succulent pieces of lamb and long grain rice. A few of us there opined that the lamb stock was more than just an appreciative smack of the lips. Ah! I almost forgot to tell you about Khichdi Rafat with tender pieces of chicken, duck, and lamb… khichdi! You might wonder… but read what the Chef told me: ‘When we first made the khichdi it took a lot of time to generate and my sous chef said it probably heavy for ordinary mortals to consume. After all, the Nizam had 200 wives and he probably needed this sort of khichdi for the copious amount of energy he needed.’ I loved the seamless migration of health, energy, and taste in the khichdi served and loved it to the final bit. No, I didn’t have the heart to ask for a second helping as that just might have been considered a bit too adventurous for someone approaching sixty and not a Nizam!
The dessert was something rather unconventional… and layers of garlic kheer and broken wheat made me actually roll the kheer in my mouth to stumble on to a strong presence of garlic. But no, the taste was gentle and mesmerizing.
This little conversation that I had with the food that the royals ate was almost what the Chef told me later. He said that he loved to ‘create flavours to tantalize the tongue, titillate the palate and get the digestive juices to get excited’ and I agreed with him as the royal menu does have influences from the food that the royals used to eat and isn’t just about something ‘unique in presentation but all about textures on the plate’. The Chef also graciously admitted that an interaction with customers or patrons was vital for his decision-making. ‘I think about what can I do to fit in a customer with our environment. I keep in mind to not waver from what my original line of work is. I ideate keeping within the bandwidth of this restaurant. The chef has his own directions to run the restaurant and so I work towards every customer finally walking out holding a moment in time to remember it forever.’
Well, I guess every restaurant is in a way selling products that are unique to the market and I feel it isn’t wrong to go about educating the masses as well about the finer aspects of cuisine… gastronomic delights must begin every time with someone attempting to educate uneducated opinions. The Chef at Varq has done his bit by calling us from the blogging arena and the media to introduce to us to the giggle that good food always is. And, by the way, remember that Varq, The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, Number One, Mansingh Road is going on with their menu that is all about the lost recipes of the royals. Thus from the 16th to the 30th of June, you do have the opportunity to indulge in a gastronomic leap towards immortality!
18 June 2016