Living in the hot plains, one cannot stomach Kashmiri food the whole year round. With this in mind, Singh Sahib at the Eros Hilton has wisely scheduled its Kashmiri food festival, 'Poush' this month. The night before the festival commenced, they invited us to sample some of the offerings.
We figured that it was a good way to warm our bellies, and headed out with some trepidation, fearing an onslaught of chillies. While the food, in true blue Kashmiri style, was mostly found simmered in threatening red gravy, we discovered on biting into it that the spices had been delicately handled, and we were spared the indignity of taking recourse to sugar and water to douse the heat in our mouths.
"Whenever you bring any Indian cuisine to the 5-star level, you always have to temper it to suit 5-star tastes. So while Kashmiri is very, very hot and uses a lot of fat, we have to make certain modifications to ensure that it appeals to a wider clientele", Chef Mujeebur Rehman informed us. Rehman specializes in food from erstwhile royal kitchens, namely, Awadhi, Rampuri, Kashmiri, Mughlai, and Hyderabai. "Mughlai is the mother of all these cuisines. The rest all incorporate regional variations on the same", he said, explaining that the essence of Kashmiri food was the use of lamb, paneer, lotus stems, and chillies.
Our modest spread included kukur kabargah, tabak maaz, and fish in mustard sauce for starters, while the mains consisted of rista, roganjosh, dal rajma. While all the starters were good, the meat tender and flavourful, the tabak maaz was the star of the evening. As addictive as they could possibly be, this was the Kashmiri equivalent of KFC's finger-lickin' good chicken legs. The dish essentially comprises lamb ribs marinated in milk and spices. For 'Poush' the chefs have substituted healthier goat for lamb meat.
The roganjosh was as good as it could be; the meat so tender that it was falling off the bones. The meat balls in rista were evenly spiced, and our only regret was that we couldn't find any baqerkhanito go with the food. The rajma was a surprise – the beans were smaller and the Kashmiri spice mix that was used rendered it far tastier than the regular Punjabi version.
We wrapped our meal with two sweet dishes – paneer ka mitha and matar ka meetha. The well grated paneer had soaked in all the goodness of the milk and the nuts, and it served well to assuage the tingling in our tastebuds. The matar ka meetha, though, was a disappointment. We had been warned that unlike traditional sweet dishes, this one wasn't very saccharine. In fact, it was so savoury that it felt like a sabji, though it matched the consistency of gajar ka halwa.
Any regrets? We wish we had gone a day later, when they would have gotten their buffet started in full steam – not only would we have been able to indulge in our favourite nadru yakhni and lotus stems, but also our favourite tea (which actually doesn't contain any tea leaves at all) in the world – kashmiri kahwa.