Indian Food Festival: Kebabs, Curries and Biryanis: The Best of Awadh
Hotel Sandton Sun, 1-6 Aug, Johannesburg
The High Commission of India is celebrating an Indian food festival [1-6 Aug] in Johannesburg and Durban [8-13 Aug] as part of the Festival of India in South Africa 2014. Indian food is well known in South Africa both as a cultural footprint of the South African Indian community and due to the spiced up enterprise and energy of Indian entrepreneurs. Surely, it is not the first time that Cardamom and Turmeric have been put to trans-continental trade and barter!! Yet, the diversity of Indian cuisine even though well appreciated is not fully known by our friends in South Africa. Through this festival “Kebabs, Curries and Biryanis” we are making an effort to bring to you the best of Awadhi cuisine, a culinary delight that has its own space, fame and prominence in India’s diverse cooking traditions.
Awadhi cuisine, or the cuisine from the region of Awadh in the State of Uttar Pradesh in India, is delightfully special. Its beginnings are as stately and subtle as its unique aromas and spices. Just about the time of Louis the XIV [1643-1715 ] , who combined politics with fine-dine, the Nawabs [Kings] of Awadh demonstrated how politics compulsively ought to express itself in culinary delights. At the break-up of the Mughal empire based in Delhi in the beginning of the 18th century, Saadat Khan Burhan-ul-Mulk founded the kingdom of Awadh centred on Lucknow in Central Uttar Pradesh. Under the Nawabs, Lucknow became a centre of cultural effervescence, most profoundly expressed in its cuisine, architecture, fine arts and composite culture, and Awadh a region of pride.
The Awadh royalty, descendants of the Persian nobility, brought with them a strong Persian influence to the existing Mughlai and local foods. Saffron, dry fruits, rose water and pomegranate were added to Indian spices over a slow cooking pot and the “Dum style of cooking” unique to Awadh was born. Soon, Kebab, Korma [ mutton or chicken in its gravy type], kaliya [ meat in curry], Biryani [ rice with meat and condiments], Nihari [ meat stew ], Paya [ trotters], Keema [ minced meat] pulao [ rice cooked in special way] , sheermal [ Bread cooked in milk and saffron] and muzzaffar [ vermicelli in cream garnished with dry fruits] all became the centrepiece of the Awadhi Dastarkhwan [ large dinner plate for group eating common among Muslim communities], first of the royalty and then of the Chowk [city square] where it embraced the commoners. In the Awadhi kitchen, the tandoor was replaced with chullah [cooking stove] to prepare its succulent kebabs: Galauti, Kakori, Boti, Shami, Seekh and the works. Here the Bawarchis, Rakabdars, Khanasamas and the Masalchis, all cooks with different skill sets, tendered the kebabs with raw papaya and used selective spices to give Awadhi preparations its famed subtle taste. Awadhi spices and aromas are a rare combination which under the able hand of their bawarchis [chefs] and kept for hours over smouldering chullah lend themselves to a “delectable less overbearing taste” differentiating it from the Mughlai or Punjabi preparations. The Awadhi cooking pot also drew upon the richness of Kashmiri and Hyderabadi cooking in adding colour to its style and structure. Awadh is famous for both its pulao and biryani, but more so for the former. These accompany the curries along with sheermal, a true awadhi bread, and warqi paratha[ type of bread].
Not to anyone’s surprise, Awadhi cuisine while defined by its non-vegetarian specialities, offers equally rich and varied vegetarian choices: Achari aloo [ potato pickle style] , kurkure Bhindi [ fried ladyfinger] , vegetable kebab, kathal [ jackfruit] biryani and lentils cooked in myriad styles. Awadh is also famous for its chaat [ a mix of chickpeas, fried savouries, yogurt and spices] mostly eaten as an evening snack.
The desserts in Awadhi are no less lavish. The sweet vermicelli in Muzzafar coated with saffron is a real delight. In addition, there are a range of milk and cream based sweets to choose from: phirni, kheer, sevai, and rabri. In true royal style, awadhi chefs make ostentatious use of silver foil [ warq] to decorate sweets and savouries.
No story on Awadhi cuisine can be complete without a boastful reference to its famed mangoes: Dasari, Chausa, Fazri [ to be eaten in the morning and hence the name, Fazr means morning] and Lagda. Mango, a summer time fruit in India, is lavishly used to makes drinks [ Panna and juices] and desserts in Awadh but a connoisseur would argue that the best way to have them is to just eat them !!
For the syncretic Awadhi court, the inter-mingling of various communities was its founding pillar, much the same way as in this Rainbow nation. Fairs and festivals of all religions and communities were promoted by the Nawabs. This composite tehzeeb [refined culture] so well captured in the celebrated ghazals and bardic chants influenced, and magnanimously so, the cuisines of the region expressing themselves in the most beautiful manner during the festivals and the now less seen annual six seasons in India.
Posted as Executive Chef (Vigyan Bhawan) New Delhi.
1994-1997 – Institute of Hotel Management, Trivandrum
Three year’s management course which provides theoretical and practical inputs about conducting the affairs of a contemporary Hotel and Catering Establishment.
July 1997-1999 – The Ashok, New Delhi
July 1999- 2005 Hotel Janpath New Delhi as Sous Chef
2005-2010 Chef HRD
2010- till date Executive Chef Vigyan Bhawan
Have worked in the premier specialty restaurants of Ashok Hotel – Oudh (Awadhi cuisine) and Frontier (North-West Frontier cuisine).
Presently handling the overall Kitchen operation at Vigyan Bhawan which caters to various National & International Prestigious conference at Vigyan Bhawan
Have contributed to the culinary success of several prestigious events and conferences held at Ashok Hotel like the CWG 2011, PATA 2011 National science congress etc.
Have successfully planned and executed Indian Food Festivals in Colombia & Ecuador, Hamburg, etc.
Tara Dutt Bhat
Working at The Ashok Hotel, New Delhi (a unit of India Tourism Development Corporation). He has mastered the art of North Indian food comprising of curry and tandoor since the early years of his career.
He is a part of the Awadhi Kitchen Team which is responsible for preparation of Curry and Tandoor items for in-house functions as well as functions hosted by the Hon’ble PM of India.
During his tenure at the Ashok, he has contributed to the success of several National as well as International Conferences and contributes regularly for VVIP caterings for Heads of State held at Hotel Ashok.
In the past, he has contributed immensely to the success of the Indian Food Festival -Bogota (2011), Suriname (2012), Panama & Cuba (2013).
He is considered an expert of his field in New Delhi.