Thursday, April 21, 2016

About Rivaayat E Puraani Dilli by Osama Jalali at Trident BKC

The Spread (representative selection of dishes)

If you are part of the food world and up to speed with food trends and happenings, chances are you have heard the name Osama Jalali. (If not, then which cloche have you been hiding under?) Bad jokes aside, if you don't know of Osama Jalali I am about to tell you. With the happy news, that you have a chance to meet him and the Jalali family. And taste their cooking at the ongoing Rivaayat-e-Purani Dilli festival at the Maya Restaurant, Trident BKC up to the 29th.

Osama Jalali, his mother Mrs Nazish Jalali and his wife Mrs. Nazia Jalali are the three wonderful individuals behind this festival. The family come from the princely of Rampur in Uttar Pradesh famous for its unique Rampuri cuisine. Osama grew up in the by lanes of Purani or Old Dilli. He has worn many hats in his career so far, but I believe he came into his own in his latest avatar, that of champion of lost recipes and document-er of the food heritage of India. A role he assays ably as a curator of community/Khandaan based (Awadhi, Rampuri, Shahjahani, Nizami) menus at hotels around the country and as owner of popular Facebook group Lost Recipes of India. He is the curator and spokesperson so we see him more but the Jalali ladies are equally inspiring. 

The Jalali Ladies
His mother Nazish, fondly called Ammi Jalali, (who I fell in love with the moment I met her) learned to cook from the khansamas (cooks) of the royal kitchens of Rampur. She is the driving forse behind the cooking that happens for all the festivals. His lovely wife Nazia is the researcher, documenting recipes from women in the zenanas of old families where the purdah still prevails and men are banned. Where the kitchens are still the domain of women, it is Nazia who learns the hierloom recipes from the experts of the home bastion bringing home culinary secrets in the code of pinches, handfuls and andaaz for Osama to decode.  Osama cooks right alongside his mother Nazish Jalali & wife Nazia Khan at the theme based Daawat’s and festivals he curates. 
Yours truly with the Jalali family.

And they are in Mumbai for the Rivaayat E Purani Dilli festival showcasing recipes from Shajahanbad (as the erstwhile walled city ofold Delhi that was the capital of the Mughal Empire was called). That said this food is not to be mistaken with the food you will find at Karim’s or Al-Jawahar in that area, which is more street food that evolved as sustenance for working populace of the area and leans towards being oily and spicy. This is the food from homes in the by-lanes of Urdu Bazar near Jama Masjid in Old Delhi and is far simpler, relying on select spices and flavors, subtly combined. Also unlike street food which is meat centric in Old Delhi, home cuisine is rich in vegetarian dishes too. Thanks to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb being vegetarian a varied repertoire of vegetarian recipes were developed during his reign and trickled down to the kitchens of earstwhile families of Old Delhi. This is food made in people’s homes every day, dishes made for daily meals or special occaissions based on what is seasonal, economical and available. Just like our mothers and grandmothers would cook.

Chef Ashish Bhasin who spearhead the Rivaayat series 
Now that we have gotten introductions out of the way, let me talk about my experience at the Chefs Table I was invited to by Chef Ashish Bhasin and the Trident BKC.

The menu was an array of 45 dishes ranging from Shorbas and appetizers to mains, breads, accompaniments and desserts largely from Purani dilli but with a smattering of Rampuri specialities. Rampur sits between Delhi and Lucknow and tends to be more evolved that rustic Delhi dishes with more refined gravies and spicing but not as refined as those of Lucknow which is the bastion of Mughal cuisine. I tasted about 24 or so of the 45 dishes on the menu albeit in small spoonful servings.

I was very full at the end of my meal, but the food sat very gently in my stomach; nothing was cream rich and acidity inducing-ly heavy, as much Mughlai food can be. Rather a parade of uncomplicated flavours on the palate, distinct in both flavours and textures. There was no ubiquitous gravy of onion and tomato in sight , in fact there wasn’t a single tomato in sight! Because tomatoes did not exist in the era of this food!

Almost everything I tasted was lovely. I highly recommend the Fried Chicken, Saufiyani Paneer ke Tikke, Macchi Tikka, Chana Dal Bharta, Aloo ka Bharta, Chicken Stew, and the Parinde mein Parinde. But one cannot favourite it all as much as one wishes to so here are my picks of the dishes I found truly memorable.

What I didn’t really like, because perhaps my palate is not evolved enough to appreciate them, were the rice dishes. The Mutton Biryani while flawless, I found underwhelming in flavour, this could be because this version is spiced with a very light hand. The Tahiri or Teheri (a staple in most North Indian homes during winters hit a slightly higher spice note, but still did not strike any chords.

The Kache Kheeme ki Tikkiyan (foreground)
Amongst the appetisers, the Mewa Mawa kebabs with their clever play of texture and spicing offset by the Paneer were really delicious. And the Kacche Kheeme ki Tikkiyan, with perfectly pounded, moist meat and subtle but distinct spicing were unforgettable! Amongst the mains, the earthiness of the Urad Gosht with the lentils and meat slow cooked till falling apart into a fantastic whole, as all meat and lentil dishes of this ilk are. But the showstopper for me was the Kheema Hari Mirch which had caught my eye immediately while I was reading the menu. It was phenomenal, fine kheema redolent of green chillies, so delicately done was the spicing that you could taste the 'green' of the green chillies and their cutting spiciness like you would in a hirva thencha. And among the desserts, it was a no brainer. The Gosht ka Halwa had to be it!

The Gosht ka Halwa is a Jalali specialty, resurrected by them from mere stories Osama heard in passing. Legend has it, this was made by for new bride grooms to boost their libido. And I must be honest, that story and the rather alien concept of meat in a dessert or sweet form had me wary. I tasted it with a lot of trepidation. But! But! But! I was floored! And I finished it in short order! It had just the subtlest under note of meat - you could almost miss it -and had been cooked down with milk sugar and spices.
Phirni, the Gosht Halwa and Zarda

The offerings on the menu are testament to their home-style roots, with everyday vegetables and dishes you would never see on exotic menus holding pride of place alongside their more glamorous, exotic brethren. Like the Kathal ki galouti, a subtly spiced soft, kebab of jackfruit, that held its own next to a rich mewa mawa kebab a rich textured blend of paneer and vegetables. Or the absolutely delicious Arvi ka salan, an unassuming dish of colocasia root – a vegetable often used as a last resort - braised with almond and yoghurt.

There was also the unobtrusive mangochi a dish made of ubiquitous Mung dal fried into dumplings tossed with spices. And an earthy Urad Daal Gosht in which meat was cooked with black lentils till it was falling of the bone.  and the fantastic Saag Kofta chicken mince dumplings in a spinach gravy that held their own next to a Kormas, Nehari and the Parinde Me Parinda, a preparation from Mughal times which had an egg stuffed in a quail, stuffed in a chicken, the whole cooked to perfection so both the quail and chicken were aromatic and tender.

The Parinde me Parinda, I must clarify is a Royal recipe. While the emphasis is on home-style comfort food sans frills Ashish and Osama chose to add a few dishes from Osama's repertoire of lost recipes and recipes he has resurrected from royal kitchens since this was his first showcase in Mumbai. He also does a variation in which the chicken is further stuffed in a duck! According to Osama the Parinde me Parinda is a dish that in its heydey was a delicacy in which the animals progressed up through 9 animals ending with a whole camel!
What I both admire and respect about Osama is that he is a rare combination of food intellectual, hands on cook and erudite articulator of his knowledge and experiences, the last being something many experts are unable to do. 

This is the latest in offerings by Trident, Bandra Kurla as part of their brilliant Rivaayat series. This series was launched in February 2015, with an objective to revive traditional Indian cuisine in modern times. So far they have hosted Punjabi Rivaayat with Sweety Singh in January, Lucknowi Rivaayat with Dr. izzat Hussain in February and Dakshin Rivaayat with Mrs. Shri Bala in early April. The ongoing Rivaayat E Purani Dilli festival is on till 29th April, with an unlimited thali for lunch, and an a la carte menu for dinner at the Maya restaurant, Trident BKC. Hats off to Chef Bhasin for the time and effort they are putting into the Rivaayat series. Thank you from the bottom of this food lovers heart. And Dear Reader, don’t. and I mean DON’T miss it!


osama jalali said...

Wonderfully put into made our hard work worth doing. Thank you so much once again.would love to be at your studio kitchen soon .

Pia said...

No tomatoes. I rest my case. I have a daily battle over the use of tomatoes in traditional food.

I am going to try and be there tomorrow. I had planned for the 1st......

It is a must.

Pia Promina