With food historian and Persian Scholar, Ms. Salma Hussain
This was one delightful evening where I was swayed away with the narrative powers of food, where every dish spoke of its own tale, where delightful and unconventional combinations made for the flavors and where we celebrated the richness of Delhi’s history! And despite the tantalizing distractions, I sat around a long dinner table and listened to one lady who engaged us all with gastronomic storytelling around Slave dynasty.
Last Wednesday, Delhi Pavilion at WelcomHotel Sheraton, New Delhi celebrated its 1st birthday with an array of local delights and dishes from the forgotten era. That evening, was one of its kinds when stories and flavors of Shahi Dastarkhwan of Shahjahanbad were not only revisited but relished too. An adding to our delights, renowned custodian of India’s food heritage and Persian Scholar – Ms. Salma Hussain, fondly known as Salma Apa took us through the forgotten lanes of history and cuisine.
Meraas-E- Sultanate – 1st. Anniversary Celebrations of Delhi Pavilion
After being absent for two months from Delhi’s foodie circuit, I was happy to be back in action and do what I love most. Good food is my weakness and I never forget to appreciate it. During my stay in South Africa, there were days when I literally craved for tongue-tingling flavors of ‘mummy ke haath ka khaana’, the fragrant curries of North India, delectable tandoori and traditional Indian food. The chefs at Delhi pavilion gave me a warm welcome and ensured that I came back full, satiated and asking for more.
While the celebrations began with Sharbate lubghi which sweetened the ambiance, the lip-smacking samosas and kebabs instantly made us question their deep connection with Shahi Dastarkhwan of Shahjahanbad. By the time we savored the piquant flavors, Salma ma’am was quick to tell us that food and lavish cooking became a priority in those days because the initial rulers of Delhi (who came from Central Asia, Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan) loved eating. They ate vegetables that were readily available in those times and were fond of large slabs of meat, ghee, dry fruits, rich tomato gravy, eggplant,chick peas, lotus-stem, raw bananas and pomegranate.
‘When Ibn Batuta had come to India during that time, he shared many observations around food’. His writings say that he was served something as spices put inside a piece of thin bread fried in ghee – like our modern samosas’. To add to our knowledge, Salma Apa also told us that Muslim sultans drank sherbet of sugared water before the meal and preferred betel leaf after it.
Main course was a feast!!!
Delhi has thrived through a rich culture and has absorbed cultures and cuisines more than what our generation can even fathom. There is a treasure trove of recipes which can never be written in one book but thanks to food historians and few talented souls like Salma Apa, we can have the privilege of peeking into our rich gastronomic history. I must congratulate Delhi Pavilion for taking such initiatives.
The chefs Vipul Gupta and Mohammad Mofid from Delhi Pavilion had put together a royal treat for us. The lavish spread was waiting for us at the buffet arena. But before I could actually dig in, the names and the ingredients of the main course fueled my quest for knowledge once again! I looked for Salma Apa and asked her too many questions. I was surprised to see that rarely cooked vegetables like ‘raw banana’ and ‘lotus stem’ were part of the lavish spread and there Salma Apa reminded us that these were easily available in those times. Pomegranate was often used to make the curries and tomatoes was used in abundance.
Khichdi Ouroot Afghani – Moong lentil and rice, cooked together with marbles of minced meat, dry fruits, flavored with saffron)
Jawahar Biryani – An exotic rice preparation of Basmati rice and dried fruits garnished with Pinenuts.
Kofte Nilofari – Marbles of lotus stem cooked in a rich flavorful gravy
Mauz Masala – A classic preparation of raw banana
Badejan Anari – Eggplant cooked with tomato and pomegranate gravy
Perizaad – Cubes of cottage cheese cooked with tricolored capsicum in a flavorful turmeric gravy.
Nakhud-E-Kabuli – Chick peas cooked in rich tomato gravy
Jalpari – Prawns cooked in a flavorful onion and tomato gravy
Shahdeg – Mutton marinated with Yoghurt and sumac and pomegranate juice.
Murg Qutbia – Juicy Tender juicy chicken pieces roasted and atop wheat flour bread and greens
The dishes that really stood out for me were Mauz Masala and Shahdeg. Though many would be surprised to see a rich vegetable dish made of raw banana but this was not new to me. Thanks to my mom, I have been eating it in my house since childhood. In my house, it is cooked differently and this one was also as perfect as it could be. In Shahdeg, the mutton was tender, well-cooked while the curry was rich and absolutely the way I like it. A very interesting aspect of this dinner celebrations were that there were many options for vegetarian too. My husband absolutely relished the Kofte Nilofari and Badejan Anari. Lovers of lotus stem and eggplant should get in touch with the Chef for these amazing recipes.
Later, two more delectable delights were served on our table. They were definitely chef’s special. I had never eaten this combination of fish and cabbage and it was pure bliss. The spicy pulled lamb with yoghurt was yet another fascinating recipe that made me fall in love with Delhi and its food all over again.
It has to be a sweet day when it ends on a sweeter note! The dessert section was not meant for those who are watching their weight. While I kept away from the sweet temptations, Hubby dear did complete justice to the platter below. For me it was the kunafa which caught my attention but it was quite different to what I have eaten in Riyadh or Dubai.
Well, the Meraaz-E-Sultanate festival ends today but there is no dearth of delicious food cooked and served at Delhi Pavilion. They celebrate Delhi, its cuisines and the evolution of food through many more interesting recipes.
Next time when you have the urge to know a food story, just ask yourself, ‘Why I am eating this?’ I bet you will will end up finding some interesting story around its name, recipe or ingredients.