Cheat days are good. When you let yourself go and savor every morsel purely on the basis of taste , it feels wonderful, doesn’t it? I recently got a chance to do exactly that at the ITC GARDENIA. Within their ‘Kitchens Of India’ theme, ITC Gardenia introduced POUSH – a humongous and elaborate spread of Kashmiri cuisine. Specifically speaking, this was a Kashmiri Pandit cuisine which very surprisingly has generous participation of meat but had no garlic and onions. I love it how the various Indian cultures are full of contradictions.
The evening was a lovely and sophisticated gathering of food lovers with Kashmiri music from Abha Hanjura and her band “Sufistication” (I loved the word play here!) While I was new to the Kashmiri tunes, many in the guests were singing along and even dancing to the tunes. There were Kashmiri folk songs and Bhumbro was one of them — Thanks to Mission Kashmir, I knew at least one song!
Moving on to the main part of the evening — the food! Now to be honest, I am completely new to Kashmiri Cuisine. Barring an occasional lotus stem curry, that Mom used to make at home, I had no idea about what Kashmiri cuisine was — until now.
Let me start by quoting a very interesting statement by a gentleman at the evening . “You either eat healthy food or Kashmiri Food” I couldn’t help but smile at the remark – and I wouldn’t completely disagree with him either.
The whole buffet was a spread of vegetarian and Non Vegetarian cuisines that was dished out of Chef Suman Kaul’s kitchen, who has her cultural roots deep set in Kashmir. All the dishes were cooked in mustard oil and had the unique taste of special Kashmiri spices. In a conversation with Chef Kaul, she told me that these spices are from her personal kitchen.
In other conversations with fellow guests, I was also introduced to the fact that saffron which an extremely signification addition to all dishes from Kashmir, the yield of Saffron varies throughout India and Kashmiris are very particular about the saffron that is put in their cooking. Although my palette is limited to Vegetarian dishes, trust me when I say that there was not a single moment where I did not enjoy a mouth watering morsel.
The first dish was Haak — A semi liquid spinach dish tempered with mustard oil and spices. I liked it because A, it was healthy (Hello green Vegetables) and B , the mustard oil tempering gave a rather unique taste to it.
The second dish was a Rice dish called Kannegchi. It was a combination of Basmati rice and morsels and the dish practically screamed asafoetida. I am not sure about you but I love the flavor of asafoetida in my food. It is also , like many other spices in India, very healthy and helps in digestion. It was still a simple dish with limited spices and maybe that is what stood out for me.
There was also the famous Kashmiri Dum Aloo and having this famous dish from the kitchen of a Kashmiri chef felt like having chocolates from Switzerland – oozing of authenticity! I was not left disappointed either. The dish had a base of thick gravy and the potatoes were stuffed with various spices rendering it a great texture and flavor.
Another Kashmir exclusive preparation was a Lotus Stem curry that had a mouthful of a name — “Nadur Yakhne” . It was a dish of lotus stem made in yogurt and mustard Oil. I liked the gravy and the lotus stems were soft. However, I have not been a fan of the taste of Lotus stem and this dish did not change it either.
Besides the rich Basmati Ghee rice and Naan, there were also Lamb Kebabs and Fish dishes. I heard my fellow bloggers go on and on about the lamb Kebabas and how if there was just one dish to choose, they would choose it without batting an eye lid.
However, the winner of this evening was something as simple as a Kashmiri tea called Kehwa. Sweet in the right measure, full of spices such as Cinnamon and saffron, this green tea was ah-mazing and refreshing! It was also mild and smelled sweetly delicious. If I had the chance to go unabashed and berserk, I would have gulped down every last bit of this wonderful drink.
And while I do not have too much of a sweet tooth,I surprised myself by wolfing down the Phirni in deserts. The Kashmir Phirni is made up of grounded rice and Saffron. It was not very sweet and had the distinct taste of saffron that gave it a richness in its texture.
All in all, I loved my experience at the ITC Gardenia. There was nothing not to like — food, music and some amazing company!
About the Event –
ITC GARDENIA – CUBBON PAVILION, the award winning restaurant in ITC Gardenia’s culinary crown presents and brings to you “Poush – The Essence of Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine” under the aegis of Kitchens of India… Surrender to the subtlety of a cuisine focussed on aromatic spices and fragrant flowers. Chef Suman Kaul presents the finesse of a culture as old as time.
An interesting attribute of Kashmiri Pandit cuisine is that it is devoid of onions and garlic though they are meat eaters! Saunf (aniseed) and dry ginger are other spices used imaginatively to enhance the taste. Being the home of saffron, the colourful flavouring agent is used in the Pulao and sweets. Today the community is scattered and this exquisite cuisine is in danger of passing into oblivion. ‘Poush’ or flowers celebrate the fragrance and memory of its unique taste and its people… Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine is a culinary experience in its own right… From the infamous NAINE YEKHENIE, delicious lamb cooked in yoghurt to the MOOJE GAADE, River fish cooked with Radish, the dishes will leave you craving for more. Vegans equally have a lot to be excited about like NADUR YAKHNE, Lotus Stem with Yoghurt and a Green Apple Curry, KASHMIRI SCHOOTH and many more. Desserts like KASIRI KHEER, SHUFTA ROTH, DHOONE PUDNA CHATEN (A Walnut mint) MOOJE CHATEN. (Radish with Curd) and KEHWA will ensure a truly indulgent experience.
Keep it Healthy, Stay Beautiful!