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Hearty meal

The on-going Khad Food Festival at the Firdaus Restaurant, Taj Krishna, has interesting flavours for the Hyderabadi palate.

THE RUGGED terrain of the North West Frontier and the wavy sand dunes of the desert may seem romantic and exotic for getaways from the hustle-bustle of city life. The nomads of these geographical regions like the Bedouins and others in the Sahara and Thar deserts have combated vagaries of weather to adjust themselves to this landscape. They have, over a period of time, developed their culinary traditions - one using solar heat to the maximum. Their food is robust, strong in spices and hearty enough to cater to their needs. After all, these burly people require all the energy to move about in the inhospitable areas.

This cuisine has been developed and improved upon to suit the palate of the urbanites. Pioneering work done by Chef Hemant Oberoi, Corporate chef of the Taj group of Hotels ably assisted by chef Ashok Sangle, has resulted in the evolution of the Khad cuisine. This is now available for the Hyderabadis to taste in the Khad Food Festival on at Firdaus restaurant of Taj Krishna till July 28.

The cuisine has seen substantial revisions - but the methodology of cooking has been more or less retained. Since the nomads don't travel with too many vessels they cook food in a mud pot which is covered and left smouldering on the embers of a fire (which is lit at night for warmth) in the pit. The whole pit is then covered and the food cooks slowly with the solar energy as well during the day.

"We lived in Rajasthan and saw the process of cooking by the banjaras and then developed and perfected it over a year," says Chef Ashok Sangle, who is present at the festival. Although the earthen ware (made at Lepakshi on the prototype developed in Mumbai) is used in the hotel, the sigris take the place of the traditional fire. Keeping in mind the five-star ambience, the food is cooked in foil and served with the foil in an earthen vessel.

The nomadic cuisine uses meat and chicken but a fish item has also been added. Vegetarians too have been kept in mind as there are four dishes besides a shorba and biryani created for them although this is primarily a non-veg cuisine. "Spices such as cardamom, mace, bayleaf and cloves form the base of the masala besides the onion and tomato gravy," says Chef Banja, executive chef, Taj Krishna.

The tastes are certainly different and unusual.

There is matki shorba (veg and mutton) - a clear and light soup as a starter. For the non-veg palate there is khad murg (spring chicken flavoured with cardamom, mace and saffron cooked in its own juice), pudina macchli (fish wrapped in a banana leaf, cooked with mint chutney - somewhat like the Parsi preparation), khushk raan (whole leg of lamb cooked with dry with aromatic spices), khad choosa makhani (baby chicken halved and cooked in rich tomato based gravy) and khud gosht (slow cooked meat in the traditional way - dry and spicy).

The sondhi subzi (melange of vegetables cooked with Indian spices - vegetables like tomatoes are stuffed with a paneer stuffing, brinjals and onions with different mixtures), Multani aloo (potatoes stuffed with paneer and roasted in a clay oven) and achari butta (baby corn in pickling spices) have delicate tastes. The matki dal (math dal) is distinct in taste and flavour.

Keeping in line the nomadic preference for rice, two biryanis, namely khud subz biryani and khud murg biryani are offered.

This festival (till June 28) is certainly for the gastronomes and the hearty eaters.

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

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