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Very Awadhi, rose water et al


THE LUCKNOWI Food Festival at the Taj Residency is one of a series of regional food events that the Taj is mounting at the moment. - a laudable exercise in bringing the tastes, colours and textures of different parts of India to the Malayali palate.

The menu for the buffet is a generous spread of vegetable dishes, salads, meat, fish and chicken and three varieties of rice, all tantalizingly different from anything served south of Hyderabad. The Taj has brought the authentic taste of Awadh (an area in Lucknow) to Kochi by bringing in a master cook and his assistant from Lucknow to prepare the dishes in the traditional manner.

The ambience of rose water and saffron in many of the dishes is tempting. For instance the starter of dhal soup has a subtle aroma of milk and rose water, and fresh ground pepper.

Perhaps the real winner on the menu is the melt-in-the-mouth paratte (Ulta thava ke paratte), which must clearly compete for first place in paratte-world. They are made in huge, monstrously heavy thavas with heat applied from all round it. The paratte dough itself is quite distinct, containing egg and milk in it. Another variety (Sheer mal) was `washed' with rose water and had a faint pink blush.

A special feature of Awadhi meat preparations is that the lamb is minced to a fine paste for all kebabs and koftas. The story goes that an old Nawab, lost all his teeth and could not enjoy his favourite Kakori Kebabs. Therefore his cooks had to mince all meat to a baby's mash; hence the melt-in-the-mouth kebabs of Awadh.

Another interesting dish was the `Dum ka Murgh', which, again, is cooked with heat applied from all round it. In this case the result was a very special gravy, thick with the taste of ground cashew-nut added in the masala.

A word has to be sad about the salad section and the sweet trolley. The haricot beans, baby corn and rice salad, with dried fruit garnish was a meal in itself while the radish salad introduced a totally tangy taste to complement the sweet taste of rose water in the main dishes.

The sweet trolley was also unexpected since that section is generally neglected in five-star Indian cuisine: the guests are often offered ice cream and caramel creations instead of anything Indian. So it was a pleasant change to find genuine Indian sweet dishes. The rice-based kheer-like sweet was decorated with dried fruit, while the fried bread floated in a sweet sauce which contained reduced milk, saffron and rose water.

A sweet experience indeed.

ANAND NAIR

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