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Royal repast

Zaifath-e Deccan, the Hyderabadi Mughalai food fest on at the Khyber Grill, Park Sheraton, takes one on a royal culinary trip



Pic. by N.Sridhar

IT WAS a night of `mehfil.' Each participant sang at least a couplet. The rippling water below wasn't loyal to the royal glory of the moon or her courtiers, the stars. Zaifath-e Deccan, the Hyderabadi Mughalai food fest at the Khyber Grill, Park Sheraton, has more star power.

The man behind this poetic food is a descendant of that poet king who still remains an ache in Indian hearts — Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor. Janab Y. Masihuddin Tucy, who is five generations away from the last royal occupant of the Red Fort, is a food consultant to Kakatiya Sheraton & Towers, Hyderabad.

Janab traces his lineage right up to Timur and 14th Century A.D. Samarkhand, Uzbekistan. He speaks volubly on various strains of Mughlai food, Chungtai (palace food), Lashkari (army camp or travel food) and Suljookhi (combination of palace and Baghdadi, Iranian and Turkish food) and cites Urdu and Persian texts as the source of his research.

Claims and more claims, some slick as the ghee at the bottom of a biriyani handi, already beset the Mughlai and its auxiliaries, Avadhi and Nizami cuisines.

When grey areas abound, scepticism follows. It was with a healthy dose of doubt that I listened to Janab Tucy expounding the simplicity and soundness of the cuisine. Hakims attached to the palace kitchen are supposed to have drawn out balanced recipes to ensure that the royalty kept fit. Forget the medicinal aspect, the simplicity part itself was hard to swallow. But kebab-e-shahi mutbaq floored me. This potato tikki is astoundingly simple and tasty.

After years of oil floating nut-based gravies, tarmezi khourma was like a wisp of cloud. The light aromatic curry reveals the Uzbek roots — reliance on herbs, more than spices. The secret, Janab says, is the bouquet garni of 18 herbs. Some simplicity!

The name cards on the buffet tables were familiar: yakhni shorba, paneer pasanda, do piazza, dalcha, mahi kaliya, mirch ka salan ... we have had it all before. Yet, it is a different world, that of royal taste.

The mutton broth, shorba, with the special Uzbek nan is a treat. Why even our semia payasam is glamorous when it becomes sheer khourma and is in the company of quooba, stuffed apricots. So, don't miss it.

The Lashkari cuisine is Janab Tucy's specialty, as per the profile released. At the end of the sumptuous repast (pardon the language, it is the royalty effect), the old classroom history on cause and effect, luxuries of camp life demoralising the leaders of the army came to mind. Anyway, the 10-day festival on till March 14 can't lead us astray. So at Rs. 500 per person, it is waiting for you by the poolside at night.

MARIEN MATHEW

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