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Fine food... off city centre

I avoid rice, khatta, heavy spices and things like dahi vada, but I am a food lover despite all that, and shaljam-gosht is my favourite dish.



Ghulam Ali relishing the fare on offer at Uppal Orchid's Bonitos restaurant in New Delhi. Photo: S. Arneja.

IF A sentence like, "Mujhe to bas simple ghar ki bani daal roti hi acchi lagti hai," comes from a simple man like Ghulam Ali, the famous ghazal singer from Pakistan, you are not surprised. For you immediately try to match his undemanding, unaffected demeanour with what he says on his food habits; the two go strikingly well together.

He is at Uppal's Orchid, on Delhi's outskirts with his wife, son Nazar Abbas and daughter Rabia, ready for lunch at Bonitos, its 24-hour world cuisine restaurant.

The singer, who prefers to be addressed as Khan Saab rather than `sir' has good reason to be here. Spread across 10.5 acres, of which 90 per cent is left for lawns, trees and flowering plants and only 10 per cent is built-up area, Uppal's Orchid prides itself on being India's first ecotel hotel. "This is quite far away from the airport, but for such a good place you have to make some sacrifices," says the maestro, applauding the vast area where a fresh breeze blows even in the scorching heat. Besides the usual delicacies, Executive Chef Devraj Haldar has prepared some exotic dishes for the celebrity guests from Pakistan.

The singer seems to believe that a part of success in life stems from eating what you like and letting the food fight it out inside, something that Mark Twain believed in too. Yet he has to take precautions, "Because of singing I have to avoid rice, khatta, heavy spices and things like dahi vada, but I am a food lover despite all that, aur shaljam-gosht meri pasandeeda dish hai," says Khan Saab, absorbing the ambience of Bonitos with its fort-like structure at the buffet spread. His vegetarian soup has arrived. "Is mein zyada mirchi to nahin hai na?" he asks. "No I have prepared it specially for you," Haldar assures.

Eating makes the singer recall what the veteran musician Naushad taught him. "He used to tell me, first you sing and then eat, because singing makes your blood pressure go up. And one must take some rest after lunch. He would give me all such small tips. He loves me a lot you know," the singer smiles like a child recalling his favourite teacher!

The mood for food is set. Bonitos guys seem to know that music with supper is an insult both to the cook and the musician , or maybe they know that when a great singer is their guest, any kind of music would just not do. Hence, they play safe. There is no music at all! The singer now relishes chicken shaji, roasted chicken from the Frontier. Then there is Gawadar jhinga, barbecued prawns from the Gawadar region of Pakistan, besides chicken rogan josh, curried chicken from Kashmir, murgh Lahori kadhai, succulent sautéed chicken from Lahore and chapli kabab, which is lamb kabab braised in fat.

"It is very tasty. I did not want to eat, but I can't resist it now," says Khan Saab, as liberal with his praise as he is straightforward in rejecting food he dislikes. Bonitos is spared this side of his nature, but the maestro recounts an instance.

Once a friend invited him for dinner. "I was served karela chicken there. As I took a bite I found it was too bitter and there was too much water in it that spoiled the whole dish. I asked him, `Kis bevakoof ne ye banaya hai?' His wife who was standing next to me said, feebly, `I cooked it.' I answered, `Ye koi khana hai. Sab paani paani hai'. She was nice not to mind, and I couldn't help my straightforward nature," he recalls, while he orders dal gosht, a melange of lentil and lamb, home-style cookery from Pakistan, biryani and roti.

While the singer relishes it, one is forced to believe that if the food is good, the eater also ends up with good conversation . The maestro is all smiles after his meal. He murmurs, "Kuch to hawa bhi khushbhu liye hue hai..." And we know why!

RANA SIDDIQUI

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