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For veggies, from Varanasi

It is a delightful medley of flavours at the Baat Banaras Ki festival on at Radisson GRT



Chef Elango Rajendran with his traditional spread

HINDI MUSIC filters through concealed speakers and Zee TV plays softly at the Garden Café at Radisson GRT Hotel, which is hosting an all-vegetarian Baat Banaras Ki - Baranasi Festival. A couple of divans and cushions are aesthetically scattered on the floor to make for the "authentic" Banarasi feel. You can choose to sit in the café and watch the chefs toss rotis and fry puris or sit outside by the pool and watch more chefs rustle up chats.

"Banarasi food is traditional Hindu food," says executive chef Elango Rajendran. "It's not too rich and spicy like Avadh fare, which was pre-dominantly non-vegetarian and prepared for royalty." The menu is entirely vegetarian and, as the chef says, neither too spicy nor too heavy.

The welcome drink options include thandai — a combination of nuts and cold, sweetened milk, chaach or buttermilk and aam ka panna. The chats, served by chefs brought in from the Varanasi Radisson, include dahi kachori, aloo tikki and papri chat. They are semi-dry, allowing you to taste each individual flavour, instead of being drowned in mint and tamarind chutney as chat in Chennai usually is.

Onto the main course... the now world famous aloo dum Banarasi is a medley of flavours — cones of potato stuffed with dry fruits and cottage cheese. Chef Elango says it is one of the most popular Banarasi dishes, but usually massacred in various forms and with all kinds of added flavours. Choka bati is a typical Banarasi dish, eaten by people who labour in the fields. The spherical bati — rather tough on the jaws — is made of flour and stuffed with chana dal, originally the bati was baked in the soil and took a few days to cook. The choka is a combination of mashed potatoes and char grilled aubergines. Another speciality of the area is the suran ki subzi, which combines yam with a yoghurt-based curry. The lauki ki koftha is an unusual dish of bottle gourd dumplings in cashew nut gravy. The sattu — roast gram and spice — roti or bajra roti make perfect accompaniments for these gravies. The chivra muttar is a combination of peas and hand-pound rice. The mixed kalunji is an interesting blend of bitter gourd stuffed with lady's finger, yellow chilli and spices. The smooth taste of the lady's finger is replaced by the tart aftertaste of the bitter gourd, while the yellow chilli and spices make for a lovely play of flavours. "Banarasi food is primarily about flavours. It's just simple, home fare but the flavours make it so tasty," says Chef Elango.

The dessert section would be a mithai maniac's dream come true. Warm, sticky jalebis are served with condensed milk, rasgullas float in sweet syrup and boondhi ladoos smile up from the buffet. The laung lata is a traditional Banarasi sweet — hard and sugary on the outside with coconut filling. The fruit phirni is smooth and nutty, while the warm green gram halwa and gajjar ki halwa are neither too sweet nor have too much ghee.

The Baat Banaras Ki festival is on till July 18, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Garden Café, Radisson GRT Hotel, 531, GST Road, St. Thomas Mount. The buffet is priced at Rs. 325 per head, plus taxes. For reservations, call 22310101.

SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

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