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In Nawabi style



Chef Vijaya Bhaskaran: the perfect host at the buffet — Photo: Murali Kumar K.

THE ONGOING Hyderabadi Food Fest at Le Meridien is truly a feast of tradition and spices. By spices I don't mean those which set your system on fire, but which subtly pamper your senses. Yes, Hyderabadi cuisine is totally different from the Andhra cuisine as we know it. The former is influenced by Nawabi food habits, explains Vijaya Bhaskaran, the Executive Chef at Le Meridien.

Cosy ambience

At the festival, the ambience too is very Nawabi. There are low chowki tables with gaddas, and if you want to smoke, you are presented with a traditional hooka! The very ambience soothes you and the service is aimed to make you feel at home and enjoy a leisurely meal at your own pace.

To begin with, you are served two varieties of sherbet, which kind of set the mood for the rich food that follows. The food is served in a buffet. But you have smiling and patient people to take you around and explain the menu and even the ingredients that go into the meal. "This is helpful to the travellers, as they are curious to know what they are eating," explains the chef. To make it more interesting for the tourists, he has painstakingly arranged all the ingredients in an artistic way at the entrance in tiny hand-stitched bags.

Salad spread

Coming to the food, a great attraction is the big spread of salads. Here you find the traditional kosambari rubbing shoulders with its more exotic cousins. This section is not typically Hyderabadi — it is, in fact, the only section that offers a mixed cuisine. Then come the soups, the traditional paya shobra and the vegetarian hariyali shobra.

As the food has the Nawabi influence, all the dishes have plenty of dry fruits, butter, and lots of meat going into them. So, if you have a poor appetite, then it would be a better idea to simply skip the salads and the soup and plunge into the yummy main course.

In the main course, the non-vegetarians can have kachi gosht ki biriyani (lamb marinated with herbs and spices, cooked with half cooked rice!). "The meat has to be really tender for this dish and that is the speciality of this dish," says Chef Bhaskaran with pride.

Then there is pathar ka gosht (here the meat is cooked on a piece of stone). "The stone provides slow heat and the lamb is unbelievably soft after being cooked this way," adds the chef.

Then there is the famed haleem, a combination of lamb, wheat, and lentils, which is cooked for 12 hours! This is mainly cooked during Ramzan. This dish was fed to the soldiers, as it is a complete meal in itself and could keep the soldiers going for a long time on the battlefield, says Chef Bhaskaran. Those who don't exactly lead a soldier's life could do with some caution, though: This is a really heavy dish and if you have been living on light stuff all your life, try it in a small quantity.

And this festival at Le Meridian, for a refreshing change, offers generous varieties for vegetarians too. "Al I have done is to adopt the non-vegetarian recipes for these vegetarian delights," says Chef Bhaskaran. So, he proudly presents baingan maikhalia, tamater aur mirchi ka salan, paneer methi, kulti ka kut, subz biriyani and allo ki tehri. These can be eaten with naans, rotis or plain rice.

Desserts

Then comes the grand finale, the desserts. Here, you have double ka meetha and khajur ka halwa, once again very rich and heavy on the tummy. But then there is also khubani ka meetha, apricots soaked in whipped cream and cardamom powder, which is really yummy and also light on the palette and the tummy.

The fest at Le Meridian in on till September 25 from 7.30 p.m. onwards. Call 22262233 for reservations.

Ambience: Traditional

Speciality: Hyderabadi cuisine

Wallet factor: Rs. 595 plus taxes per person

Service: It's a buffet, but the staff are very helpful

SHILPA SEBASTIAN R.

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