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Gujju food saras che!

The Gujarati food festival at Ramana's is a treat to both your tongue and your tummy

OONDHIYA, PAATRAAS and theplas that surface on your plate taste much like what emerges from your mum's kitchen — soberly spiced so that it doesn't hurt your tummy, wholesome, simple, filling, and fortified with love!

Rasoi Kathiawadi hopes to siphon off food from the kitchens of Gujarat to the table at Ramana's, so that the ever-sweet taste of authentic Gujju food lingers on your taste buds much after you've rapped up your meal.

Small menu

The 13-day food festival at the restaurant, which celebrates vegetarianism all year through, seems to have got it all right — a simple menu consisting of around 10 dishes including the dessert, a la carte. The food looks deceptively light and comes in small portions. But it's definitely filling and makes a perfect meal between work because most of the dishes are baked and oil-free. "We decided to have a small menu because most food festivals offer so much choice that you don't enjoy even one dish in the process of trying out a bit of everything. Gujarati food appeals to vegetarians and we chose the name Kathiawadi because the region has the most authentic foods," says restauraunteur Neeta Lohia, who along with her husband Sanjay Lohia dedicated this restaurant to Ramana Maharshi.

The maharshi's pictures dot the ochre walls of the restaurant and share space with murals of Madhya Pradesh's Worli tribals. The separating panels have little imaginative glass sections filled with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and more. Colourful cloth toranas and streamers with tinkling bells, typical of Gujarat, add to the festive look. Waiters in colourful kurtas and cummerbundhs serve the dishes out of little handis and clay platters.

"So where's the chef?" I ask, half expecting a young smiling gourmet graduate wearing a chef's hat to swish out of the kitchen door. "Oh, we have a Gujarati couple who's doing the cooking. Since our restaurant kitchen is small, they cook at my kitchen at home and then we bring the food over," offers Neeta. Well, it's really home-made food. No wonder it tastes like that!

At the festival, you could start off with the appetiser/digestive tangy jal jeera, along with starters like paatra and palak-paneer dhokla. Paatra is a baked dish where a layer of masala-mixed gram flour paste is spread out on paatra leaves, rolled and steam-baked. Later it's cut into little ringlets and sprinkled with roasted sesame and grated coconut, and tastes good with the tamarind-jaggery chutney.

Dhoklas, traditionally made from gramflour, is mixed with grated and crushed paneer to give it a softer, fluffier feel, and a dash of spinach to make it healthier. You can go on and on eating these baked cakes with the tangy chutney and the chunda.

Chunda, a rave with the Gujaratis, is a deceptive looking sweet-spicy jam made of mango. While it tastes sweet when you eat it, it leaves a spicy after-burn on your tongue!

Next, you could try the hot bajre ki roti and methi thepla as the main course along with the 15-vegetable dish oondhiya, the daal dhokadi and chowli nu saag. Ok, the names may sound complicated, but the dishes aren't.

The theplas are regular wheat flour rotis, only mixed with methi or fenugreek leaves and paper-thin. Oondhiya is a subji filled with nutritious varieties of beans, greens, tomatoes, brinjal, potates and other roots and mixed in a mild masala and dunked with methi pakodis. One small serving of it, and you'll be filled to the brim. Daal dhokadi is a thick thoor dal dish cooked with wheat flour strips, spices, tomatoes and groundnuts. It makes a yummy accompaniment to the rotis. Chowli nu saag is the black eyed beans baked in a tasty, but thick seweetish gravy.

There's a choice of two other side dishes — Bharvan Bhindi or stuffed ladies finger and the Gujaraati daal.

It's amazing how Gujaratis do away completely with onion and garlic and turn out such yummy dishes!

If you are not feeling particularly adventurous, you can have the regular Ramana's fare and mix and match the main course with chilli idli, sham savera, kadhi pakodi, tava vegetable and other dishes.

Cooling shrikhand

But you must top off the sumptuous meal with the eternal desert — cooling shrikhand made of hung curd or yoghurt and spiced with cinnamon, saffron and dry pista-badam.

The Rasoi Kathiawadi festival is on at Ramana's at H.M. Geneva House (next to Wockhardt Hospital), No 14, Cunningham Road till October 10. Lunch is served between 12 noon and 3 p.m. and dinner between 7 p.m. and 10.30 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Mondays. For reservations and details call 22263200/ 22268560/ 22268500.

BHUMIKA K.

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