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Food cooked on lava stone

Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

The rugged frontiers of Baluchistan bring a mind-blowing variety of dishes.

THE PROVINCE of Baluchistan made headlines recently because of clashes between tribesmen and the Pakistani army. But what does it have to do with Bangalore? Well, Baluchistan is famous for not just gun-toting tribesmen but also for its ethnic cuisine. Due to its location in the remote rugged western region of Pakistan, Baluchi cuisine is a connoisseur's delight as it is dominated by meat flavoured with aromatic herbs and spices. And it is now available in the city at the new Baluchi specialty restaurant at the Grand Ashok.

Baluchistan is an arid drought-prone region with a climate characterised by extremely hot days and bitterly cold nights. Thus, the food ingredients consist mostly of dry fruits and vegetables, potatoes, goat cheese, milk and yoghurt, mutton, and preserved fish. Green leafy vegetables are almost totally absent. But that doesn't stop the tribes from dishing out some really lip-smacking cuisine.

A traditional Baluchi feast can be 21 courses long, but chefs Nimish Bhatia and Imran at Baluchi have packaged it into a short but sumptuous six-course affair that is nothing but exotic from the word go.

The starters are divided into two — the Ibteda-e-Nansh (refreshing drinks before a meal) and Mushq-e-Murakkat (soups made from undiluted extracts). The drinks include the zeera aab, a spicy drink made from smoked pineapple and zeera water garnished with rock salt, and the sherbet mahek khaus, which consists of almonds and mountain cinnamon in cool milk. The zeera aab is feast for both the eyes as well as the palate because it is served in a scooped out green pineapple that lends its own flavour to the drink.

Since the inhabitants of Baluchistan are Muslim, the cuisine doesn't include alcohol, but patrons can choose from a wide variety of liquors and wines at the restaurant.

The soups are a delicacy by themselves. They are prepared in a true Baluchi fashion without corn flour but with lots of spices. The sabz masale ka murakkat is vegetable extract with spices, while the yakhani gosht shurva zor masala is a taste-bud tingling aromatic mutton soup made of extracts from marrow and a spice mix which the chefs will not reveal, of course.

Before the arrival of the main course, a series of cold kebabs are served. Cold kebabs are probably Baluchi cuisine's most awesome contribution. It is said that tribal people in the remote areas of Baluchistan ate their kebabs in the morning after preparing them in the night. This lends the kebabs a unique taste, which is perhaps unmatched. The thandi machli aur khatte kheere (tandoori machalli served with gherkins and cucumber shavings) and the taaze pudine aur hari mirch ke aloo are the two must-try kebabs.

The sheer variety of the main course that follows the kebabs is just mind-boggling. Each dish is special, but methods used to prepare the meat dishes are just remarkable. The chefs use lava stone grills and charcoal grills for cooking meat the Baluchi way. The meat is marinated in ultra-sour yoghurt over either a lava stone grill or a charcoal grill to lend it that special soft texture and taste.

Indian influence

To add a little Indian flavour to the restaurant, the chefs also offer some tandoor rotis like naans, kulchas and parathas. In some cases, yoghurt and cheese made from goat's milk are wrapped with paneer made from cow's milk to mask the pungent odour. A good combination for the main course would be the traditional roti, khubs, with either dal Baluchi or tawa murgh boti dhaniya masala.

Now after the main course, for dessert one need not look further than Oom Ali! (which translates to Oh God!). It is a flaky pastry baked with milk cream and dry fruits that cannot be adequately described in words.

Food apart, the restaurant has tried to recreate the Baluchistan ambience as authentically as possible. The dominant interior colour is brown with the pillars and cutlery clad in copper to give the place that exotic feel. The kitchen is separated from the dining area by a glass wall, which allows people to watch the chefs turn out all those exotic dishes.

Baluchi can be contacted on 22269462/22250202.

* * *

  • Ambience: Frontier, Khyber Pass and all that
  • Wallet factor: Expensive, something like Rs. 2,000 for a meal for two
  • Specialty: Khubs, cold kebabs, zeera aab.
  • Service: Usual five-star

ANAND SANKAR

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