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Food review: Take a bite of the Kashmir Valley at this food festival
It is not so often that one gets to taste the heavenly flavours of Kashmir while being in blazing Chennai. Transporting the food from the Valley down South is this Kashmiri food festival being held at Le Royal Meridien’s Navaratna restaurant in the city.
Curated by chef K Sivakumar, who earlier worked at hotels in Delhi on North Indian cuisines, particularly Kashmiri food, the fest showcases some of the classic dishes from Jammu and Kashmir.
We begin the meal with a mirchi ka bharwa, an appetiser with green capsicum stuffed with a cottage cheese (paneer) and nuts mixture — the soft and nutty filling along with a bite of the crunchy bell pepper gives a mouthful of flavour. The restaurant also keeps the experience close to authentic by serving all its dishes in shiny brassware, an art which has been flourishing in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir for decades. Chicken kanti, a non-vegetarian starter, uses milk cream to marinate the meat, but however skips the Kashmiri red chilli powder which most recipes use to give the dish a fiery red appearance. After being cooked in butter along with its cream marinade, the chicken is as tender as it can get, with an added richness. The appetisers, served with a sweet and refreshing radish and onion chutney, demonstrate a clever use of nuts and milk fats in food — a very intrinsic aspect of Kashmiri food.
Rogan josh is one of the signature dishes of Kashmiri cuisines and features on this menu as well. We decide to pair it with a modur pulao, which is a pilaf using nuts and raisins. The slight sweetness from the nuts in the rice cuts the richness of rogan josh’s tomato-based gravy with tender mutton. The redness from the Kashmiri chillies gives the dish an explosion of colour. If you want to test the extremity of creaminess the cuisine can offer, try the lodur chasman, which is paneer cooked in a gravy of milk and cloves. The dish also uses saffron to take the richness further up a notch. Aab gosht biryani is possibly one of the most elaborately-cooked biryanis one would come across. “The rice used for the biryani is soaked overnight in milk and saffron and then cooked through dum (steam cooking) along with mutton that has been marinated with yogurt and spices,” explains the chef. The method yields incredibly tender meat and fragrant rice, after soaking in the saffron milk. Phirni, a rice pudding with saffron and nuts, makes for a perfect end to the meal when served cold.
Even though the menu misses out on the quintessentially Kashmiri kahwa, a tea flavoured with saffron, cardamom and cinnamon, it sure is a great way for one to be introduced to Kashmiri food. The food fest is on till June 30 and is open for both lunch and dinner.