By Saurabh A
The once elegant city of Lucknow has lost much of its graciousness to the vagaries of time, as Vinod Mehta has sketched out in his autobiographical work ‘The Lucknow Boy’. Personally, Lucknow has not figured in my travel itineraries as yet and remains on my bucket list. But the fragrance and tastes of Lucknow, introduced to the nation at large and the world in general by the Bade Miya and Tunde Miya, in the shape of delectable melt-in-the-mouth Kakori or Galouti kebabs, have me feel like a local bloke seated on the bench at the popular joint behind Lucknow Gymkhana tucking in the korma with the stealthy zeal of one escaping the vegetarian home kitchen. The news that JW Marriott at Aerocity in New Delhi has brought in an Awadhi chef at its buffet-style dining restaurant K3, set off rumbles of delight deep down, somewhere around the belly button.
The K3 restaurant has several live counters as part of its regular buffet – there is the Chinese, Thai, and Italian, Indian, but the Awadhi counter ‘Arif Miya ki Rasoi’ stood out. Credit goes to K3’s design team for having recreated the ambience of a typical street side eatery. Traditional ‘chatais’ as the backdrop, tilted copper cooking pots gleaming under the lights, the ceramic pickle jars or ‘Barni’, the ubiquitous black board with the Menu of the Day chalked out, a pile of onions, assorted whole spices spilling over their large bowls. My first close encounter with ‘pathar ke phool’ as it appears before it is ground into the Garam Masala. I do believe that ambience comes second only to good company, as one of the factors influencing a culinary experience.
The ritual of dining set off with a drink, a ‘masala’ ice tea, no they did not use tea bags, traditional flavours brewed and chilled, perfectly complimenting the starters and the rest of the cuisine. Galouti Kebab forms a strong pillar in the hall of fame of Awadhi Cuisine. And the roasted chicken wings, succulent, soft, flavourful, not too hot (as in the red chilli burn). Looking deceptively like a piece of rare steak, from the colour, the ‘Chukandar ki tikki’ or the beetroot kebab had the same spices and vied for as much attention. In the main course, the chicken stew was delicious sans the overpowering masala flavors. The keema kaleji was more heavy and rich.
I always perceived Nihari and Haleem as breakfast foods. But I was informed that on the contrary, it is had throughout the day or night. Chef Arif Qureshi explained that since it was cooked on slow wood fires through the night, Nihari was consumed in the mornings, and through the day. While the key ingredients such as meat and cracked wheat may be the same in the Lukhnavi haleem and the Hyderabadi Haleem, there is a distinct difference in flavours, informs Chef Arif. The same applies to the Pulao and Biryani. The ‘Dum’ cooking technique is said to have originated from Awadh, but that could be a debatable point as ‘khansamas’ or chefs were open to influences from all around.
The striking feature about Awadhi cuisine is the moderate spice quotient, lesser use of certain ‘khada masals’, subtle flavours, as compared to the wa-wa-woom impact of a Mughlai lamb or chicken dish. This could be attributed to the Persian influence as the rulers of Awadh were of Persian origin.
The last course is always my favourite, and there is always room for dessert. The first spoon of ‘Zarda’ on my tongue transported me to blissfulness, and memories of childhood. A simple dish, yet requires the correct balance of its key ingredients – cooked Basmati rice, sugar, ghee, cardamom, and in this case, cashew etc. Sevaiyan ka muzzaffar and Shahi tukda are also on the menu.
Chef Arif Qureshi explained the difference between the Awadhi, Mughlai and Hyderabadi cuisines. By far Awadhi cuisine is a lot toned down as compared to its other two counterparts. The use of cayenne pepper is limited; the flavours are milder too, as compared to the Mughlai fare we are used to in Delhi and Punjab. K3’s buffets already have an Indian kitchen, and Arif Miya ki Rasoi is a add on. The menu is changed every day by rotation. Keema kaleji today and Tariwala keema tomorrow, or was that Keema masala? Same with the chicken and mutton dishes. I tried the Lucknow ki gosht nihari, and I absolutely have to go back again to check out the Mutton qorma.
The Arif Miyan Ki Rasoi is available as part of the daily Dinner buffet at K3, priced at INR 2350++ and can be enjoyed between 7:30 pm to 11:00 pm starting from 28th August till 6th September, 2015.