I had written this a few years ago, found this among some stories that i have written. You may read this as a story, or simply a description of a place i been to, that is up to you, dear reader.
Khaanaa Aabaad, Daulat Zyaadaa.
The evening was magical. Dinner at the Dum Pukht. The ambience decidedly reminiscent of the Nawabs. Low lighting. Songs, sung to the accompaniment of the Haarmonium and the Tablaa, the variety that appeals to old fuddy duddies like me, at any rate. Did the gentleman who was singing recognize me from my earlier visits, or was he just being courteous? Not exactly chandeliers, though the lighting did add to the magic of the ambience. Bas, yoon samajhiye, shamaa ki qasar reh gayee. Even an electric one would have been nice.
I decided to venture for the Diwaan, the low seating arrangement. Definetely a pleasant change from the dining table. And, quite comfortable, too. Though, I hope they do something about the cushions which have this annoying habit of falling on you while you are eating. I would recommend taking off your shoes when being seated. Though its not mandatory, I like to believe that’s an essential ingredient of dining on the Diwaan. Otherwise, you are not doing justice to the ambience. They could, in my opinion, do away with the candles, and introduce a lamp in their stead. Would definitely add to the aura. The menu helpfully informs you that the technique of Dum was perfected in the royal kitchens of Hyderabad, Awadh, Delhi, Kashmir, Bhopal, and Rampur. They sure had it good, didn’t they?
I decided to play it safe on the opening night. And, you definitely cannot go wrong with the Dum Pukht Biryani. Its described in the menu as Basmati simmered with mutton stock (though I wonder whether they do it from dawn to dusk), and finished in a sealed Handi with saffron and cardamom (though I would prefer to be the one to finish this Biryani), served with its traditional accompaniment, the Burrani – the Raita that sings in garlic. Definitely not what your friendly neighbourhood dietician would recommend, for its loaded with Ghee, for good measure. But, I suppose if I was in the mood to listen to the dietician, I wouldn’t be sitting here, ordering this in the first place, would I? The Ghee, the cardamom, and the saffron surely do play their magic with the rice, and the mutton is just so. And, the raitaa, with the red chilli, and the garlic is the perfect accompaniment. The rice is coloured the colour of saffron, and the ghee gives it that texture. The raitaa gives it the flavour, and the meat is tender. Worth every morsel.
Day two, and I decided to skip rice for the day, and go for the breads. Being too lazy to go to the restaurant, I ordered from the restaurant in the room itself. However, the selection they provide from the restaurant in the room does not constitute variety by any stretch of the imagination. Mugh Aloo Khourma, a quintessential Hyderabadi chicken and potato Curry flavoured with rich Indian spices, was quite good as far as Chicken Curries go. Vastly different from the Chicken Curry that’s availabe in the northern part of the country, but definitely worth a go. The Parathdar Paratha, an exotic Ajwain flavoured multi-layered bread baked in the Clay Tandoor was more like a run of the mill paratha, and as for the Ajwain, well, I will take their word for it.
Whoever said Mughlai food is the sole preserve of those who deem the human race to be at the top of the food chain? Day three, and as I decided to go vegetarian, the Phulwari Kofta, vegetable dumplings finished in a gravy of special Dum Pukht spices, answered the question. Delectable gravy, and the Kokftas were quite good, too. To go along, I ordered Wara Pudina (though you can get the Sada variety too), which is wafer thin unleavened whole wheat bread, baked on a domed griddle. Somewhat like a Roomali Roti, but thicker.
Usually, going to Bangalore is about work, and about business. This time round, however, it was a little different. To begin with, I was travelling from Bangalore to Chennai, by train (more on that soon), and then, we managed to eat at some of the places we usually don’t go to.
Coming to the food … the variety here is quite interesting. But, something about the signature of a restaurant tells you what kind of food you should order here. And, i was going for something top of mind … there were Fried Prawns, Grilled Fish Sizzler, and the Fish and Chips. The Prawns were nice, though not among the most delectable. The Sizzler is nice, too, not disguising the delicacy of the Fish too much, leaving it grilled well, while keeping it quite tender, and the Vegetables are ok. The most recommendable dish here is the Fish and Chips. The Chips are crisp, and so is the Fish. Done just right, the Fish is not too hard, and not too soft, and cooked in a way that leaves the flavour of the Fish intact. Having eaten Fish and Chips at quite a few places, i must recommend this.
There are a few places which look very beautiful at specific times during the day. Some look very beautiful by day, and others by night. And then, there are a few which look beautiful any time of the day. Standing at Bandstand even with its proximity to Lucky’s (arguably the best in Mumbai when it comes to Biryani), or Persian Darbar, about which I have blogged earlier, is primarily an evening attraction. Nothing matches peering onto the horizon over the Arabian Sea, the majesty of Bandstand around you. Follow this up with a few drinks at Janta Bar, or Toto’s, with a few friends, and Dinner at Persian Darbar, which you could follow up with a nightcap at Hawaiian Shack, and you have a wonderful evening.
On the other hand, however, there are places which can attract your attention, and bedazzle your senses any time of the day. Park Street is one of those. Whether you are sitting by the window at Flury’s, having Breakfast at a legend in Kolkata, and a name which evokes dreams in anyone who has even remotely been attached to Kolkata, watching Park Street waking up in the pleasant morning breeze, people walking past the windows into a wonderful morning, or whether you are sitting by the window at Flury’s, sipping Assam, or even better, Darjeeling Tea, with Sandwiches, for a late-morning Brunch, watching the day mature into the noon-time of Calcutta, with the charm of Park Street slowly getting unveiled for the eyes of those who care to look (and those who don’t, and either know what they are missing, or don’t even have a clue), or having sitting by the window at Flury’s having Lunch, watching the crowd either pass by Flury’s to another restaurant for Lunch (and there are quite a few of those, most of whome are wonderful places to eat, and also, as good as Flury’s, though of course, this one is about Flury’s, so I will stick to the point), or waiting at the gate, to enter the wonder domain with the charm of the grand old lady, Flury’s, or a late afternoon snack of Pastries and Iced Tea, watching people sedentarily getting ready for the evening, or a cup of Tea late in the evening, before you head out for a sundowner (Olypub, anyone?) and more (definitely, if you are going to Olypub, you wouldn’t stick to a sundowner, would you?), Flury’s is one of those places which casts its magic on you, no matter what time of the day you come here, and no matter what you want to eat.
Of course, all this says that Fury’s is a place which you could go to any time of the day. Though, of course, I seldom venture there after 8 pm, for the simple reason that after that, the attraction of Olypub, or one of the other establishments which give Alcohol to go with Dinner, work much more wonders than the charm of Flury’s.
There are a few names in a city, which are names which are synonymous with the city … at least in the minds of the denizens of the city. In Calcutta (sorry folks, I still refer Calcutta, if I am writing in English), there are more than enough such names to go around. Of course, most of them are institutions by themselves. These are names which are revered, and well … in the case of the name I am writing about, drooled about. For generations, Calcuttans have drooled about one such … Arsalan! Yes, an institution by itself, Arsalan is a name synonymous with good Mughlai food in the city.
The original Arsalan which most Calcuttans identify with is at Park Circus … though we didn’t quite go there … tends to be a hot idea to go there and eat on a hot Calcutta afternoon … we went to the new outlet which they have opened at Circus Avenue. You have to be careful to not miss it. And the place is every bit worth the drive there. Getting there could be an adventure, depending on which part of the city you are driving from (we were coming from Camac Street), and this can be quite an experience at 1 pm (what with the traffic direction changing and all …), but its worth it. The ambience, as you can see, it quite nice. Its reasonably comfortable, without being overbearing, or for that matter, arrogant (ya, I find a few of them arrogant in their plushness!).
Coming to the food … we tried the Mutton Kasturi Kababs, which are the dream nuggets of a connoisseur. A dish which must be tried if you are even remotely interested in food. Definitely lip-smacking, though one has to be careful … don’t chomp off your fingers in the act! The Biryani (Chicken) here lives up to the formidable reputation of the establishment (generations have grown up on this Biryani, you see …), and the quantity is just right … doesn’t stuff you, and at the same time, you don’t feel hungry.
And of course, such a meal has to be topped with Dessert … and, whats better than a Firni at an establishment as revered as this? Calcutta, in fact, I find, consumes more of Firni than Delhi does (remember, the Firni is a native of the northern reaches of the country) … no, I am not complaining. Though, the Firni left a bit to be desired … nice, definitely nice, but … could have been better.
Coming to the service … well, we were a little early … in fact, probably the first ones to reach … but the service is definitely nice. Not too lax, and not too rushing, either. And, definitely pleasant!
Though, I wouldn’t like to end this on such a note … I would recommend Arsalan as a restaurant which is more than worth a visit next time you are in Calcutta, or the next time you go out to eat. And of course, if you would rather be home, then the take-away would be just what you could ask for.
This is a picture which is doing the rounds of the email circuit … too many people have sent me this one. My friend Arghaya has blogged about it, too. Even though, i couldnt resist the temptation to write about this. Given the current dietary regime i am going through (which means all the good things on the plate are out …), the only thing i could do with this was write … otherwise … yes, you got it … i would have been eating!
Of course, there is so much variety out there, that this map doesnt even begin to cover the different delicacies which are on offer in different. They dont talk about Missal Pao when in Maharashtra, or the Jalebis of Punjab (of course, had either by themselves, or with piping hot Milk), or the Kosha Maangsho of Bengal, or the Lassi of Punjab, or Banaras, or the Daal Gosht which comes with the people from Punjab, too!
Of course, there is no way this could have captured the wonders of Phuchkas at Vivekananda Park, or Pindi ke Chholle Bhature at Darya Ganj, or the Mutton Qorma at Karim’s, or the Missal Pao at Lalbagh … But, that would be going into too much of specifics, which i am sure is way beyond any map can draw!
These apart, this also doesnt even begin to describe how the same dish, made in different parts comes out different. Take the Kadi for instance … The way Kadi is made in Punjab, or in Rajasthan (which, incidentally, is where the Kadi originates), or in Gujarat is quite different. Or, the chhaunk in the Daal, which changes probably every 10 kms., much like the dialect of Hindi.
Overall, though, nice effort … Wonderful point to begin an exploration into Indian food! Now, time for Lunch … hey … you dont think i could resist eating, having written all this?