I’m no expert on North Indian food, but as a lover of food, I'm always on the looking out to learn more. So when I was invited to review the Awadhi Food Festival that’s currently on at Seasonal Tastes, The Westin Gurgaon’s 24 hour restaurant, I just couldn't refuse. I’ve been nursing a slightly dodgy stomach for a while and I was a little nervous about eating rich, spicy food, but the things you do when it comes to learning more about food :) The risk was worth it :)
From what I’ve read about Awadhi cuisine, it originates from Lucknow and is greatly influenced by Mughal cooking techniques. The chefs are called bawarchis and the food is synonymous with cooking over a slow fire, also known as the dum style of cooking. And, from my understanding, it is for people who love their meat!
MasterChef Qadir Khan
So off I went, along with two good friends, Sneha (The Kitchen Espion) and Nimi (Matrix Life Magazine). After we enjoyed a few welcome drinks, some thandai and some rooh afza, we got a chance to chat with Executive Chef Deepak Bhatia and Indian Masterchef Qadir Khan, an expert in this style of cooking. Masterchef Qadir Khan explained to us the care and patience that goes into preparing dishes like raan, kebabs, kormas, nirahi and biryani. He told us that the use of rich spices like cardamom and saffron as well as slow cooking techniques are what makes Awadhi food so special and unique.
Shots of Thandai
Some Gulab Sharbet
First up, we tried some kebabs and grilled meats that are distinct because they are cooked over a Chula. The kebabs were delicious. My favorite was the grilled quail, the Awadhi lamb chops and the kakori kebabs. The meat was perfectly cook, so tender and seemed to literally melt in your mouth. What I loved most was that the spices were so well balanced- no single spice was overpowering. A lot of times when I order kebabs, they are so spicy that I can only taste chilli- my mouth is numbed by the excessive use of chilly :) This wasn’t the case.
Grilled marinated lamb chops
Next came the raan and I have to confess that I had a bit of a ‘meatgasm’ moment :) Honestly, I have tried raan only on one prior occasion at Made in Punjab. This raan was a little different, had a little gravy with it. The one I had in Made in Punjab was drier (without gravy, more of a spice rub). I'm not sure which is more authentic, but both are equally delicious. The meat was marinated beautifully and just came off the bone. It was my favorite dish of the evening and I helped myself to several helpings... dodgy stomach be damned! I polished off the rich sauces of the raan with something called Sheermal, a rich, slightly sweet flatbread which had a very delicate cardamom flavour. Something I could probably eat all on its own.
After the raan I tackled the buffet, which was quite a spread consisting of shorbas, kormas, curries, biryanis (chicken, mutton and a vegetarian option too) and desserts. I tried a little bit of everything. The nihari gosht, which I was trying for the first time, blew me away. Nihari is a slowly cooked meat stew that was originally served as a heavy breakfast meal. I'm not sure if it's actually possible for meat to melt, but it sure felt like it did when I bit into it :) And the broth itself was delicate and so comforting. Something I could easily enjoy on a cold winter evening. Note that I'm in no way saying that this is the best nihari I've ever tasted, I'm just saying that I thought it was pretty darn good.
I kept the biryani for the end. I keep hearing a lot of my foodie friends having heated debates about which, between the hyderabadi and lucknowi styles of biryani, is better. After trying the gosht biryani, I can honestly conclude that I am a fan of lucknowi biryani. There is something about the aromatic, almost sweet flavour and delicate taste that isn't overpowered with spice and chilli.
From the dessert section, I tried the Sewiya ka muzzafer (Hand made sewiya cooked with dry nuts and mawa), Kubani ka meeta (Dry apricot cooked in sugar syrup and finish with saffron and nuts) and phirni. I wasn’t too impressed with the sewiya or the apricot dessert, but loved the phirni, which was rich, creamy and not overly sweet.
[Image courtesy Sneha Lata Saikia]
The Awadi Food Festival is on till 28th February so do go and check it out.
[All images by Shalini Pereira unless otherwise mentioned. Please do not use without prior written permission]