Roadmap of spices, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari
This food festival at Ayna in Hilton is like a geography lesson on wheels
Like the Ostrich entering the Sultan’s Court at Delhi, it’s a showstopper. Even though it’s a humble bowl of soup made from the simplest of ingredients from the countryside. It’s called Bajre Ka Raab. It’s as thick as a woolen blanket made from millets soaked overnight and ground to a fine paste along with the red chilies of Rajasthan, yogurt slightly sour and herbs. You dip your spoon into it and imagine that this is what the legendary Padmavati must have fed her Rana — all mythical characters, please note — before sending him off to battle.
Creating imaginary journeys on the roadside of the NH-44 is the brainchild of Achal Aggarwal, the Executive Chef at the Hilton.“It’s not just the actual food that you get at the Dabhas,” he explains, but also a taste of the spices and ingredients that are used by some of them along the road from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Like rolling out a magic carpet of tastes, Aggarwal has created a road map of spices, condiments and seasonal varieties of produce from each of the regions. It’s like a geography lesson on wheels.
We have already tasted morsels of fish basted in mustard leaves, chunks of paneer rolled around poppy seed, mint and chilies, courtesy of the cuisine of Kashmir. We have combined fenugreek parathas from Harayana with the lamb shanks of Jaipur and munched the fried dumplings of fenugreek and gram flour and are about to enter Rajasthan, when we taste the soup.
It’s a long halt here. After a Ker-sangri relish and a number of sweet-hot-sour pickles that we eat with hard discs of millet roti, we take a quick hop to the erstwhile Andhra region. There’s a huge variety of fish and fowl. The peasant style Gonkhura Pappu, or dhal, the raw banana fritters and fiery fried shrimps jostle for attention with Hyderabadi pillaus and desserts. We skip Tamil Nadu since it’s there outside for us.
The end of a journey is always the best part. Here it comes in a swirl of milky sherbet scented with rose petals and moonlight served in a green bamboo stem container.
It’s like dancing to Ghoomar, the stuff of fairytales!
Open for lunch and dinner, buffet style. February 16-27. Around Rs 2,600, plus taxes, per couple.