Mirchi ka Halwa at Rampur kitchens: Cooking up oxymorons and other delights
Westin Kolkata is offering distinct flavours of Rampur's royal kitchen by organising Rampur Nawabi Food Festival
Rampur, a seat of nawabs in Uttar Pradesh, conjures up redolent images of poetry, art and princely lifestyle complete with architecture, music in palaces, delicate handicrafts and lithe hybrid dogs. Now a part of Uttar Pradesh, the state, which came into being in 1774, is still famous for and frequented by scholars thanks to Rampur Raza Library, a storehouse of invaluable scholarly collection of Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscripts. Besides its rich legacy of culture, the erstwhile royal state is also famous for those 9-10 inches long Rampuri knives and Rampur Hound dogs.
The gastronomic legacy, though much less spoken about, is no less glorious. With the nawabs frequently sending their khansamas (royal cooks) abroad to sniff out new spices and flavours, Rampuri cuisine evolved its very unique taste, amalgamating the nuances of Awadhi, Hyderabadi and Kashmiri cooking. Thus you have sweet dishes, such as, Adrakhi Halwa and Mirchi Halwa and savouries, such as, Tar Qorma and Kachche Gosht ka Tikia, which are Rampuri in their essence.
Westin Kolkata has attempted to offer these distinct flavours by organising Rampur Nawabi Food Festival.
Masterchef Suroor Khan from the Rampur gharana, along with his team comprising chef Haji Bhura and Mohammad Salim, the third generation Khansamas of the Rampur nawabs, will be rustling up some smoking hot delicacies in the city, straight from the royal kitchen till the end of this month.
“We don’t often hear about Rampuri cuisine, because the nawabs did not want the recipes to be revealed. The other reason is that there are only a few chefs, who are experts in Rampur style of cooking. That’s why for the past few years we are organising festivals across the country to make the cuisine popular,” says chef Suroor Khan, whose team has fed the likes of actors Feroz Khan and Arbaaz Khan besides other celebrities.
According to Khan, the speciality of Rampuri cuisine lies in the fact that all the spices used are dry or ‘Khada masala’ as they call it. There is a liberal use of black and white peppercorns cloves, cinnamons, mace, black and green cardamom pods, bay leaves, cumin and coriander. “What distinguishes the flavour is the use of yellow chilli, grown in Rampur. This variety is hotter than the green ones and lends a unique taste,” adds Khan.
We were indeed floored by the Kachche Gosht ki Tikia (minced mutton tikka). The flattened minced mutton pancakes were delicately balanced in terms of spices. The liberal use of chilli only added to the flavour and left you asking for more. The granular quality of the meat besides the spices set it apart from its close cousin, galawati kebabs.
Like possessed carnivores, we skipped quite a few tasty vegetarian fares, such as, aloo qeema, paneer shorma and baingan achari, settling for the much anticipated Tar Qorma. It did not betray our taste buds. The succulent pieces of red meat drowned in tar coloured curry, complemented the Moradabadi biryani perfectly.
The blackish colour of the curry is achieved by cooking the meat in simmering heat for two-three hours at a stretch. “We make the meat tender in its own juice for hours on end. What makes it unique is how we use the same spices in a different way. Like in other recipes of bhuna mutton, we don’t use tomato to make this particular dish,” explains Khan.
We ended the fare with Mirchi ka halwa, a sweet dish made with chillies. Initially when we were told about it, we assumed it to be some kind of culinary gimmick, but were pleasantly surprised to find a savoury sweet dish retaining its spicy grain without taking away the saccharine feel.
In Rampur, you can even trust them to cook oxymorons.
What: Rampur Nawabi Food festival
Where: The Wetsin Kolkata Rajarhat
Plot No. CBD /2, Action Area 2, New Town, Kolkata - 700 156
When: Till July 1
Timings: 7.30 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Charges: Rs 1,399 plus taxes