So you claim to like Indian food? You get nostalgic when you think about the makki ki roti and sarson ka saag and avial? But honestly, how much do you know about Indian cuisine? For instance, are you aware of how payasam is actually made? Or how is it different from kheer? Ever tasted the traditional food of say, Assam or Nagaland? Unfortunately, the diversity and sheer wealth that Indian cuisine offers is rarely reflected in our restaurant menus.
Outside of India, it’s even rarer to find these gems that are part of our cultural mooring and which we may relish at home (especially during festivals). But go to a restaurant and all that you are likely to find are the butter chickens and the tandoori naans – which, also let’s face it, are far removed from the original preparations in a Punjabi kitchen. That’s why we wholly commend Taj Dubai’s efforts to bring a whiff of authentic Indian cuisine to Dubai through the Colours of Bengal series which launched last month.
The concept is great: every month one region of India gets the spotlight and the cuisine and culture is celebrated every Saturday for five weeks. The journey began with Bengal and if you haven’t heard about it yet, this is your last chance to savour it – there are two more Saturdays left before the festival zones in on another region.
Why you must patronise this campaign is also to appreciate the holistic treatment given to it. The colours… series, is not just about adding a few items to the menu nor is it a regular food festival but the idea is to give a whole new flavour to the restaurant. So the ambiance reflects Bengal in its true essence. The warm welcome and excellent service (as you can expect) makes it a special occasion to indulge in. The live music, paintings, the rangoli, the jhal muri and puchka counter and décor add to the festive flavour. And you can’t wait for the food to arrive!
And arrive it does in style! There is a non-veg and vegetarian menu. The non-veg items included would please a fastidious Bengali. You have Paturi Maach (seabass mustard and coconut), the Kolkata roll in starters. The mains comprise traditional favourites like Kosha Mangsho (lamb cooked with chillies, yoghurt and onion tomato paste), Chingri Malai curry (prawns and coconut milk), the extremely famous Macher Jhol (which even a non-Bengali knows!), Baigun Bhaja (seared brinjal slices with spices) and Cholar Dal. In the vegetarian section, you had Dhokar Dalna (gram lentil cake), Macher Ghonto (banana flower and potatoes) among others. All of which were accompanied by fluffy rice and luchi (the Bengali version of puri!).
So did the dishes match up to what we have eaten at home? Does it bring back memories of Kolkata? Will it make you want to bask in nostalgia? And if you are a non-Bengali and unaware of the cuisine, will it make you want to try something new when you dine out? The answer is Yes and No.
My only grouse is that there has been an attempt to make it more palatable for international taste which as a purist, I do not agree with entirely. For instance, I would have loved to have Paturi maach with bhetki and not seabass (agreed, bhetki is hard to get in Dubai). Or have more zing and tanginess in the Kosha Mangsho and a little more sweetness to the Cholar Dal. But I am nit-picking. For the overall experience is rich and fabulous.
When you end a meal with the delicious ‘mishti’ platter (including the world famous Bengali sweets) and the heavenly Nolen Gur Ice Cream (made with natural sugar), you really don’t want to ask for more.So kudos to the effort to introduce to the diversity of Indian food to a larger audience. While we are all for progressive food and the molecular gastronomy doing its bit, sometimes, it’s great to get reacquainted with our roots. So what’s coming next BB? Watch this space.