Expert Speak

The forgotten culinary treasures of the Navaithas

I’m sure many of us (foodies included) would find this name alien. That’s because living in 21st century India we tend to overlook the stretch of history of this ancient civilisation passing through several eras. I’m referring to the Indian community by the name of ‘Navaitha’. 

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9:40 AM at Gurgaon
Celebrating Sarat, nature at its benevolent best!

“Trees laden with ripe fruit, the entire expanse of the earth filled with ripened corn ready for harvest, lakes filled with beautiful aquatic birds like geese, the pleasant sight of blooming and blossoming lotus flowers, the moon brightening up the sky with a milky white lustre.”

This is the mood and flavour of Sarat Ritu, as noted in Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottara-purana.

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3:10 PM at Gurgaon
Beyond Bhoot Jolokia

On India’s north-eastern frontier, distinct aromas emanate from its kitchens. Of food cooked in its own jus with yam and garden-fresh herbs and tinctured with fermented fish or fiery jolokia abundantly grown in the region. Of the delicate refresh of bamboo shoots in soupy translucent glazes broiled painstakingly for that just right consistency and flavour. Of smoky meats in gingered accents or cooked with banana flowers. Quite like how varied rainbow colours perk up our horizon, the distinct culinary vocabulary from the states of Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal, Sikkim, Meghalaya and Assam adds zest to Indian mealtimes.

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5:10 PM at Gurgaon
Smouldering Hot!

But few can resist the smoky charms of a perfectly seared shiitake or the roguish char on tender kobe, particularly when you’ve watched them expertly tossed over charcoal fire, the flavours coming alive even more when they’re served across the counter, deliciously hot and intriguingly plated on a wooden oar… It could well be the story of how one comes to a Zen understanding of life in its essential moments in a lively bar with friends.

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5:10 PM at Gurgaon
Sal Mubarak!

I remember a friend who, tucking into a deliciously scrambled akoori, remarked, ‘When in doubt, crack an eedu’. She was, of course, referring to the Parsi embrace of eggs in dizzyingly imaginative avatars that incorporates the humble egg into cuisine and culture with equal gusto… from cracking an egg at breakfast to cracking an egg at auspicious occasions such as housewarmings!

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6:25 PM at Gurgaon
Romancing The Frontier

Nothing evokes celebration like a shoulder of lamb with the signature flame-licked char and tandoori succulence and smokiness, so tender it falls off the bone... add a variety of seared kebabs and puffy, blistered nans and you truly have a feast! Such repasts evoke the Frontier romance of travel, derring do and Kiplingesque adventures in the Khyber. Also redolent of the legacy of undivided Punjab and its communal earth ovens, surely they invite contemplation of the heritage of Frontier flavours?

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4:35 PM at Gurgaon
Undiscovered Heritage

Much like how discovery of the monsoonal winds opened up a brave new world to explorers and adventurers of yore, closer home, balmy monsoonal breezes recently revealed a window into our multilayered heritage: In Bangalore recently, I discovered a unique culinary heritage - that of the Nawayath community from Gingee, Tamil Nadu, which has settled in the heart of Bangalore at Shivaji Nagar. As you live, you learn.

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12:15 PM at Gurgaon
Fruity Succour

“Baare aamon ka kuch bayaan hoo jaye
qabile-e-tareef fishaan ho jaaye
Aap bhi aaj hi lutf zaroor uthaye!
- Anonymous

Mangoes, a refreshing diversion in summer, have moved poets into lyric hyperbole and inspired nutritionists to champion them as diet essentials.

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3:02 PM at Gurgaon
The Art Of Teppanyaki

I’d always thought of surprises life has in store for us as a box of chocolates or a brown paper package tied up with strings… That is, until I experienced the way of the iron-born. As chefs diced and set aflame a bespoke okonomiyaki for me, amazing me with their jaw-dropping knife skills, dexterous egg toss and prodigious pyro-magic, I learnt how surprises can dazzle, all flash and fiery and fresh!

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9:15 AM at Gurgaon
Fragrance of the Valley

Legends around emperors’ tables abound, in particular, the royal feasts of Mughal emperor Jahangir, whose table was rich with flavours of Punjab and Kashmir. Sir Thomas Roe, the English emissary of the Queen of England, who had the fortune of being summoned frequently to the court of Mughal emperor Jahangir, described in wonder the court feasts brimming with ‘fifty dishes of meats and rice of all types and a spicy venison dish as the most savoury I have ever tasted’.

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4:10 PM at Gurgaon
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