Punjabi food is exciting if you have an uncompromised appetite. There is no denying that it is one of the heavier cuisines – rich, flavourful and spicy and most of us love it that way. We’ve savored good Punjabi food – sarso da saag, choley puri and daal makhani at many many restaurants in Mumbai. And yet there comes a time when one meal takes your breath away. Without exaggeration, that happened to us when we dined at The Square – Novotel at their Punjabi food festival ‘Zaika Punjab Da’.
What separates good food from excellent food is an abstract concept. Like Po’s father said in Kung Fu Panda, “The secret of my secret ingredient soup is – nothing.” We met a gifted chef who shared the same philosophy. Many years ago Chef Ranveer Brar, executive chef of Novotel Mumbai discovered Sweety Singh, a simple self-taught cook in Punjab, and decided that his food deserved more takers. Singh has been travelling the world ever since, cooking for top hotels and doing personalized menus for celebrities. He sure must be something, we imagined.
Singh conceptualized the menu for Zaika Punjab Da but more importantly, shared his secret recipes with Novotel. “I have no problem sharing my recipes. It is no secret. Even if I gave you the exact recipe you wouldn’t be able to reproduce my food,” he said with inadvertent pride, “that’s because the masalas are specially made in Punjab and you wouldn’t find them here.”
|bhatti da murg|
We could hardly wait to try the Punjabi food cooked in desi ghee. The buffet was split into two sections, multi-cuisine global fare and pure Punjabi fare. We obviously saved our hunger for the latter. Singh piled our plates with bhatti da murg, chikkad choley, maa ki daal, baingan bharta and mutton curry. Piping hot rotis arrived at the table. The murg and mutton were cooked to melt in the mouth, the choley had a sharp zing without being overly spicy and the rich creamy daal filled our tummies yet kept us asking for more. “But there is no cream, no cashewnut paste in my gravies. What you taste is pure Punjabi food,” he said. We took several helpings of the baingan bharta…doused in a layer of desi ghee, cooked without onion and garlic and yet so full of flavour. “Leave room for dessert,” he said, and served a traditional sweet dish of gaund (edible gum) and jaggery. We forgot its name – but the meal was unforgettable.
Zaika Punjab Da was on from 13th to 28th April at The Square, Hotel Novotel, Juhu, Mumbai.