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The Imperial New Delhi – A Tale of Two Cuisines

A special menu, consisting of classic dishes from the cuisines of Lucknow and Delhi, is a perfect inducement to the gourmand – courtesy The Imperial New Delhi

LF Says: ★★★★

Is the cuisine better in Delhi or Lucknow? To an outsider to both of these cities, the question may flummox, and may seem a little unnecessary. To residents of either, the question takes on a whole different proportion, and comparisons can take on a distinctly competitive tone. Well, fortunately, moments of togetherness supersede the differences, as the ongoing food festival at The Imperial New Delhi demonstrates.

Beetroot patties The imperial new delhi

The festival, called The Clash of The Titans – Dilli Ka Swad and Lucknawi Andaz, showcases food by Chef Ved Prakash and Chef Mirza Munnawar Baig, both stationed in the hotel.

The food of Chef Ved, who hails from Delhi (or Dilli), is steeped in the traditions of the city. His grandfather used to own an eatery in what is now Old Dilli at the time of independence, famous for curries like Paya Shorba and Purani Dilli Ka Mutton Korma. He brings in this menu the same flavours inspired from his grandfather’s collection as memoirs from his childhood. “The cuisine of Delhi is more ‘chatpata’, has limited spices, and has less strong flavours,” he says, stressing that unlike in Lucknow, where the cuisine is heavily spiced and reflects the flavours of the spices, the Delhi cuisine is more rooted in bringing out the flavours of the main dish.

Gosht ki Ghilawat The Imperial New Delhi

“Dilli food represents the confluence of many cultures,” he says.  His spice levels are in between medium to high and his curries have a velvety texture. Onion, ginger and garlic are most used to lend crisp flavours in his cuisine, though many more ingredients, from common ones such as tomatoes and coriander to more refined flavours such as saffron make his dishes delectable. You may not want to hear it, but generous dollops of ghee enhance the taste!

Mahi Nazakat The Imperial New Delhi

Chef Mirza, on the other hand, is a fourth generation of a family of khansamas from Lucknow whose forefathers used to work with nawabs of Awadh. He has generously used his own blend of spices which are prominent in his recipes. He highlights the use of gulab, ittar, kewra and other condiments which lend Awadhi cuisine its distinctive aroma. Decoding the Lucknowi chicken biryani, he says, “It is a classic Indian mixed rice dish that has been an integral part of the Indian Mughlai culinary tradition and the aim was to prepare the dish while truly retaining the authentic taste. The basic flavours for a classic biryani should include browned onions, cilantro, yogurt and saffron among others. If you take a fistful of good biryani and throw it on a plate, the rice should scatter as fluffy grains and not clump together. The meat or chicken should be well done, moist with thick juices and traditionally with bone, which is unlike the Indian pulao which is prepared with all the ingredients together in one dish along with the added liquids. Therefore, the mouth feel and taste are expected to be quite different.”

“The concept of ‘Clash of the Titans’ takes you on a delectable culinary journey of Hindustan and revives the traditional recipes, passed on to our Masterchefs Ved and Mirza by their forefathers, says Vijay Wanchoo, Senior Executive Vice President and General Manager, The Imperial. “The menus by the chefs revisit the legendary food aesthetics of Lucknow and Purani Dilli, passed on from generation to generation. The magic is recreated for discerning diners with Gosht ki Ghilawat, Kakori kebabs, Chakunder aur Raamdana ki tikki along with an array of Dum Biryanis by Chef Mirza while Chef Ved offers his meticulous craftsmanship with Guchhi Mussalam, Mahi Nazakat, Dilli6 ka Mutton Korma with Purani Dilli ka shahi tukda, all to reconnect with our forgotten recipes”.

Both Delhi and Lucknow cuisines offer starters, entrees and desserts, with ample options for vegetarians too.

Parda Paneer The Imperial New Delhi

Sitting down for a formal tasting, the starters came from Chef Mirza’s Lucknawi menu. The Dhai Anjeer Ke Kebab were melt in the mouth and by consensus of the table, the recommended choice. Also on offer are Teen Mirchi ka Paneer Tikka, Chukandar Aur Ramdana Ki Tikki, both vegetarian, while the other options are Sufiyan Murgh ki Asharfiyan, fennel infused chicken morsels with yogurt cream and cheese, cooked in a tandoor; Kakori kebab, a delectable finely grounded goat meat dish that needs introduction to an Indian patron; Zimikand ki Ghilawatzimikand (elephant foot yam) patties with galouti spices; and Gosht ki Ghilawat or galaouti kebabs among others. Highlights from the Delhi menu starters include Paya aur Jaifal ka Sangam, lamb broth simmered overnight infused with nutmeg and Subz Badam ka Shorba. It will be hard to choose between the two! If you are already feeling full, our advice, pace out the starters.

The mains, from either city, are a veritable collection of the best dishes from the past couple of centuries, reflecting the high level of luxury that the elite experienced. The dishes are almost without exception slow cooked, requiring knowledge and attention to detail. The Delhi dishes include Mahi Nazakat, Jhinga Masala and Dilli 6 ka Mutton Korma, Subz ka Panchmel and Gucchi Mussallam. The Lucknawi menu offers three kinds of Awadhi biryaniGosht Dum, Murgh Dum and Subz Dum. Signature breads, and you must not miss them, include Ulta Tawa ka Paratha, Sheermal, Khamiri Roti, Warqi Paratha and Roomali Roti. The Delhi menu has a couple of dals as well – Daniell’s Dal, black lentils cooked overnight with tomato, butter and cream and Dal Dhungari, smoked mixed lentils tempered with garlic, onion and tomatoes.

Purani Dilli ka Shahi Tukda The Imperial New Delhi

The two cuisines converge in terms of spices and traditions which have been carried through the years, chorus the chefs. “This menu keeps the flavours of the dishes as authentic as possible to the original recipes,” they say. “Food trials were undertaken to achieve the right and accurate taste. We did not want to modernize classic dishes in this festival, and our whole goal was to present dishes at their authentic best.”

I do not know if anyone, however disciplined, will last long enough to make it to the desserts, but the names alone could transport you to another era. Baked Zauq-e-Shahi, mini kala jamun coated in reduced milk and baked; Kale Chawal ki Kheer, Bharwan Gulab Jamun and Purani Dilli ka Shahi Tukda, not to overlook the Rasmalai, are all listed.

Just like the traditional closeness between the two historic cities, this menu makes for a wonderful confluence of the two. It is a brave person who would choose one over the other, but the good news is, one needn’t, both can be enjoyed simultaneously, stomach space permitting!

Clash of The Titans is on for dinner at Daniell’s Tavern till November 24.

LF Says: ★★★★

Coordinates: Janpath Ln, Janpath, Connaught Place, New Delhi, India