Any Indian food festival, hosted by a hotel, will always have dishes that are part regional and part familiar—to foodies and seasoned travelers at least.
The Indian food festival at The Café of Hyatt City of Dreams brings to the fore the crowd pleasures from Kashmir and Punjab in Northern India to Kerala in South India. Yet, the freshness of the ingredients, the bursts of masala—the medley of chilli, cardamom and cumin- and slow-cooked stews will linger, always linger in the palate.
Ajith Kumar, chef de cuisine, and Sanjay Kumar, chef de partie of Hyatt Regency Gurgaon in Assam state, went to culinary schools before working in international chains. Although they specialize in Indian cuisine, they incorporate the best practices from the West in keeping foods healthy and heart-friendly. Ajith says that the spices have been toned down so as not to intimidate the uninitiated diner.
The starters are the samosas, the delicate triangles of dough filled with carrots, corn, green peas and potatoes; the aloo tikka or pan-fried potato balls and the pakora or vegetables fried in a batter of chickpea flour. Tomato tulsi shorba is the Indian version of the thick tomato soup, laced with tulsi, the subcontinent’s version of basil, and flecked with coriander stems.
Then there are the main courses. Dal makhani is a Punjab lentil curry with lots of butter and cream. The richness lies in the 24-hour cooking process so that the flavors of black lentils and the tomato puree meld together.
The melt-in-your-mouth North Indian chicken curry is enhanced by cashew nut paste and fennel. Another Punjabi dish, the chicken tikka is marinated for 24 hours, then grilled in a tandoor, a cylindrical oven generated by fire. The tandoor seals the flavors and makes all meats more succulent.
Southern India is represented by dishes with ingredients that are common to the Philippines such as mango and coconut. The prawn curry uses raw mango pulp instead of tamarind. The black chickpea curry makes use of freshly grated coconut with masala.
The piece de resistance, mutton rogan gosht is a Kashmiri delicacy, marinated with its signature ingredients of ginger, fennel, hingh or pungent asafoetida. The chef eschews the fake coloring, traditionally used to lend the reddish brown color.
Since most of the courses are curry based, they go well with either the breads or the long-grain rice dishes such as the chicken or vegetable biryani.
The fried papadam, crispy wafers of lentil flour, naan or soft unleavened bread cooked in the tandoor and the bhattura, thick leavened bread make excellent accompaniments. The naan and bhattura are usually cut into small pieces to scoop the food –that is if you’re eating by hand. However, they can also double as appetizers with mango, pineapple and yogurt-cucumber chutneys.
The desserts also enriched with milk and ghee or clarified butter and flavored with cardamom and vanilla. The gulab jammun, fried milk dumpling in rose water, are served in ceramic spoons. Instead of the traditional gruel, the rice kheer is presented like a rice pudding with chunky Indian cashews and raisins. The carrot halva is slow cooked carrots in milk and ghee.
The lentil jaggery is a purée of pulses, simmered in coconut milk and sweetened with jaggery or sugar crystals from palm sap.
To cap the meal, ask for a glass of lassi or sweetened buttermilk shake to aid your digestion.
(The Indian festival will run through July 24 at The Café at Hyatt City of Dreams.)