Guajarati cuisine is one of oldest in the country and reflections of quaint traditionalism govern its preparations. Lacto-vegetarian in nature in general, gram-flour is not only the hero but its superstar and with curd and sometimes coconut, lentils, sesame seeds as an ally it pervades from the very top to the very bottom fashioning a four-course menu with all bells and whistles. The spice-mix is Garam-Masala but softer in mien. Also majority of gustatory sensation veers towards the sweetness spectrum, being neither very spicy nor very hot. That is so to counter the torrid climate where this cuisine hails from. Sugar infuses the body with hydration, so does tomatoes and lemon, which we occasionally found. Modern application tries to balance the fervor with either spice or tart.
An opportunity to forge acquaintance should not be passed and it might very well be via ‘Aapnu Gujarati’ food festival at Spice Ocean, on till July 3. In accordance with Jain principles food here is devoid of onion and garlic as about 90% of dishes without any sacrifice being made on habitual flavor. In order to accomplish that ever affable proprietor, Kapil Shroff, mentioned, “We did 8 months R&D such that these non-garlic, non-onion preparations are flavorsome to the modern palette”. There is some onion/garlic dishes which are assigned separate facilities or can made so by a simple and ingenious addition of a concassé of those two ingredients as we experienced with our Manchurian.
We were then made to negotiate an imposing 30 item pile-up which can be both had as lunch or dinner and which incidentally comes at a sedate pricing of INR 450 + tax. Après the coolant, Masala Chaas and some Farsans (simple treats like Mini Bhakerwadi, Stuffed Khandvi, Handavo, Patra, Gujarati Tawa Chaat Mix, Methi ke Lotia Live, etc) a dense soup, Dal Dhokli made of dal-dhaokla mini-blankets, went down the oesophagus. And so did the rest – Undiya, Sev Tamatar ke Sabji, Stuffed aloo, Val Angur with Kaju Kismis, Hara Chana Alkul Mix Sabji, Gujarati Dal and such all seemingly without gumption. Those were had either solo or with breads (Methi ka Thepla – so called because they are stacked in thepla – one above other, Bajra ka Rotla, Pudina ka Mini Bhakri, Puran Puri sweet and Masala Puri or with various kinds of rice (Lachka Dal Usaman, Kathiawari Khichro).
Some facts were learned – the dal (pulse) is cooked for 24 hours – the already cooked pulse is made restive atop dying embers and left overnight – the resultant taste proffers a gravitas quite unlike any other. But curd-making is what I liked best. The hung curd is laid over hay for about one and half hours – water gets automatically segregated schemed – then schemed manually and churned till it reaches a butter consistency and imparting sharp tartness. Depending on what flavoring ingredient – mango, orange, strawberry etc. one puts in during the churn one can arrive at the desired dessert. This brings me to Srikhand, infused with kesar-pista that I never wanted to quit. And when my hand reached out to Daab Shikanji, I felt my breath being replaced slowly by the depth of what was on offer.
Address – Spice Ocean, 1C, Madhav Chatterjee Road, Paddapukur, Kolkata- 700020 (lane beside Hotel Samilton)