At a time when a trip seems almost impossible, The Oberoi Gurgaon delivers the taste of Amritsar in boxes
Amritsar has been on my mind for a while now. I keep thinking of all the food that the Punjab city has to offer, and planning (in my mind) a dhaba crawl. The first stop will be for a frothy glass of lassi, then for some hot, freshly fried Amritsari fish, on to soft kulcha and chholey and so on.
The good bit about life is that when you can’t fulfil your dream, your dream comes to you. Last week, I received a message from a young hotel executive I’d met during those days when people met people. She told me that The Oberoi Gurgaon was now delivering food, and sent me a copy of its huge menu. I looked at it, and decided I would have the Amritsari fare: machchi, gosht, chholey and kulchey.
I am very fond of Amritsari fish. I tried cooking it at home once, but without much success. I suppose it is — as our master cooks tell us — a town’s air and water that add to the taste of regional cuisine. I had picked up the recipe from a slim book that I read every now and then just to get a whiff of Amritsar. The author of The Dhabas of Amritsar is a food lover called Yashbir Sharma. He talks about little places and their well known food items, and even provides the reader with recipes.
In the Amritsari fish recipe he says the fillet is first mixed with vinegar. The vinegar is then wiped off with a napkin. The fish is dipped in a mix of besan, curd, ginger-garlic paste, a beaten egg, lemon juice, carom seeds, red chilli powder and salt. It is then deep fried, and served with chaat masala.
The fish, overseen by Oberoi’s executive chef Manish Sharma had two marinades, too. Chef Sharma tells me that the fish is first marinated with turmeric, chilli powder, and salt. Then, it is dipped in a mix of besan, red chilli powder, ginger-garlic paste, cumin, whole coriander seeds, ajwain, chopped coriander, and occasionally some rice flour for added crispiness.
I loved the fish (₹1,225). It had a nicely crispy outer layer, and the river sole fillet within was moist yet firm. But what I really enjoyed was the Amritsar Meat Tariwala (₹1,475). The pieces were just the right size (40g, said the chef!) and were deliciously tender. I suppose what gave the curry its incredible taste was the ghee it had been cooked in. In a heavy cast iron vessel, whole masalas — cinnamon, cardamom, and bay leaves — had been added to hot ghee. Ginger, garlic, and onions were fried, and then fresh tomato purée went into the masala. The mutton was cooked on slow heat, and, when done, topped with strong black cardamom powder and pepper. I had some of this with a lachcha paratha and was ready to call it a day.
But I had to first taste the Amritsari dal — mixed panchmela dal — which also had a tadka of ghee. Then I had a bit of the Amritsari chholey with kulchey (₹1,025), but realised that it was actually Pindi chholey, which is dark, thick, and dry. The kulcha — not the kind you get in Amritsar, but delicious, nevertheless — had a thick stuffing of potatoes and onion. I ended my meal with something called Kahlua rasmalai. I would have liked the rasmalai without the Kahlua, I think. Or the Kahlua without the rasmalai.
The delivery menu (call 9811289169) is huge and includes everything from Peking duck and Moplah biryani to nigiri sushi and lemon roast chicken. You can also ask for freshly baked breads, pastries, quiches and artisan meats.
I like the way hotels and restaurants are reaching out to us. I may not be in a restaurant right now, but I do get a picture of the hustle and bustle there. I can imagine them, just as I can visualise my Amsitsar food fiesta.
The writer is a seasoned food critic