Asian Heritage Foundation’s Jiyo is organizing a 4-day long handicraft and designer’s exhibition at The Ashok, Chanakyapuri. It is also hosting South Asia’s first food exhibition named Sanjha Chulha, curated by Dr. Pushpesh Panth to promote the incredible variety of local and regional cuisines of South Asia showcasing the diversity of culinary art.
After hovering around the Lotus Bazaar (the handicraft market) for 10-15 minutes, we landed up at the nicely decorated interior of The Audh, one of the best restaurants of The Ashok, for an interaction session with chef Rajan Loomba.
Rajan Loomba, senior executive chef of The Ashok, who has been attached to the hotel for a very long time, explained how culinary arts have evolved rapidly in recent years. “Eating out was a rare thing in our boyhood. Wedding parties were perhaps the only means of eating out at that time”, Chef Loomba continued, “Now a days the growing usage of mobile phones and internet has given a boom to this industry. Growing number of foodies and food blogging websites are also playing a enormous role here.”
Then moving on to the concept of Sanjha Chulha, which literarily means Community Kitchen, Chef clarified that despite political barriers how people from SAARC countries are trying to connect through art and culture. This festival is another step towards that. Chef mentioned that once you leave Asia, people hardly recognize cuisine of these 9 countries separately as the basic flavor and spices used are very similar in these places. “Look how people from Bangladesh are selling food in the street using Indian names”, Mr. Loomba cited. “Diversity is there, but somehow we are connected somewhere” and this food festival is an attempt to explore that connection.
When we asked how they select a few dishes given such a wide range of dishes available in these countries, Chef told that they made a selection from the dishes they can make using the available resources on the basis of feedback received over several buffet parties. They got a huge help from embassies to stitch together recipes and make them even better. Here Mr. Loomba shared a beautiful memory about how they got one of their very special dishes Irani Raita, a usual Raita with raisins, honey and peeled cucumber skin from Late Usha Narayanan, wife of 10th President of India, Late K.R. Narayanan.
Meantime we got to taste a few dishes: Mutton Kebab, Momo, Murg Rihana, Anda Keema Kaleji, Afgani Shorba, Coconut Naan, Rice, Haleem etc. Items were light and tasted good. Chef specially mentioned two dishes: Murg Rihana and Haleem. “Murg Rihanna is a different take on Butter Chicken “, Mr. Loomba continued “and spices of Halim are bought by one delegate from Pakistan”. Specialty of the Halim is that they put chicken instead of mutton in it, which is a new concept to me. Coconut Naan along with juicy Shorba (light mutton stew) melted in our mouth. Spice level of all dishes are kept at the minimum level as their usual visitors are very health conscious. As an example Chef mentioned health consciousness of our PM Mr. Modi who wanted cookies without butter and how team of Chefs had a brainstorming session to solve it.
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