In December way back in 1980, I was on a training course at the Banjara Hotel in Hyderabad when my friend Pramod invited me to attend a nikaah in the old city near Charminar.
This was a wedding where I knew neither the bride nor the groom but I attended nevertheless as a ‘guest of a guest.’ Pramod invited me knowing I was interested in learning about Hyderabadi Muslim weddings: the ritual, the ceremony and, more importantly, the food that is served on these auspicious occasions.
Hyderabadi Muslim weddings are very unique, or at least they were back then.
For one thing, at that wedding the bride and the groom wore no gold ornaments. Instead, it was all silver and pearls. Yes, silver and pearls took precedence over gold. Even the bride’s wedding dress was totally white without even a hint of any ‘gold’ thread or shimmer.
It was an entirely white wedding!
Once the ceremony was over, it was dinner time and I was really looking forward to this.
The daawat was amazing. There was lukmi, shikampoor . . . zamin ki machchi, murgh ka shahi qorma.
The KGKB [Kache Gosht Ki Biryani] was sublime and then there was this khansama making something I had never seen anywhere else in India.
The khansama had the most amazing way of cooking thin slices of marinated meat on a stone. This stone was being heated by live embers beneath it.
I couldn’t stop watching this dish being cooked and the end result was perfection!
The desserts included nimish, seviyan ki kheer and much, much more. . .
The bride and groom departed, the guests dawdled and lingered and I left a happy ‘guest of a guest’ as I learned the name of the dish.
I was told it was called, yes, you guessed it folks, paththar ka gosht! (For those of you who might not know, this means literally meat cooked on stone.)
Well, let’s leave the wedding guests and the couple for now and fast forward to 2012.
The city is Bangalore, the place a 5-star hotel.
I am visiting India after a few years.
Every time I come back to this once, appropriately, named ‘garden city’ I see more and more concrete structures in the form of 5-star hotels and high-rise apartments take over the beautiful gardens.
These huge properties with mega lobbies and many bars/lounges house multi-cuisine international restaurants.
However, ironically, the one thing missing is an ‘ethnic’ Indian restaurant – the kind that will showcase the local cuisine of the region.
I mean, I do wonder why one would go to India and then avoid, okay, avoid the street stalls, but in the swish hotels, why not showcase our diverse cuisine?
Anyway, let’s get back to the big hotel where I’m meeting my old friends.
There are seven of us at the bar and we all belong to the hospitality industry.
After a few drinks, when the music starts to sound like a ‘cacophonous’, we move to the open-air restaurant so we can hear one another talk. We’re older guys now, remember!
Anyway, more wine and more snacks appear. The snacks are beautifully presented and perfectly cooked. We have a paneer dish, a chicken snack with pepper and fenugreek followed by a serving of prawns with a sweet and hot and sour dipping sauce, just beautiful.
But where is the local food? How about some Mangalorean style snacks to go with my French red wine?
I ask my friend, who is a senior teacher at the catering college, if the young generation of chefs graduating from the college are training in ‘ethnic’ cuisines and her smile says it all.
“Ajoy,” she says dipping a prawn into the sweet sauce, “No young chef wants to cook, or learn about, the fine art of cooking local Indian food.” She pauses, reaches for her wine and adds, “It is just not ‘sexy’ enough for them to take it up! They believe it takes them nowhere on the professional front, and certainly there is no glamour about cooking Mangalorean food or Andhra food or Gujarati food or for that matter Hyderabadi food.” She sips her wine and looks at me as if to say, ‘Well, what do you expect?’
Well, what can I say?!
How very ridiculous and absolutely blockheaded this approach is!! No wonder this cuisine has remained where it is, right at the bottom of the pecking order in the world of cuisines, when in fact it should be right at the top as it contains more diversity and richness than any other cuisine the world can imagine!
But unfortunately that is not how it is.
Every region has its unique style of cooking not seen anywhere else on this planet.
When most chefs in the world are trying to create dishes, we in India have food that has never been explored, all we have to do is recreate it and present it in a modern way, just look at Mr Vineet Bhatia.
You don’t know this man?
Okay, well he is the chef of the world-renowned Rasoi restaurant in London and what a marvellous job he is doing. I am sure there could be many more Vineet Bhatias in India if only there was a desire to succeed, and more importantly, the ‘passion’ and ‘pride’ in presenting Indian food exquisitely whilst maintaing its heritage. Here is the man himself:
“Oily and greasy food was the face of Indian cuisine in UK which was aggressively macho, illogically hot and spicy. I looked like a rebel waging a war against this falseness with no benchmark to set myself against. So I set my own trend in Indian cuisine minus messing up its authenticity.”
He says it how it is!
In my 30 years, or so, of cooking Indian food I have yet to come across an Indian chef who has a Michelin star cooking French, or Italian, or Mexican food (the list of other food nationalities is long but my space is short and I’m sure you get the idea!) but I certainly have seen a fair few Indian chefs cooking their desi food who are at the very top of their game. All these chefs have at least one, and sometimes two, Michelin stars amongst them: AV Sriram from Quilon restaurant, Suvir Saran from Devi, KN Vinod from Indique restaurant, Atul Kochar from Benaras and Alfred Prasad from Tamarind restaurant, the youngest chef to get a Michelin star, to name a few!!
It’s getting late in the day, but it could be worse if we desi cooks don’t wake up now and realise what a jewel of a cuisine we’re sitting on and letting go to waste as we’re not sharing its richness! Believe you me, there is plenty of room at the top, it’s not about replacing one cuisine with another but sitting alongside other cuisines.
The world is waiting for us to make the first move!!
Try and instigate change. Do it in small steps, with your family and friends. Even if you fail once, twice, or many times it is so important to educate.
As someone once said, “Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail you learn what doesn’t work; and secondly, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach!!”
Well folks, here is my pocket-sized contribution towards this cause:
This is the complete recipe of paththar ka gosht from Shuruat. This is just the way we make it in my restaurant for our ‘Chef’s Tables’, and we are cooking on a paththar, of course!!
1. Prepare the stone. [Check below for points on seasoning and looking after the stone.]
2. The stone must be seasoned before it is used as a BBQ plate.
3. Light the fire and place the stone on top of the fire.
4. As the stone starts to heat up, increase the heat gradually.
5. Once hot, put a drop of water on the edge of the stone. If the water sizzles, the stone is hot and ready to use.
6. Lower the heat to moderate and maintain at that temperature.
Ingredients for the PKG (Paththar Ka Gosht):
1. 8 lamb cutlets or chops, fat trimmed and bone ‘Frenched’ (this means it has been cut into long, thin slices)
2. 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3. 2 pieces of cassia bark (cassia buds are generally used, but are not available in Australia)
4. 4–5 cloves of garlic peeled
5. 1 small piece of ginger, washed
6. 4–5 fresh green chillies
7. Salt, to taste
8. Juice of 1 lemon
Ingredients for the salad:
1. 1/4 bunch mint leaves
2. 1/4 bunch fresh coriander leaves
3. Salt, to taste
4. 1 medium red (Spanish) onion
1. Following Step 2, set aside the lamb cutlets in a bowl.
2. In an electric blender, grind all the remaining ingredients to a fine paste.
3. Apply the marinade on each cutlet, return to bowl and cover with cling wrap. Refrigerate for about 1 hour.
4. Following Step 3, in a clean blender mince the coriander and mint with the salt. Chop the red onion, then wash in cold water and drain. Set aside.
5. Mix the mint and coriander ‘pesto’ with the chopped onion and set aside to serve as an accompaniment.
6. Remove the marinated cutlets from the fridge and gradually place them on the seasoned, hot paththar (stone).
7. Cook the cutlets on each side till the marinade is crisp and the chops are medium-well cooked.
8. Serve with the onion and ‘pesto’ salad.
So, there you have it, folks. This is the simplest and best way to make this dish and then you can serve it in a ‘contemporary manner’.
No, this is not a ‘contemporary’ recipe but it is an ancient recipe shrouded in a lot of history and then served in a ‘present-day’ style. A fusion, if you will, of ancient and modern.
As for ‘contemporary’ food, well, let’s leave it to those who don’t . . . well, you know!!
And before I finally sign off, here are some
Points to remember when seasoning the stone for making PKG:
1. Season the stone by heating it gradually sprinkled with salt. As the stone gets hot, gradually increase the heat. The salt starts to cook and ‘cleans’ the stone.
2. When the salt turns black, reduce the heat, remove the blackened salt, wipe the stone and allow to cool. The stone is now ready to be used as a BBQ plate.
3. If the stone cracks during the seasoning, it could be because it is not heavy enough for its size and it may have an air pocket. A cracked stone can still be used as long as it is not washed.
4. The stone does not need any oil as it renders the fat from the meat as it cooks and thereby keeps the meat moist and tender.
5. Any meat cooked like this on stone is ready to serve as soon as it’s ready, i.e. it needs no ‘resting’ as is the case when you grill on ‘metal’ plates.
6. Never use any detergent to clean the stone as it is porous and will absorb the detergent.
7. Cooking on stone is fun and kids just love it, ask my son. He wants all his meat dishes ‘stone cooked’. It’s so easy, all you need is a stone for each protein!!!
Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!