You know you are in Punjab when your stomach is perpetually full and yet you are served more delicious food.
I had this belief firmly in mind when I decided to drop in at Punjab Grill, Andheri West for a dinner with a couple of friends, and surely I wasn’t disappointed a bit.
As soon as we landed and were seated, I was served the best ever appetizer I had for a long time.
The Kaali Gaajar Di Kanji, the juice of black carrot, with mustard paste and asaphoetida. As I was wondering how would a mustard paste juice would turn out not to be sour, I realized that it was fermented to perfection for 2-3 days and it was absolutely cooling to quench my thirst.
When a Punjabi starts feeding, it never ends and so it was here with the plethora of starters that were served.
We started off with Macchi De Pakode, which was the Indian version of the truly English fish-n-chips. River sole, the sweet water fish coated with besan and rice flour mixed with turmeric, chilly powder was deep fried to perfection and served with mind cutney and potato chips.
The Chaap Taazdar looked as yummy as it tasted, which were lamb chops marinated with hung curd and barbequed with the mix of Indian spices and served with mint chutney.
It surely is difficult to find a non vegetarian Punjabi but here we weren’t disappointed at all. The Amritsari Baby Corn, sliced and coated with rice flour and besan and fried with turmeric powder, chilly powder and ajwain was as crispy as it could be and was an absolute delight to eat served with mint chutney and potato chips.
I would have never fathomed a kebab made out of curd but it sure was there, the Dahi Kebab, which was 60% hung curd and 40% mashed paneer in that proportion and stuffed with almonds and a bit of milk powder for seasoning and then deep fried.
I am still wondering what keeps the curd bound together when deep fried but this dish surely bound to my heart the most which was served with mango chutney.
I have never travelled across the length and breadth of Punjab but surely know the place called Kotkapura, known after its founder, Nawab Kapur Singh.
Kot in Punjabi means fort and so was the Kotkapure Da Atta Chicken, which was whole spring chicken marinated with curd and the Indian spices like turmeric, chilly, salt, cumin powder and garlic and stuffed with almonds and covered in a muslin cloth.
The chicken is then encased in a fortress like structure of atta and cooked in tandoor which gives us the real dum taste of the Nawabis.
A variety of Achaar was served which we were told is complimentary with every meal. I would have expected some tomatoes and onion served with the usual spicy stuff which I hardly touch in any eating joint.
However, I was pleasantly surprised to see the choice here which would enthrall the palates of anyone. The Meat da Achaar had two variants, made of Chicken and Mutton and was served with slices of turnip and onion, the Shalgam aur Pyaaz and a magnanimous scoop of homemade white butter.
As I marveled at the pickled variety, it was like “aap ke mooh mein Ghee Shakkar”, the jiggery paste mixed with ghee and which goes well with the rotis to be served.
Kunna basically means a clay container and this meat variant, the Kunna Meat served to us had all the essence and aroma of the clay pot in which it was cooked with an abundance of Indian spices, onion and tomato and lots of cinnamon.
Khoya Paneer, the next dish served to us was the absolute delight with the diced soft malai paneer just melting in the mouth floating in the thick gravy of the grated khoya, the milk cheese made by reducing whole milk and a lot of fresh cream added with green cardamom for the perfect flavor.
Maa Chholey Di Dal surely reminded me of the household Punjabi dal that I used to savor at my Punjabi friend’s house during my school days. This Dal had an equal quantity of chana dal and black urad dal boiled and tempered with cumin seeds, garlic, ginger, onion and turmeric powder.
No Punjabi meal would be complete without the Sarson ka Saag and I was thrilled to taste the Pind Da Saag, which was made with chopped mustard leaves mixed with some spinach leaves for thickness and consistency tempered with onion, garlic, cumin seeds, green chilly and finished with ghee.
How could any man eat all this and more unless you are a Punjabi. For that evening I lived the life of a Punjabi savoring all these with the assortment of parathas, the Red Chilly Paratha, The Ajwain Paratha and the Pudina Paratha all cooked on a tandoor.
The Makai Di Roti, perhaps the most popular of the Punjabi dishes, the flattened bread made of corn powder was amazingly soft and fluffy and served with lots of ghee poured over it and cooked on a tawa.
The impulse for rice was also quenched to perfection with the Harey Choliya Da Pulao, which was basmati rice tempered with garam masala and dum cooked. I was wondering about the chick peas in the rice and I was explained by the enthusiastic chef Sunny that in most areas in Punjab with an abundance of Chole, this is substituted for green peas and for me, it surely was a welcome replacement.
Makhane Di Kheer, the rice pudding made with reduced milk and sugar had an abundance of fried fox nuts or lotus seeds which gave the kheer the crispiness with the aroma of cardamom powder.
Masala Gurh was quite unique and the jiggery cake was made mixed with maida and dry fruits and the aroma and taste of ginger, ajwain, black pepper corns.
Gurh wale Chawal was surely the dessert to wind it up, the sweetened pulao version made with jaggery syrup and dry fruits and dum cooked in the jaggery water.
A Punjabi dinner had to end the right way and it did with the Paan Shot which combines the dessert and after-meal paan into one exciting shot glass.
The taste of milk, vanilla ice cream, crushed betel leaves and gulkand rushed down my adrenaline as I bid goodbye to a wonderful and exciting culinary evening.
When you are in Punjab and you ask for a light snack, you will be served Aloo-De-Paratha. So I had planned for this dinner right from morning skipping my breakfast and opting for a light lunch to enjoy the Punjabi hospitality to the fullest.