I am a big supporter of revival of regional, traditional cuisine and the use of indigenous ingredients in daily meals. When I came to know about Banaras Ka Khana Showcase at ThreeSixtyOne, The Oberoi Gurgaon, curated by Chef Ravitej Nath along with a dear friend, food consultant and writer Sangeeta Khanna, I did not want to miss this opportunity to taste the flavours of the temple town cuisine. My mother was born and brought up there and we decided to bring to her a part of her childhood and youth as a pre-birthday gift. She turns 84 on 31st March.
They say, when you strongly desire something the universe conspires to bring it to you. A contest won me ‘complimentary meal for two’ making the whole experience even more exciting.
Our Holi inspired Dinner began with Panchamrit which is offered to the devotees at Hindu temples as a blessing from the Gods. It is also used in many religeous rituals. The whiff of tulsi (Holi Basil) and the correct sweetness of milk and honey in the drink was a perfect beginning to what was going to be an unforgettable experience. We forgot to take the picture of Panchamrit.
The street food or chaats of Banaras in the Chef’s tasting menu left us longing for more. As we dug into Tamatar ki chaat, Chivda matar, chenna ka dahi vada and sumptuous aaloo tikki accompanied with traditional aaloo papad and the four chutneys the first thing that came to mind was the hot, sour, savoury notes of each dish perfectly balancing each other. Nothing was too overwhelming. Wadiyon ki chatney was an instant hit.
The sublime flavours enhanced the pleasure of eating. Ma promptly gave her seal of approval as she remembered her childhood spent in the lanes of the holy city exploring these very delicacies except the tamatar chaat.
Sangeeta later told us how the flavours of Gujrat have influenced the local cuisine and why. No wonder the tamatar chaat made me think of a similar dish sev tamatar.ki sabzi. It is amazing to see how the food has interconnections with so many parts of India and not just the city of Varanasi itself.
I loved Harad ki papdi, fara, bajka, bhapouri and bhabra too. We make Bajka at home and call it Lobra. Long time ago in Banaras, Harad ka golgappa was served to digest all the fantastic chaat that the chaat bhandars fed you and this Harad ki papdi was a perfect revival of that. Excellent in taste and texture.
The khus ka sherbat, aam panna were delicious but the thandai with special hand crafted portion and pan cocktail made with fresh pan leaves and lemon won my heart. Nowhere can one find something so fantastic. Both the drinks were simply out of the world.
The chefs had divided street food and main course in two distinct segments and the drinks served with them complimented the food perfectly.
We loved the street food totally. My son had never tasted the Banaras cuisine so it was a unique experience for him. He loved the moong beans filled aaloo tiki and chene ka dahi vada.
I knew that the banaras ki thali was going to be a big sumptuous affair so we lingered with the pan mocktail reminiscing about the city and its culture.
We got both non vegetarian and vegetarian thalis in main course.
I had the vegetarian Thali and was bowled over by matar ka nimona (crushed green peas cooked with ginger and coriander) , Gular ka chokha, aaloo chokha and kaddu ki sabzi. It was very much the ghar ka khana. Each dish balancing the taste of the other. I found the flat breads a bit hard and one of the littis was under-cooked but the rest of amazing. The khade masale ka pulav, made with short grain aromatic rice called Zeerabutti, had such a sublime flavour it really blew my mind.
I was surprised to see mom relishing the meal with such gusto as she is a very small eater. The khoya, matar, makhane ki sabzi was a delight. I had never tasted it before but my ma gave it 10/10 in taste. She found it as authentic as it could be. The tempered moong daal was just as we make at home. Delicious, to say the least. Again, I found that the pairing of dishes was done in such a way that the tastes do not overwhelm each other.
The non veg thali had sookha jheenga (dried shrimps), motton kalia and sadi litti among other things and my son loved the shrimps and the river sol in mustard gravy.
I would love to go on about each dish but the festival is still on till 26th March at ThreeSixtyOne, The Oberoi Gurgaon and if you are in or around Delhi/NCR, you MUST visit and indulge in the Rivayat of Banaras.
Meals that are prepared and served with love are the best. We could see how Sangeeta had put her heart and soul in each preparation, going out of the way to procure the finest ingredients to create the original banarasi khana. Hats off to the F&B team of Chef Manish Sharma, Chef Ravitej Nath who recreated this fabulous along with Sangeeta
Now it was time for desserts and conversations with our gracious hostess.
As you can see mom had a lovely time reminiscing about Banaras with Sangeeta. They talked about traditions, city heritage, old houses, chawks and gaiyan, old eateries, their childhood and of course the delectable food. I was happy to see my mom enjoying every bit of the experience.
Malaiyyo, a specialty of Banaras, stole the show. Frothy, light as air and delicately tasteful, it brought back a surge of nostalgia. Ma told that they would get up early morning before sunrise in winter to eat this delicacy which was then served in earthen pot the size of a small diwali diya. We loved the food and we loved the stories.
The naturally tulsi scented Sankatmochan laddoos and Sri ram Bhandar’s lal peda (especially flown in from Banaras) were out of the world. I enjoyed the hare chane ki barfi which was new for me and the Biranji kheer was a delight. I make it at home but this was ethereal. Adi was bowled over by Malaiyyo.
Three generations in love with the vibrant food and Banaras came home with fondest memories, blissful dinning experience, unconditional love and a bagful of goodies.
I want to congratulate everyone who is part of Rivayat- Indian Culinary Conclave and Banaras ka khana fest. You have kept the spirit and soul of the cuisine intact. Well done.
Special thanks for the warmth of hospitality by The Oberoi Gurgaon Staff. Thank you Mallika Gowda for your understanding and care.
Those who wish to know more about the dishes that were served here or want to try making some of them at home, do visit Sangeeta’s blog Banaras ka Khana .