At the Fairfield by Marriott’s Kashmiri Food Festival in Coimbatore


“What are you doing at a Wazwan?” is the baffled response from Neela Dhar, a Kashmiri friend. I had called her to clarify something about the cuisine and she is worried that vegetarian-me will return disappointed and hungry. Her fears are unfounded, I am happy to say. The spouse and I drive off to the Kashmiri food festival at Fairfield by Marriott after many calls to the Food and Beverage Manager S Bharath, seeking assurance that there will be vegetarian fare too.

“We have plenty to offer,” smiles the fresh-faced Chef Milap Singh Jamwal who has come all the way from Srinagar to curate this festival. The husband, who served for many many years in J&K, immediately gets into a huddle with the Dogri chef and they exchange notes about little-known towns and villages, discuss threadbare the vales and mountains and exclaim about the Jammu-Baramulla railway line. Finally, we begin to eat. The heart leaps as I recognise some of the favourites Neela has cooked for me and Raju all those years ago. There is the Haak Saag, I spot shalgam (turnip) in a pulao (brings back a rush of memories of a diet consisting almost entirely of that vegetable when we were at Leh), there is the Rajma (famous of Badharwa)…

Haak Saag

A walk around the spread is enough to get the appetite up and running. Very interesting are a line of chutneys. We help ourselves to ALL of them in a quarter plate and eat them with Paneer Tikka and Nadru Churma (fried lotus stems that are a street food in Srinagar, I learn). The chutneys are made of pineapple, apple, walnut, radish, pumpkin, tomato and with a dried onion that Chef Milap has brought with him that he calls gand. We go for chutney refill and the next time around we eat them with soft garlic naan.

The chef draws my attention to something that looks like a broccoli; only it is beautiful purple in colour. It is mawal or the Kashmiri cockscomb, he explains, and it is used to add depth of flavour in several dishes.

The nicest thing about trying out a cuisine that is not too prevalent in these parts is its newness. It is also interesting how familiar ingredients too are used differently. For example the omni-present dumaloo is tempting and so distinct from the dum aloos we have eaten earlier. “The secret is in our asafoeteda,” I recall Neela telling me.

Just in the nick of time, after dessert, I catch sight of the Khubani Heder Shorba and I am so happy I did. A clear soup made out of the stock of apricots and mushrooms, it is light and quite delicious. The non-vegetarian alternative to that is the chicken yakhni soup. I peek into the cauldron and that looks like a clear soup too. There is mutton yakhni, fish and chicken cooked several ways, besides the famous Rogan Josh. “The menu will change every day,” says Bharath. Today’s dessert comprises meetha chawal, phirni and oddly what seems no different from the Hyderabadi shahi tukra — all tasty. The delicately fragrant Kahwa washes down the meal.

The Kashmiri Food Festival is on till February 16 for both lunch and dinner. For reservations and more information call: 70944 46622

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