'Indian cuisine has been neglected'

'Indian cuisine has been neglected'

Expert talk

Old Delhi’s food has now started venturing into five-star hotels and restaurants. Tempting delights from the streets of Jama Masjid such as Anmol Chicken, Masala Kathal and Chicken Changezi are now being served at Dilli 32 in The Leela Ambience Convention Hotel, as a part of their Grand Trunk Culinary Journey.

But according to executive chef Rohit Tokhi, this shift of recipes from old Delhi is
because Indian cuisine and the local food of the capital has rarely been explored.
He tells Metrolife more about the need to know the recipes from old Delhi and why the food, despite being too oily, is loved by people.

Excerpts:    

Why do we need to have recipes from old Delhi in restaurants today?
Speaking of people who have moved to Delhi around two decades ago, like me, they have not explored old Delhi as yet. We talk about Hyderabadi cuisine, Awadhi cuisine, or cuisines from Lucknow. But, we forgot what is present in our own city. When I was working on this menu, I realised that many cuisines have traced out from here.

It is said, ghar ki murgi dal barabar, so whatever we had in Delhi, we have been taking it for granted.

Whenever someone thinks of Delhi 6, they are like let’s go to Karims’. To take that ‘food’ forward, restaurants have started doing this.

Do you think this cuisine has been neglected?
I belong to the 1992-1993 batch at IHM. And the first three-four dishes that we were taught were the likes of Russian salad. Nobody eats that in India. Our cuisine has been neglected. What do we know about Indian cuisine? Let’s talk from a foreigner’s point of view...all they know about Indian food is that it is spicy, heavy on oil and butter, tandoor roasts and butter chicken. But out of these items, how many does one cook at home? So I think Indian food is not explored yet, by anyone.

How far Dilli 6 food will be accepted by Leela’s clientele?
It is the same people who go to Karim’s and Al Jawahars and eat oily food but when they come to us, they expect the food to be less oily, and then they say the food doesn’t taste the same. So use of oil is important here.

How essential is oil for taste?
Oil has fat, which serves two purposes — (not speaking about the nutritious value) it has satiety value which means it makes us feel full and the taste of the food, which gets better because fat absorbs the flavours. Now when a guest comes here to try this menu, we are trying to make them understand that we have tried to recreate the taste and feed them with the same food that they eat in Karims and Al Jawahars.  So here you’re getting the same thing which you will get in 10-15 shops in Chandni Chowk, at the comfort of a five-star hotel.

How much of research went into this menu?
For the three-week menu, we made around eight to nine trips to old Delhi in one month. We used to spent half of our days over there and tasted every dish in two to three restaurants. We discovered everything from Urdu bazaar to Jama Masjid and even Karol Bagh.

Don’t you think this might affect the vendors in handni Chowk?
Not at all! We can’t compete with them and we cannot displace them. Price factor is a big reason for this. In India, not everyone enters a five star hotel. We are just doing something for our local guests here.

Do you believe that some recipes are fading away with time?
I don’t think that there are any lost recipes as such. Recipes evolve. We can’t have everything in the same way they were made in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. So now we are changing those recipes, but we are not losing them. They are evolving as per the current generation. No one can have heavy chicken and mutton every day.

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