There is a treasure trove of traditional recipes which have faded away with the passage of time. But thankfully, there are a few enterprising chefs who have taken up the difficult task of reviving them. Some have recreated them in their original avatar while others have given a flair of their own while retaining their originality. The result is a beautiful kaleidoscope of dishes by chefs from the north to the south of the country. It comes from their desire to pay a tribute to nature’s bounty and heritage.
Neelabh Sahay, executive chef, Novotel Kolkata Hotel & Residences, likes to offer an authentic dish called anarosh illish taken from the households of Bengal. He says, “With sorshe illish and bhapa illish taking the centre stage, anarosh illish has taken a back seat. It is no longer a dish which is cooked in households or in any of the restaurants.” Explaining the dish, chef points out, “Anarosh illish is an East Bengal delicacy made with gorgeous illish fish and farm-fresh pineapple which renders a sublime sweet flavour delicately balanced by a crisp tart. Add to that the warmth of ginger and the heady aroma of mustard oil and we have a masterpiece.”
Talking about its origin, Sahay says, “As a custom in every Bengali household, the first fruit of the season is offered to the deities. What could be a better way of utilising the fruit post the rituals?” How he discovered the recipe, Sahay shares, “While trying to understand illish’s popularity and in search of the best illish, I stumbled across an old lady in the fish market who gave me her insight about the fish and the history of how it was a prized delicacy at her home. After that, I spoke to ladies of some traditional Bengali homes and curated the dish with all its authentic elements intact.”
Gaurav Narayan, executive chef, Novotel Guwahati, GS Road, shares a traditional Assamese dish, lau palla or bottle gourd dessert. He tells, “We call it pitha, which is an authentic Assamese snack prepared during the Magh Bihu season. It is a much-loved pitha prepared with bottle gourd, rice flour and chopped jaggery. However, the dish is now fading away as the new generation does not seem to know its authentic recipe. It entails a detailed method of preparation and a proper understanding of the process, now known to a very few people and cooked at very select homes.”
From down south
Chef Shivji and his team at The Malabar House Fort Kochi are always exploring culinary preparations that represent the local and traditional food culture and environment. Hence, their creative menu reflects their commitment to support local fishing, using only the best of regional produce and organic products whenever possible. Giving an example of one such dish, Chef Shivji points out, “Fish pollichathu is a delicious fish fry recipe which belongs to Kerala’s traditional delicacies from the backwaters. Here, the marinated fish is wrapped in a banana leaf and gets cooked over a flat frying pan. The masala is made from shallots, ginger, curry leaf and kokum. We serve appam with it as it goes best with the curry.”
Passionate about exploring the lost cuisine of the Malabar region, Honey Joseph, executive chef, Fragrant Nature Kochi, researched to learn the recipe of inchiyulli, a traditional fish curry. “I went around the local streets of Mattancherry and requested a lot of old-timers to prepare the dish for me. I also met Queenie Aunty, a Jewish lady in her 90s, who gave me significant tips on how to make it in the Jewish style. Then finally, I curated the dish with my take on it as a fusion of Jewish and Kerala styles. Now, inchiyulli is a signature item on our menu,” tells Joseph.
Anish Kumar, executive chef, Niraamaya Retreats Backwaters & Beyond, Kumarakom, has his own story to narrate. “I travelled through villages in Kerala in search of forgotten recipes so that I could revive them in my kitchen. I found pidiyum kozhiyum, a traditional dish of every Christian household, which is prepared on special occasions. I have given my twist to the dish by using my own spices. It is now a coveted wholesome dish on my breakfast menu. The secret to regional cuisine lies in the special use of spices,” he quips without disclosing the secret behind the recipe.
Grated bottle gourd or lauki – 1 cup
Rice flour- 1/2 cup
Chopped almonds for garnishing
Grated dry coconut for garnishing
Pinch of cardamom powder
1/2 cup of chopped jaggery
Oil for frying
Squeeze water out of grated lauki. Then add rice flour to it. Using your hands, give it a good mix.
Add chopped dry coconut and
almonds and cardamom powder. Mix them all together till they form a dough, enough to give them shapes of pithas or tikkis.
Make the pithas in the regular disc shape, about 1/2 inches thick. This ensures even frying.
Heat oil in a non-stick pan. As the pan heats up, add the pithas and shallow fry them making sure that they are evenly fried.
Add a little water to chopped jaggery for the syrup. Heat the liquid and allow the jaggery to melt. Now that the syrup is ready, keep it aside to cool.
Once done with the frying, add the fried dumplings into the jaggery syrup. Let them all rest for a few hours and then serve.
(Courtesy: Gaurav Narayan, executive chef, Novotel Guwahati)