Rajma Chawal. Chole Bhature. Butter Chicken. Dal Makhni. Alu de Paranthe. Drooling yet?
Anyone who has ever travelled to Punjab will come back armed with tales of incredible dhaba food. They will wax lyrical about the best lassi and paranthe they’ve ever had.
If you’ve not had the chance to travel to the land of five rivers, worry not, we’ve brought it to you. Well, at least some of it! The Great Kebab Factory at the Radisson Blu Hotel GRT Chennai known for its kebab platters and set meals has brought down speciality Chef Gurmeet Singh – all the way from Ludhiana.
So what has the chef brought from Punjab for the Udta Ludhiana food festival? “Lohe ka tawa (iron tawa), tandoor, mitti ke gamle (mud pots), peetal wali handi (brass wok), a mix of Punjabi masalas, shakkar (jaggery and aniseed), and hand-rolled papad,” says the chef.
The meal starts with vegetarian and non-vegetarian kebabs that are marinated in authentic Punjabi masalas. “This is gharelu (homely) food,” the chef reminds us. “So not too much masala – you have to retain the swaad (taste) of the vegetable or meat. It shouldn’t just taste of spice.”
The dishes on the set menu change every day, and today we’re served melt-in-your-mouth sabz galouti, bharwan aloo patohri, tangdi bhattiwala, Lahori mutton chops, and bhustrani jheenga among others.
The chef tells us about how Ludhiana’s cuisine has been influenced by food of the Mughals, the Sikhs and the royal families, along with rural and street food as well. The melange of flavours and cooking techniques that has emerged leaves a Punjabi food aficionado spoilt for choice. In a radius of about 200 kilometres, influences from Amritsar, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Kashmir find their way into Ludhiana.
We get to enjoy one kebab after another straight out of the tandoor, cleansing our palettes with a raw mango sorbet, sweet rose milk, and signature lassi. We are pleasantly surprised with the lotus stem kebab. It’s ground into such a fine paste, you can’t really taste the rawness usually associated with lotus stem.
“Next you will have our Punjabi pulao, which unlike biryani is all cooked together in a wide based handi.” The delicious pulao is enjoyed with rajma, lauki koftas (a staple in Punjabi homes), sarson ka saag (specially brought from Bangalore), and a glorious tender lamb curry that’s been cooked in its own juices with no additional masalas. Makki ki rotis are served in bite sizes, topped with butter.
What are the 5 key ingredients of Punjabi cuisine? The chef is quick to answer. “Desi ghee!” he exclaims. “Everything starts with desi ghee. Mustard oil is also very important to Punjabi cuisine. It is a natural tenderiser and used in marinades. Dals are also very close to our heart – rajma, chole, channa dal, kaali dal, you name it. Paneer is a staple too. If you go to any Punjabi wedding, you will find an entire counter dedicated to the versatility of paneer. Punjabis also can’t do without dairy – milk, curd, lassi.”
While the chef explains the secrets of cooking an authentic dal at home, the desserts begin to come in. This spread treats one to hot imarti (jalebi) with masala milk, matka phirni, badam and atta halwa, and most interestingly, garlic halwa. You have to try it to believe it!
The chef imparts some end-of-meal wisdom – “don’t dump spices on your food, flavour your meat not your gravy, and slow cook your dals instead of pressure cooking them. And remember the Punjabi saying – fish is to fry, mutton is to go in a gravy, and chicken is to roast!”
The ‘Udta Ludhiana’ food festival is on at The Great Kebab Factory at Radisson Blu Hotel GRT Chennai until the 6th of July. Call the hotel on 044 2231 0101 to reserve your tables.