Discover The Cuisine of the Nawab of Arcot, as ITC Grand Chola serves you shahi murgh korma, tafthan and more
Have you got something on the tip of your nose?” asks Mohammed Asif Ali, the Chote Nawab of Chennai’s only princely family — the Arcots of Amir Mahal. I am mortified. We have only met across the splendidly arrayed dining table at the ITC Grand Chola’s Madras Pavilion to sample the secrets of the Amir Mahal palace kitchens and I have a sugar-dusted nose! It’s because I have taken a sip of the khus pudina sherbet from the tulip stemmed glass rimmed with sugar crystals. “So do you!” whispers our polite host, executive chef Ajit Bangera, who has actually been the one to train the ITC hotel chefs to work closely with the palace cooks and learn from them.
The Chote Nawab laughs uproariously. He has a fine nose, let it be said, with a family heritage that can be traced way back to the Second Caliph (his memory be praised) of Mecca. He has dressed for the occasion in a splendid whipped cream silk kurta with gold trimmings and is happy to announce that his passions, apart from doing a spot of work now and then, include food and quiz evenings at the palace. “Maybe we should greet each guest with a dab of sugar on the nose. A new tradition!” he suggests wiping his nose.
Chef Ajit Bangera shakes his head. Does one say, “yes” to a Nawabzada and humour him, or take a firm stand and say: “Sorry. We don’t do noses.” Luckily for us, the first course of the tasting session arrives. There are slices of fish slathered with ginger and the small red chilies from South India, while a shahi murgh korma, or chicken simmered in a gravy of cashewnut paste, poppy seed and yogurt, reminds one of a Hyderabad specialty named the Bride’s Ankles. There are traces of both Lucknow and Hyderabad cuisines in the breads on offer; a special round disc of leavened bread known as tafthan for instance, that is like sheermal. The well-known spiced brinjal and tomato dish that in the Middle East is known as Imam baldi or the Imam fainted, some say, with delight, others that he was shocked at the amount of oil in the dish. Equally impressive is the Arcot gosht biryani, tender as a Coromandel night. But keep space for the desserts, they are worth a prince’s ransom — sweetened curd and saffron scented discs of golden bread.
The Cuisine of the Nawab of Arcot will be available at the Madras Pavilion, ITC Grand Chola, from today, till September 14. Approximately Rs 2,000 per person, plus tax. Details: 22200000
— Geeta Doctor