Forgotten Treasures celebrates the long lost flavours of the Navaithas of India
hivajinagar holds a special place in the hearts of Bengaluru’s food lovers. And that love becomes even stronger during the months of Ramadan when the entire area is filled with heady aromas of kebabs, biryanis, and curries after sun down. But there’s an interesting story attached with the residents of Shivajinagar, which I had come across the first time I made a road trip to Pondicherry from Chennai more than a decade ago. En route we crossed Gingee, a panchayat town in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu (take a bow Wikipedia). This town is where the Navaithas would live, a large Muslim population that moved to Karnataka to help run the barracks when the British were fighting against Tipu Sultan.
After the job was done, some of the Navaithas moved back, but many remained. And they settled down in the Shivajinagar area of Bengaluru. And with that the city was introduced to a cuisine that was an odd mix of their cuisine, with strong south Indian flavours. I don’t suppose one will ever question why there are curry leaves in some of the kebabs here anymore, especially after you’ve eaten the chicken sukka here.
No one really talks about Navaitha cuisine anymore; it’s really not as mainstream. But once you known the story, you will also understand why Shivajinagar food is so different from the biryanis or kebabs you would have probably eaten elsewhere in the country.
And now, under the aegis of ‘Forgotten Treasures’, an initiative by Kitchens of India to bring back some of the older cuisines of the country, you can now indulge in this cuisine, albeit in posh environs. This festival will take you through some of the most interesting dishes to have come out of a Navaitha kitchen, such as the lehsuni pulao, a delicate preparation, despite the garlic. The rice is mostly white, with strains of yellow from saffron, and the garlic is cooked to perfection. There is zero drama in this recipe, but the precision with which it has been made is commendable.
But first let’s talk about the paya (trotters) soup, which I was told takes about 24 hours to put together. The end result is a thickish brownish-red broth with trotters that is not hot, and yet packs in a punch. “The meat is marinated with dum ka masala for 24 hours. This mixture includes kebab chini (allspice) and pathar ke phool (kalpasi), charmagaz, and poppy paste, which helps to thicken the broth too,” says KM Srinevasu, the brain behind the festival.
Yet another must-try at this festival of flavours is the bheja masala fry, where the brain is marinated for at least two hours before its cooked, but first the veins are removed meticulously. “You have to be very careful with this one because you can’t overcook or undercook brain,” adds the chef.
If you are avid fan of biryani, try the tamatar gosht biryani. And then there’s the bater masala (quail), an all too familiar dish during Ramadan.
The festival does not ignore the vegetarians, with dishes such as khatte baingan (an absolute treat), knol khol sabzi, kaddu ke dalcha, jimikand ke kebab, among others making an appearance.
`1,850 ++ (per person). Till March 27. At Raj Pavilion, ITC Windsor. For dinner only.
— Priyadarshini Nandy