The Moveable feast : Kabuliwallah cuisine

Kathmandu:

They were experimenting to create a leg of lamb dish at Maurya Sheraton’s soon-to-be-opened Bukhara back in the 80’s. Madan Lal Jaiswal and Todar Mal were marinating legs of lamb in everything including rum to satisfy the demanding late Ajit Haksar, Chairman of the Welcomgroup.

Of Jaiswal it was written, “By giving a gastronomic accent to the rustic and simple kebab, Jaiswal has helped make Bukhara, Welcomgroup’s Frontier restaurant at the Maurya Sheraton, quite simply the finest Indian restaurant — anywhere.” And it is he who created the Sikandri Raan available and delectable at the Bukhara in the Soaltee in Kathmandu. It’s a dish that is slightly dry, the mutton comes in soft strips flavoured with ginger, cumin, cardamom, cloves and a tiny bit of tandoori masala. You change the taste to suit your buds

by daubing it with a little of Bukhara’s special raita — thick yoghurt with cucumber, tomatoes, salt and pepper.

“I have called it Sikandri Raan because Alexander the conqueror who was on the northern frontier in 325 BC loved his meat, and people from there brought this recipe to India when they came to sell rugs. They come rarely now but they are still called Kabuliwallahs,” Haksar used to say. Alexander, Ajit Haksar, Chefs Jaiswal and Todar Mal made the Raan what it is. Delectable.

Surya Adhikari, who knows everything about Bukhara, asked us to taste the Tandoori Jhinga which is made sharp with the uniquely sub-continental spice — ajwain, which is the standout flavour in the marinade and which Nepali chefs feel is good for digestion. After the sharpness comes the wholesome flavour of bhunnana or roasting which is smokey and can only come in a tandoor. Says Indian food guru Jiggs Kalra about tandoors, “What happens is that the juices of the meats drop on the charcoal which sizzles and sends up billows of smoke, giving the tandoor a smoking chamber effect. It is this smoke that gives tandoori cooking a special aroma.”

The Kastoori kebab comes coated in egg which mellows the already softly spicy chicken combined with ginger and cardamom tempered with bread crumbs. As you bite into the Kastoori, you taste saffron and then you taste chicken tikka which it actually is beneath the eggs. The cumin and cardamom make it special.

Adhikari never fails to bring me Barrah kebabs, which are chunks of lamb marinated in yoghurt, vinegar, spices and then chargrilled. Amazing tastes flood your mouth as you bite and then chew its slightly resistant softness. Whereas meat is the staple of Bukhara, there are wonderful and unusual vegetarian dishes led by Bukhara’s signature dish Dal Bukhara which is now being packaged, sold all over India and exported. Kalra writes that the black dal tastes better after a night of refrigeration but warns us not to splurge since the black dal can cause “quite a rumble”. At Bukhara this delicacy is described as “a harmonious combination of black lentils, tomatoes, ginger and garlic simmered overnight on a slow charcoal fire and finished with cream. Served with a dollop of unsalted butter”.

The potatoes in fenugreek or Methi Aloo is fabulous at the Bukhara and food writers say,

“The scent of fenugreek transforms a dish”. Bukhara accents the fenugreek flavour with spices. As you eat, you are filled with a satisfying glow which is there with the Tandoori platter which has a piquant stuffed capsicum, a truly unusual and crispy Tandoori salad, potatoes filled with raisins and cashew nuts and bliss. Said a young diner who accompanied me, “The food was so good I have laughter in my tummy.”

For non-vegetarian and vegetarian delights contact 4273999.