In India, 14th April, 2015 is a reason to celebrate. The Sikh festival of Baisakhi falls on 13th April every year. Only once in 36 years, it falls on 14th April, and this year is the year! To add to the festive charm, Chef Jyoti Arora is here in Mumbai to present a variety of delectable Amritsari delicacies! Hailing from Amritsar and adept in Amritsari style of cooking, Chef Jyoti was a Masterchef India Season 2 Contestant and is currently writing a book on the lost recipes of undivided Punjab. Earlier, she had also contributed two recipes for one of the cookbooks by the Michelin starred celebrity chef Vikas Khanna. She has curated Amritsari Food Festival in many restaurants all over India. This time, her food creations from her hometown Amritsar is here in Mumbai at Jyran, Sofitel BKC Mumbai.
The Amritsar Xpress or the Amritsari Food Festival is on till 14th April and has a great selection of traditional dishes from Amritsar. Chef Jyoti is here to tell you that Amritsari food is not what people often assume it to be. It isn’t loaded with lots of cashewnut paste or butter, but wherever the traditional recipe demands, ghee is used. She told us that as there are different classes of people in Amritsar, so their food is also different, and so is the amount of fat used in their diet. She explained that low-fat Amritsari dishes do exist, along with rich dishes. The amount of ghee used in each of her dish is appreciably just the amount needed to give the dish the justice it deserves. Not even a single dish that the chef lovingly served us, was overloaded with ghee. Not even a single dish had a garam masala overdose. Each of the dishes was like a journey to the beautiful land of Amritsar. The dishes were flavourful and I could smell Amritsar di mitti di khushbu (the smell of Amritsari soil) in them! The restaurant Jyran was all dressed up elegantly for this festival. The decorations using traditional elements added to the overall Amritsari rustic vibe. The ambience for a happy Baisakhi meal couldn’t probably be better than this.
But then, food is the most important aspect. As AN and I settled ourselves with the traditional drink called Shikanji, it tasted refreshing with this perfect combination of mint paste, spices, soda and lemon juice. AN’s cocktail, the Chai Tapri (Citrus Vodka, Masala Chai and Fresh Mint) and my Coco Sage (Sage Vodka, Coconut Liquer, Crème de Cassis and Sour mix), were delightful too!
Although they have an elaborate menu with a plethora of traditional Amritsari delicacies, we tried the Amritsar Xpress Signature Set Menu. The healthy bone soup, Paya Yakhni Jyran, a simple soup made by slow-cooking lamb trotters, was very comforting and light. The flavours of the marrow made the soup delectable. The base of the soup was onion and curd, and it was undoubtedly among one of the best Paya Yakhni soups I tasted so far.
Among the Appetizers, we tasted the Tandoori Machli. Being Bengali, we were excited to see our very own Kolkata fish Bhetki in an Amritsari avatar. It was marinated with smoked yellow chilli mustard oil and cooked in a clay oven. The smokiness of the fish with great combination of spices made it just the perfect Amritsari appetiser to die for. The Tandoori Machli was juicy from inside and the flavours percolated right till the innermost part of the appetiser. I loved it!
Another appetiser that we tried was Jyran’s special Murgh Kasoori Kebab. Marination with pineapple puree made the boneless pieces of chicken perfectly tender. The slightly fruity flavour married with aromatic fenugreek leaves made these kebabs addictive. I wanted to try more and more of this chicken kebab, but there were lots of other interesting flavours in the menu to be discovered, so we moved on to the Signature Main Course crafted by the chef.
On the table next to us, we witnessed a dish that was looking so mystic and packed with flavourful surprise. When it came to the table, it was looking like a big ball totally charred from outside. Then it was cut open and voila! There was succulent chicken inside! Later, the chef came to our table and explained that this dish has been made from a very old and traditional recipe. It is called Malerkotla Murgh. Whole chicken is marinated with spices and stuffed with almonds. It is then tied in a muslin cloth and wrapped in a thick dough. This wrap is cooked in a clay oven till the dough gets charred. How interesting!
For the Main Course, even for vegetarians, there are enough options. We tried the Amritsari Kofta: the dish had melt-in-the-mouth cottage cheese and dry fruit koftas in a thick and creamy gravy, with onions and tomatoes as the base. We loved the koftas: the gravy was full of flavour and the koftas were addictive.
Among the vegetarian options, we also tried the famous Maa ki Daal. Black lentils (Kaali daal) cooked overnight in a clay oven and finished with butter and cream can never go wrong. This creamy dal was so good that we thought that we could have easily and happily skipped all other dishes and settle for just this humble daal. It was that good!
Although Butter Chicken was on the menu, we ordered the Rahra Gosht. This dish uses mutton with two kinds of textures. Lamb leg and mince were cooked perfectly together and was further cooked in a brown onion curry. Since Rahra Gosht had always been my favourite, I immediately ordered this dish. This dish made by Chef Jyoti was impeccable and flawless.
The Gosht Dum Biryani had a problem, however. Although the meat was perfectly soft and very flavourful, the biryani rice was still uncooked when it was served to us. The grains of rice were thus hard to chew. The biryani seemed to be made in a hurry, and the tell-tale signs were those imperfect grains.
There were three kinds of Indian breads to try. Be it the Naan Makhani, Tandoori Roti or Missi Roti. We enjoyed the breads with these amazing main course dishes. My favourite was Missi Roti.
We were served three kinds of desserts. These were cooked in ghee, but the chef made sure that no extra amount of ghee was present in these desserts. The Gajjerela or the Gajar ka Halwa was made with grated carrots and thickened milk. I liked the Gajjerela, but I was expecting higher. Next up was the Gur ka Halwa: we were excited to try their special halwa and we thought it would have lots of jaggery in it, but after eating, we felt that although the halwa tasted great, the colour and taste of jaggery in this dish should have been a bit more pronounced.
But, the Pinni ka Halwa was really good! We were so lost in its flavours that we forgot clicking the picture! 🙂 This dish reminded me of my old college days, when my close Punjabi friends used to bring this yummy halwa in their tiffinboxes.
Overall, the ambience and the food at the Amritsari Food Festival were good, except for the Biryani. Jyran has a peaceful vibe: sometimes royal and sometimes rustic. Carefully chosen music relaxes you, as you begin your Amritsari food experience during the auspicious occasion of Baisakhi, the complete desi way. Give this a shot!
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