With countless cultures, sub-cultures and communities present in our country, it is little wonder that every region in India, even a few kilometres apart, has its own distinct food culture too.
To give you a taste of a unique food culture, The Westin Pune has brought the interesting spread of Kayastha cuisine to Pune. Author, columnist and food writer Anoothi Vishal has curated the special menu. “Kayastha food represents India’s syncretic Ganga-Jamuna culture, which is fast disappearing,” said Vishal.
The Kayasthas were one of the earliest courtiers to the Mughal kings and hence there is a strong Mughal influence in the cuisine, and the way they dress and the language they speak.
The Kayastha cuisine is very labour intensive and painstaking which is why not many people cook it in the traditional way in this age of everything instant.
Seated in the open-air terrace, with twittering birds for company, the lavish Kayastha spread was served as Vishal explained the history behind each dish.
First was Mangaudi, a speciality of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. Mangaudi is a popular snack. In North India, it is popularly known as Moong Daal Ki Pakodi. Mildly spiced, the bite-sized pakoda had a subtle taste of coriander and was appetising.
Then came Kulle, a very famous but disappearing chaat dish. Kulle is tiny fruit cups with small available-only-in-Delhi chickpeas and sprinkled with chaat masala. But due to the non-availability of the chickpeas, it was replaced by green peas which gave the dish freshness and a burst of flavour.
Kayastha cuisine is mainly non-vegetarian and for the non-vegetarian lover in me, there was some delicious Shami Kebab, which was flavoursome and melt-in-the-mouth soft.
Moving on to the main course, there was Khade Masale Ka Mutton, Chicken Keema, Takey Paise, Meva Ke Aloo, Sukhi Urad Dal, Bhindi Masala, Kaddu Ki Sabzi and Yakhni Pulao. The mutton with khade masale was, as the name suggests, masaledaar and a little on the spicier side but delectable. The meat was succulent and well cooked. While introducing the next dish, Chicken Keema, Vishal said that generally Kayastha cuisine does not include chicken and includes only red meat.
The Chicken Keema, specially made for the table, was cooked in a Kayastha way, that is minced and mixed with yoghurt. The taste was nothing like what we usually associate Keema with, and with hot Puri on the side, it was absolutely heavenly.
For vegetarians, Takey Paise, besan rounds cut in the shape of coins, fried and then cooked in a curry made of onion and yoghurt, was delectable. Though the standout dish was Meva Ke Aloo, cooked in a typical Kayastha style by adding yoghurt.
The taste was distinctive and had an enticing savoury flavour to it. The Sukhi Urad Dal, Vishal added, is a Kayastha party dish and a must-have at the dinner table during any gathering. Packed with proteins, Sukhi Urad Dal had just the perfect amount of crunch and flavour.
Moving on to the rice, there was Yakhni Pulao. Considered as a symbol of refinement, the meat and rice slowly cooked, had an unmistakable taste and aroma. The rice itself was flavoursome and the meat further enhanced its taste.
With a stomach full of delicious food, it was time to make a tiny place for desserts. Wondering whether to let go of the lingering taste of the delicious Yakhni Pulao and Chicken Keema or get over it, I dug into something I am not a fan of — Dudhi Ka Halwa or Lauki Li Launj. I am glad I did because that was the best dessert I have had in a long time. Not too sweet, it had all the right flavours and I had it in a jiffy.
At the festival, not only did I savour some delicious food but it was also a lesson in history and how as the current generation, we need to carry forward the recipes and flavours prepared by our ancestors for the future generations.
ST Reader Service
Kayasth Khatirdari Food Festival is underway at The Westin Pune, Koregaon Park, till February 13, between 6.30 and 11 pm