For a person who dismissed every biriyani, except the one made at home, as tomato rice, I have come a long way in appreciating different cuisines and their flavours. Quite a few times, I have been able to see the similarities between the flavours I knew and the flavours I was being introduced to which in a lot of ways introduced me to the cultures which the food represented and that has been the biggest learning for me as a foodie. Food as a way into culture! And recently I had peek at Rajasthani culture too, but yesterday, at the Maharashtrian Food Fest at Goa Portuguesa, there was a very very thin line between similarities and differences.
Chef Ali, an Iranian by birth, heads Diva Maharashtra, a sister concern of Goa Portuguesa, and is now in Chennai to showcase the Maharashtrian food fest. How does an Iranian know so much about this food? I love to learn new cuisines and grow, he says. Food gives you a peek into cultures and apparently he loves that. That was the first similarity between him and me! How does he know how authentic the food is? He bring me his colleague, Chef Dinesh, a native of Kolapur, and the menu is his mother's recipes apparently. For me, having never had Maharashtrian food and therefore having no benchmark, I played along, purely based on the taste.
The dinner started off with a raw mango juice that was lovely and the papas with Maharashtrian Chutneys and I don't remember enjoying a chutney this much. It was chilly, garlic and something else and was a dry chutney while the other one was like a mini spicy salad. The chef then brought us soup, warning us that it is going to be hot. The flavour will be similar, but hot, he said. There is only one soup (each veg and non veg) on the menu, so no confusion. It tasted like a butter chicken masala in a soup form with spice levels going a few notches higher. For a person who is not a big fan of spicy food, I finished the soup bowl and licked it clean! My friend couldn't take the heat after finishing half of it, though. For starters we had Kolambichi Bhajji and Chicken Sukka. The names sound familiar? The dishes were too. It was our bajji and our chukka, but flavoured to suit the tastes of the Maharashtrians. I finished off the bhajji, but didn't fancy the sukka very much. Our south Indian chukka rocks and this didn't stand a chance.
For the main course, we had Mutton Saoji and Chicken Pandra Rassa. The mutton dish was quite distinct, but the chicken rassa tasted very similar to the Kerala Stew. Similar, yet dissimilar. They were served with a variation of rice flour roti that they call the Vadey. My mom and grand mom made these rice flour rotis in a thick pancake, but here, it was like a Romali Roti. Brought back memories of the flavours of my grand mom's cooking, albeit and thinner version of her cooking, and the other dish was like our poori. We finished off with an excellent dessert, the sweet modaks served with ghee. It was a fantastic finish.
So the chef tells me that the similarities comes from the fact that we are in the same country and the differences come from the chilli. Apparently they use the Sankeshwari chilli in most dishes and even their Garam Masala has nutmeg and this chilli in addition to the regular spices mix. The dishes can be written off as similar to our tastebuds and not good enough or appreciated as wow-so-close-to-our-cuisine and enjoyed! Your call!
The Maharashtrian Food Fest is on till 30th June and since I have never been to this restaurant before, I now want to go back and try their regular Goan menu sometime. The food fest is not very spicy and for what we ate yesterday, a meal for two will cost about Rs. 1200 or so.
Goa Portuguesa is roof top restaurant on KNK Road, Nungambakkam.