|ITC Kitchens of India Kolkata|
When ITC Kitchens of India started off the North East Chapter, I was beyond happy – I am a fan of the simplicity of the food which North East India offers – and when I went to Shillong, earlier this year, I had stuffed myself with as much pork as possible. Naturally, I was looking forward to the food from the Seven Sisters – Arunachal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, and it was told that I should also expect a bit from Sikkim as well. The event, which has started from the 18th and will continue till the 27th will have one or two highlighted state each day, and the menu will keep on changing. If you are in luck, you might get some really unusual dishes.
|ITC Eden Pavilion|
Apart from the different dishes set in front of me, there is an array of the special sauces which are quite common there, and of course, I am immediately drawn to the Axone first. Dark and with a very distinct fragrance, Axone (pronounced aa-kho-nee) is made of fermented soybeans, and has a distinct scent which is an acquired taste, I have to warn you. Either you love it, or you do not, and I do. There is also a bowl of king chilli pickle, and the freshness of the Raja Mirchi is what stands out, although the heat has been tamed to a mild burn.
|explaining ITC Kitchens of India|
The Chef, who hails from Nagaland, is excited about the melange of dishes – there is a mixture of chiefly Assamese and Naga food, and he explains to us the distinct advantages of the cuisines. “We use fresh ingredients, but not too much of spices. Rather, we rely on a few herbs and spices, and even a dish with water, ginger, garlic and chicken, will have wonderful flavours, because the ingredients are the star here. Country chicken, good meat and vegetables, fresh herbs, smoky flavours, and plenty of chillies are the signature ingredients for Naga cooking.”
The menu is part of the dinner buffet at Eden Pavilion, which starts from 7.30 pm, and we sampled an array of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. There was the Dhokaanja (or Dhoka Anja) from Assam, where fluffy lentil dumplings were simmered in a tomato-corirander based curry. It was very comforting, and was a great start to our meal, although I think I later regretted the fact that I did not take the moguma daal to accompany the Assamese part of the meal. But I had to forsake that in the favour of the pork and beef that was about to come.
|Rosep Aon from Nagaland|
The Rosep Aon was a medley of stir-fried vegetables, and the bitter gourd added a hit of bitterness that worked well as a palate cleanser. I picked some of the sticky Jasmine rice from Nagaland for this dish, and later had more of the rice with the Pitika.
I have always been a fan of potatoes, and the pitika was flavoured with plenty of mustard oil, which was perfect for mixing with the rice, and the smoothness of the mash was wonderful. I might have had more of this with my pork, later.
The only dish from Sikkim was a batch of Thukpa, which was pretty much a DIY. There was a bowl of noodle, a steaming broth, chicken and onions stir fried together, and plenty of greens. I liked the DIY, although I found the broth to be lukewarm, which wasn’t a great thing for me.
|Tenderloin cooked in Black Sesame|
Among the non-vegetarian selections, there was a rather decadent Tenderloin cooked in Black Sesame. I am a major fan of meat cooked with black sesame, and the meat here was cooked well, and the smoky earthiness of the black sesame was the perfect foil for thinly sliced meat against the grain. There was also a rather understated dish of Roasted Chicken cooked with Perilla leaves, which was quite unusual (Perilla in Bengali is also known as ban tulsi, and is what the Japanese call shisho leaves).
|Pork Cooked with Axone|
The Pork cooked with Axone was the highlight of the day for me. The smoky flavours of the meat, the melted fat, and the soft rind – the pork was what made me return, pick up the cover, and eat more. The meat was not fibrous, but it wasn’t too soft as well – you need to chew this for a bit, extract every bit of flavours from it, before swallowing. It is a dish which highlights Naga cuisine – the smoky meat, the slight pungency from the axone and the leaves to add an additional set of flavouring – this dish was what made the meal stand out for me.
Dessert contained of two parts – the first part was an array of peetha – steamed and fried. I loved the way the crunchy fried one was mildly dotted with fennel seeds, and the other one had a drizzle of sticky molasses to add to the sweetness. The Naga people are not fans of sweets, so sweet dishes are kept at a minimum. “It’s why we have glowing skin,” the Chef joked. I had to agree, though.
|Rice Flour Cake|
We were also served a rather unique rice flour cake, which was spongy and not too sweet, and topped with a thick layer of icing. I wasn’t much of a fan of this dish, although the others asked for second helpings, and ended my meal with some freshly brewed coffee, which Eden Pavilion makes rather well. I would have to say, the meal left me replete, and wanting to go back to the North East, and if you want to taste some unusual and tasty dishes, check out the dinner buffet – it would be on till the 27th of this month.
|North Eastern Food Festival Kolkata|
Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee was invited by the management of ITC Sonar for the event.