What’s with Kashmiri food that makes me feel special? I think its because of the way I feel about the labour-intensive process involving Kashmiri cuisine, which I read about as a child and respected immensely. Kashmir boasts of a few strains of incredible food – and the use of several ingredients that are unique and extremely innovative, and when I taste dishes from this cuisine, I have a few favourites. That is why I was pretty hopeful when I reached Kalash at Hotel Hindustan International for their “Kashmir ki Curry”, the Kashmir food festival, a funny twist on the famous Shammi Kapoor film.
What I liked about the menu was the variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes in the menu, and the use of several unusual items which are hard to find in Kolkata. For example, lotus stem or nadru. This particular item was available in two versions, and I preferred the starter, which was the Nadru Shammi Kabab, served with a tangy yogurt dip which accentuated it well.
My other favourite from the vegetarian segment was the Kashmiri Aloo Dum, a popular choice for many Bengalis whose love for the dish makes it a wedding menu staple, with plenty of dry fruits on top. I ate this with flaky lachha parathas which came piping hot, straight from the kitchen, and I have to admit, the soft potatoes with the crisp dough flatbread was quite comforting on a day when I was feeling quite harassed, thanks to the extended work hours I am putting in.
In the non-vegetarian segment, although there were several really good kababs, the ones which stood out were the Lamb Shammi Kabab and the Fish Methi Tikka – the fish was perfectly seasoned and quite delicate, while the mutton kabab was bursting with flavours.
I love Yakhni pulao, and basically yakhni in all forms. Now, for those who do not know what Yakhni is, its basically a kind of stock made with meat, which forms the base of many Kashmiri dishes. Here, it was made into a soup, the Yakhni Shorba, with little chunks of boneless lamb, and really clean, meaty flavours, and it also formed the base for several curries and the pulao.
The Mutton Yakhni Pulao was a delight – filled with dry fruits and topped with a generous amount of fried onions, this was mildly sweet, the meat was tender, and the rice was fluffy. I also really liked the vegetarian version – which was flavoured strongly with Saffron and smelled heavenly.
A Mutton Rogan Josh is a must for any Kashmiri food festival, and here the chef told me that they had used a set of spices specially brought to make this dish, including Ratanjot, which gave the dish its distinctive red colour.
On the other hand, the Goshtaba (or Gushtaba) was cooked in a pale gravy, the minced, fatty meat soft and smelling faintly of saffron, with a tang from the yogurt quite prominent. For dessert, I particularly liked the Kheer and the Khubani ka Halwa, because who wouldn’t like a thick, decadent rabdi sprinkled with crushed pistachios and almonds, and a bowlful of apricot-flavoured goodness, which I finished with a gusto. The ‘Kashmir ki Curry’ festival at Hotel Hindustan International, Kolkata ends today (5th March, 2017), and a meal for two would cost you around 1500/- plus taxes. I hope that the festival returns soon!