Hummus.

One warm afternoon, I find myself at The Souk at Taj Bengal, where Executive Chef Sujan Mukherjee guides us through a tasting platter which comprises of an array of Mediterranean dishes. The dinner would be interesting, I know, since a plethora of dishes from countries like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Morocco are part of our meal.

Pickled Vegetables. 

The term “souk” is a traditional open-aired Middle-Eastern marketplace. Here culture and countries collide, and we are dazzled by the splendor of it all! The decor at The Souk is kept tastefully elegant, with mirrors and glasses, and lights are dimmed mostly. We gather around our table, and talk in a hushed tone. A plate of olives sit in front of me, some stuffed with almonds, and some with piri piri chillies. I bite into their succulence, and marvel at the burst of brine in my mouth.

Watermelon. Feta. Mint.

An amuse bouche of Fresh Watermelon and Feta is placed in front of us. The tart watermelon is topped with a dollop of silky feta and a sprig of mint, and my palate wakes up to the possibilities, when paired with the tiny drops of balsamic reduction on the side.

Top Left – Hummus Bil Lahm, Top Right – Tabbouleh, Bottom Left – Felafil.

A Mezze platter is soon served, with a bottle of blush wine to accompany it. I am not much of a fan of the wine. I find a bit too acidic for my taste and not enough body to go with the lamb. The platter consists of an assortment of delicacy – two kinds of Hummus (Hummus Turki and Hummus Bil Laham), Felafil, Lahm Kibbe, Swada Dijaj, Tabbouleh, and Pita breads. I choose a Za’atar flavored one, and sit back. 

Za’atar flavored Pita

The silkiness of the Hummus is complimented by the topping on it – the Turki version contains chopped olives and piri piri chillies, while the lamb version is topped with morsels of crisp lamb. Both are excellent in their own way, especially when paired with a slice of Za’atar flavored pita, freshly baked and generously seasoned. 

Laham Kibbe (Left), Swada Dijaj (Right)

The Lahm Kibbe is a torpedo of minced lean lamb. I am fascinated by the crumbly texture, and ask the Chef about the same. His reply is simple – the meat is sourced from Rajasthan, which is why it is so lean. The meat is slightly gamey in flavor, resplendent with touches of sumac, a fact that a carnivore like me appreciates, and the pine nuts are generous in each bite.

The Tabbouleh is fresh, and I am slightly surprised that it is not made with regular parsley, but the flat-leaf kind found in Italy. I am not so fond of the Felafil (or falafel, call it what you will), or the Swada Dijaj, morsels of chicken deep fried and tossed in pomegranate molasses, a sweet and sour concoction. 
Samak Meshwi (Left), Adana Kabab (Right), Tavuk Yogurtulu Bitlis (Back)

We move on to the grill segment, where, after declaring that I am allergic to prawns, the platter is modified to bring in Adana Kabab, Tavuk Yogurtulu Bitilis, and Samak Meshwi. The Adana Kabab is cooked on a flat skewer (which soon V decides to brandish), and while well-cooked, lacks the kick I was after, or the moistness which I prefer.

V of Sweet ‘n Savoury brandishing the skewer.

The Samak Meshwi, fish cooked with an assortment of spices, is nice, but I need the Truffle Pilaf that is served on the side to cut down the spiciness. The pilaf itself is light, fluffy, and generously sprinkled with dried berries, andI would have preferred to eat this by itself, to understand the delicacy of the flavors. In the “chaos” in my plate it loses its potentials (and I forgot to take a picture of it). The Tavuk Yogurtulu Bitlis, or chicken cooked in Bitlis style, is tasty, but not memorable.

Clockwise from top right – Samak Moroccan, Moussaka, Lamb Tagine, Pasta with Mediterranean Ingredients.

For our main course, we are served a feast – platters of Lamb Tagine, Samak Moroccan, Moussaka and pasta cooked in the traditional Middle-Eastern style is served to us. The Tagine is beautifully flavored with preserved lemons and chickpeas, with soft, melt-in-your-mouth bites of lamb, and a tang that comes from the prunes cooked along with it. The Chef introduces to us a dish of pasta cooked with preserved lemons, chickpeas and prunes, which I greedily ignore in favor of the Moussaka, which is different from its Greek counterpart in the way the slices of aubergine not allowed to wilt and go soggy, but rather, holds out on its own against the filling consisting of Bulgar, squash and zucchini.

L-R – Omali, Baklava, Rose Petal Ice Cream.

At this point of time, I find the need to rest my head against the back of my seat, and wait for the pièce de résistance – the dessert platter. I am perennially excited by the dessert segment, and here we have a tasting platter of three – the Rose Petal Ice Cream, which is a signature dish from the Chef, the Baklava, and the Omali. The Baklava is less sweet and nuttier than the traditional version, and not moist enough for my palate. It doesn’t have the layers of phyllo in between, or the syrup and butter that holds everything up. While this might be a dream for those who aren’t much of a sweet lover, I am not fond of it. However, my two compadres are enamored of it and devour it within seconds. 

Top View.

I am more in love with the Rose Petal Ice Cream, with its delicate hints of softest rose in each spoonful, and a crunchy biscuit at the bottom of it that crumbles on my tongue. The Omali is my other favorite – thin layers of phyllo pastry baked with house-made condensed milk, giving it a silky balance that I fall in love with. My spoon scrapes up the last of it from the sides of the cup.

Cups of mint tea is served. I finish my meal with a satisfied smile on my face and a terrible longing for Turkish coffee.

I am second to the left in the back.  Chef Sujan and General Manager Mr. K Mohanchandran sitting before us.

Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee dined at The Taj courtesy Rediffusion. Her opinions remain unbiased.

Written by Poorna Banerjee

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