Food festivals curated using secret recipes with a royal lineage are always a big draw for foodies. And, the team at JW Marriott know that only too well. The hotel has been organising theme-based food festivals with regular consistency.
The 10-day long festival aims to showcase the rich legacy of this lesser known cuisine which, as chef Quddus points out, has been deeply influenced by multiple cultures in the culinary capital of the ancient Carnatic region, Arcot. "Set in the urban town of Vellore, near Chennai, Arcot was once one of the greatest empires of India established by Mughal ruler Aurangzeb in 1692 to form a stronghold over the Carnatic region in the Southern Deccan," reads the formal note issued by the hotel.
Amir Mahal, the Nawab’s residence in Arcot is where the stately cuisine of the royal family has been preserved like heirloom jewels till date. “The royal kitchens of Amir Mahal, its secret recipes, and the legacy of creating culinary masterpieces are currently being passed on to the tenth generation of Ustads or royal cooks,” explains the chef who has spent considerable time researching the royal cuisine.
Having trained under the Ustads of Amir Mahal while staying at the Nawab’s palace, Chef Quddus learnt the various nuances of this cuisine and understood what makes it so exquisite. “While the original base of the cuisine is traditional Awadhi or Nawabi recipes, the direct control of the Hyderabadi Nizam on the Carnatic Empire influenced their food, particularly in terms of making the cuisine spice-heavy,” explains the chef, adding how part from these influences, the royal kitchens of Arcot developed their own unique style which was also dependent on the availability of local ingredients.
The menu at the ongoing food festival features a good line-up of kebabs and curries as well as the famed Arcot ki biryani.
A must-try here is the Mongodi Shammi and Nimona Shammi. “The green lentils used in the Mongodi Shammi are unique to the Arcot cuisine while Nimona Shammi uses green apples as its base as it’s a sweet and sour kebab,” informs the chef. The main course dishes see equally rich use of almonds and cashews in the gravies such as Phans Loung Kofta Curry with yam koftas in cashew gravy or Aloo Gosht Korma which has lamb trotters in almond gravy.
Another intrinsic element in this royal cuisine is the use of saffron, yellow mustard and whole turmeric. Most of the dishes are slow-cooked and marinated for a long time. The Dal-e-Nawab, a green lentil preparation is cooked overnight in royal cumin, butter and a secret mix of hand-pound spices.
Dhungari Mutton Chaap
Speaking of slow cooking, Dhungari Mutton Chaap is marinated days before being prepared so that the lamb ribs can soak in maximum flavours.
While the main course will more than fill you up, do save up space for the famed desserts.
Leading the way is the Makhan Peda, which is quite similar to gulab jamun we eat locally. But the Arcot version takes softness to another level. Another must-try from the line-up of desserts is Amrit Phal, a mixture of semolina, condensed milk, saffron, almonds and rose as well as the Badam Ka Kund that is really decadent.
The food festival is on until April 24 and will be available in vegetarian and non-vegetarian set-menus, each priced at Rs 2,150 (excluding taxes) and Rs 2,750 (excluding taxes) respectively.
A seasoned journalist, Jagmeeta has worked with The Indian Express for 16 years writing extensively on food, popular culture and fashion. A Master's in English, she completed her honours in Journalism from Delhi University and started her career in journalism with New Delhi Television (NDTV) as a reporter. She was part of the launch team for NDTV.com. Having turned a freelance writer and editor in 2016, she has been writing for The Hindustan Times, Chandigarh and is also a contributor for The Voice of Fashion steered by IMG Reliance Ltd as well as Chandigarh's popular lifestyle portal - simplythecity.com. When she's not reviewing food or dissecting the season's trends, she likes to travel with her daughter and husband, a professional photographer. A photography enthusiast herself, Jagmeeta has also curated photo exhibitions and calls herself a collector of cookbooks and recipes and a proud 'fauji' daughter and sister.