The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The city is known for its old alleys. One such is shot by Atanu Pal.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Uttam Bhoj at ITC Sonar

Coming back to eating in this terrible weather. As the appetite has gone for a complete toss, one feels like having something that’s not only not heavy for the digestive system, but also lets you feel good even after the meal.

So while I was invited by ITC Sonar to the bloggers’ review of Uttam Bhoj, a vegetarian meal- creation of chef Gunjan Goela, which is an excellent combination of rajasic food and sattvic food which assures complete gratification after the meal, I was happy.

Rajasic foods are known to excite the senses. They are considered to be neither beneficial nor harmful to the system. In contrast sattvic food is known for healing the senses. It is supposed to have a calming effect on the mind and regarded pure, essential, natural, energy-containing, clean, honest and wise.

A bit on the chef. Gunjan is, for a change, known as a philosopher chef. And literally so, as she holds a degree in philosophy. This lady is a consultant with ITC Hotels for Indian-Marwari cuisine. It is said that it takes more than mere ingredients and technique to cook a good meal, and  a good cook puts something of himself (or herself) into the preparation. Gunjan personifies this belief with her penchant for adding a cultural flourish to her cooking. And I witnessed this in the interaction with her. The Uttam Bhoj, designed by her, comprises of foods from the kitchens of Delhi's erstwhile nobility.

Chef Gunjan Goela

As I reached late for the lunch, I saw a group of bloggers in thick of conversation with the chef. The first few items were already served. So they were repeated for me- ghughni and aloo chaat. The ghughni made the perfect start for me as I found it to be tasting exactly the same that my grandaunt would make me at home, devoid of onion and garlic, as she didn’t like the one made by the cook who used the said ingredients. It was just rightly spiced (with cumin in it), though far from as spicy and hot as the roadside version. It would have tasted equally good even without the raw onion sprinkled on it before serving. The aloo chaat was a combination of spicy and sweet, which I liked again, as my palate, though loving all things savoury, was secretly urging less of salty and spicy and a dash of sweetness thanks to the weather.

Ghughni. Photograph by Poorna Banerjee.

Aloo chaat. Photograph by Poorna Banerjee.

Dahi Valla (davi vada) was served next. Just perfect appetizer! Loved the chutney on the top.  Also liked the use of black pepper in it though the ginger could have been a little more subdued as I personally felt. I was consciously trying to fill my appetite as less as possible as the main dishes were waiting, but it was not easy.

Dahi valla

Next came gol gappa. Freshly fried gol gappa with mini cubes of boiled potato (seemed mildly cooked), mango chutney (same as the one in dahi valla) and tamarind water. It was do-it-yourself, so I could burst a gol gappa, fill it with the quantity of filling I like, may or may not put the chutney (I didn’t) and pour the quantity of water I liked. All very good, but it didn’t work for me as honestly I am a conservative phuchka (Gol gappa) lover and the bland filling didn’t score with me. I must mention though that the water found favour with the lady bloggers who I was dining with.

Gol gappa

Time for main course. Arrived poori with aloo ki sabzi and Aam ki Sabzi. The aloo ki sabzi was brilliant! As the chef revealed, cooked with desi ghee, a few spices (including fenugreek), ginger and the regular chili. Perfect home style, yet having a clear indescribable edge over it, the magic was in the cooking. I loved it so much that I couldn’t help taking it in tiny bits in between other items. The Aam ki Sabzi, as I found out, was not actually a sabzi (curry) but a thick mango chutney. It is just like the thicker version of mango chutney made at home this season. Few spoonfuls of it were good between bites of the other dishes.

Aloo ki sabzi

Aam ki Sabzi

Next came Bedmi Poori, which is actually a urad dal-stuffed poori (in the same line the Bengali kachuri, but not as thick). Liked it more than the poori because of the stuffing which was distinctly different from kachuri. The Ghwar Phalli- stir fried cluster beans- was good. the kofta curry had soft paneer balls in a tangy gravy. The Kishmishi Kesari Pullao was finely cooked rice with peas and a bit of raisins.

Bedmi Poori. Photograph by Poorna Banerjee.

 Kishmishi Kesari Pullao. Photograph by Poorna Banerjee.

At this time I was feeling quite full and the desserts arrived. Rabdi with falooda, kheer and chandrakala. Liked the small helping of kheer elevated by the vermicelli in it. And the falooda and rabdi did a perfect finishing to the hearty meal. It was not very thick and rich, otherwise I wouldn’t be not in a position to finish it off.

The dessert platter

Overall, a full-course, gratifying vegetarian Indian meal I ate after long and a definite recommendation for the vegetarians. Even the non-vegetarians like me who are open to explore good, classy vegetarian food can go for it.

Meeting the chef was an experience! She sat with us, kept on explaining the dishes with their culinary background, how a single dish relates to different parts of India etc. Needless to say her craft was impressive and met the expectation with which I arrived. I shall remember the few dishes I prominently mentioned.

It was nice t o meet Poorna (of the blog PresentedByP) and talk all things food. She guided me with some finer points of the dishes. Also met blogger Dolon Dutta Chowdhury who has a beauty blog Pout Pretty.

One last point, which I must mention. I overate; despite that I didn’t feel any uneasiness in the next few hours and there was no need for any digestive in the hot and humid afternoon. Need I say more?

Uttam Bhoj is available in the dinner buffet at the Eden Pavilion at ITC Sonar. It started on 29th May and will go on till 7th June. It comprises of about 42 dishes including a wide range of starters, mains and desserts. The cost is Rs 2250 plus taxes per guest.

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