Onam Sadya at ITC Gardenia

Onam, Kerala’s harvest festival is a ten day long celebration and also marks the start of the new year for Hindu Malayalis, and is usually celebrated by all the people from the state. The grand feast, that is prepared on the final day of Onam, called Thiruonam, is Onasadya. The Onasadya is an integral part of the celebrations, an elaborate meal served on a banana leaf, with certain specific dishes and sides, from salt to sweet, and numbering at least nine to even fifteen or more dishes. From banana chips and a banana (pazham), to puli inji (sweet and sour pickle side), pacchadi (a version of raita) and paripu (dal), with a host of delicious vegetarian dishes, some gravy, some dry, an Onam Sadya meal is a real treat.

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Over the last couple years I have been lucky enough to be part of a close friend’s annual Onam potluck celebrations. This year, I was also invited to an exclusive preview of ITC Hotel’s Onasadya, which is being served in Bangalore at ITC Gardenia’s Cubbon Pavilion restaurant. This special #GrandOnamCelebrations Onasadya will be available across India, at ITC properties, for lunch, on Monday September 4th, which is the day Onam falls on this year. The feast will be served as a Thali, priced at INR 1550 plus taxes. On Sunday the 3rd, some of these Sadya dishes will be a part of the ITC Pavilion restaurants’ daytime Sunday buffet spread.

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Expect the decorations and festivities to be on from Sunday, providing diners with a chance to try some traditional Kerala vegetarian fare, including Olan (ash gourd and red beans in coconut milk); Thoran (a dry prep with coconut, this version is with beetroot); Avial (thick gravy of Kerala veggies); and my personal favorite, Erissery (pumpkin and red beans in a coconut gravy). Kerala red rice, Kerala Sambar, and Moru curry, (a tempered yogurt based thin gravy that has mustard and curry leaf and is quite tangy), are other dishes you’ll be served as part of the feast. The meal will end with traditional desserts that are part of a Sadya – a variety of payasams. In this case, enjoy Elaneer Payasam (tender coconut dessert that is light and delicious), and Adai Pradaman (a thick prep of rice, jaggery and coconut milk.

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A splendid feast awaits: The Bohri Shahi Dawat at ITC Gardenia

Biryani and kebabs make for a splendid meal – of this there is no doubt. Each city/town has its own version of these dishes, and within the Muslim community, there are variations based on sect and state. Growing up, it was the Hyderabadi style of cooking that I was most familiar with. And I also got to try the goodies in the lunchboxes of two Bohra classmates, whose lunches, truth be told, were the most interesting amongst the group. From Khichida (which I called a white haleem in my head) to kebabs and always some sweet as well, and later attending a couple of events at their homes and experiencing the community style of eating for the first time – these then are my memories of Bohra food. Thus, when an invite popped into my mailbox, proclaiming an upcoming Bohri Shahi Dawat food festival at ITC Gardenia’s Cubbon Pavilion, I knew there was only one answer – yes! That the festival coincides with the closing week of Ramazan and the Eid celebration was an added bonus. And you too can enjoy the feast, which is available for dinner until the 2nd of July as part of their Kitchens of India – Unique Tastes initiative.

The Bohri Shahi Dawat at Cubbon Pavilion, ITC Gardenia

Young Chef Zohair, a Bohra from Mumbai (the community is predominantly from Gujarat, and with roots in Yemen and a touch of Mughal influence), curated and created every dish and detail for the festival, wanting to share his heritage and culture with diners, down to the Thaal – the giant plate that serves as the focal point of the meal, with the family sitting around it and then all partaking of the various courses off it. He had even sourced from his home town, the Chemlachi Lota – silver jug – that holds water that is used to wash hands before the meal. Tradition dictates that the youngest member of the family offers salt to every diner, since the meal is supposed to begin with a pinch of salt. Then it is time to dig into the successive courses, which will alternate between sweet (Mithaas) and savory (Khaaras). And Chef assured us that this is how they eat at home, every single day, with a multiple course sweet and savory menu! Since community style eating would present a logistical challenge, for the purposes of the festival, we were served individual “mini” thaals. Mini cause they were regular plates, not because there was any less to eat, I should add!

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We were offered two drinks, one sweet, one savory here too – a sweet tender coconut one (Coconut Malai with Elaichi) and Gol Paani with Sabja seeds, which featured lemon, tulsi and basil seeds and hit the spot with a nice tangy flavor. It is traditional to begin with dates in some form – Kharek was what we go that day – Dates soaked in rose syrup and stuffed with Khoya, pistachios and almonds. And then the real feasting started! And as there was a vegetarian at the table, we learned that there is an extensive range of vegetarian delicacies prepared in Bohra cooking, and a quick taste assured us that this was indeed the case! Our non-veg starters included divine Kheema Samosas – crisp, thin, fried casing encasing hand-pounded mutton mince, Kheema Pattice – mince stuffed potatoes, Chicken Cream Tikka – chicken nuggets with cream that make for the perfect comfort food on a cold evening. For the vegetarians the Nariyal Kebab (potato encasing coconut), and Dal Na Samosa, a lentil samosa would leave them happy. Before the mains, the Mango Malai was common to both thalis, and kept up the one sweet-one savory tradition.

And now it was time for the main course. For vegetarians, there was Patrel Soya nu Tarkari made with Cocoyam leaves; the non-veg version, Patrel Gosht combined mutton and the leaves. There was a Bohri Dal that used 5 lentils to great effect, and a rich Ghaker Roti which was layers of flaky pastry and ghee and didn’t need any accompaniment, though it was perfect to dip into the Kaari Chicken – a cashew gravy and gorgeous spice combination made this the dish of the night! No meal of this sort would be complete without biryani – and the Bohra Gosht Biryani (with mutton and potatoes and deep fried onions) served with a delectable Bhuna Baingan Raita, was stellar. This was one of those times when I rued not having more space – the Kaari Chicken and biryani should be savored in large quantities! Now of course the meal had to end on a sweet note, and obviously, given the season, Sheer Khurma was a must – and with the charonji and other nuts, it transported me back to Eids of childhood! For those who would enjoy ending the meal with paan, the Bohri Paan Goli is a sort of deconstructed paan ball rolled with dessicated coconut. All in all decadence and a rare glimpse into a food culture that is not easy to find locally…

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The Obento Experience at Edo

A meal at Edo, ITC Gardenia’s signature Japanese restaurant is a feast in the truest form – a feast of the senses. From the beautiful setting, to the delicately balanced and layered food, dining at Edo is always a pleasure. And now, rather than waiting for dinner time to head there, Edo has opened its doors for lunch as well. You can get a la carte dishes, but what’s the inviting new thing is their Obento (Bento Box) lunches.

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An Obento meal, traditionally, is served in a lacquer box with partitions for different dishes, and portioned for a single diner. In other words, you get to enjoy a multi-course meal in one go, with everything presented together. I like this for a number of reasons. For one, I can eat my meal at my own pace. Secondly, I can eat the dishes in my order of preference – like you know, saving the Prawn Tempura for last, even though it technically is a starter item. Third, you get to experience a range of items at one time, and you get to be surprised by what Chef Kamlesh and his staff are up to in the kitchen. Fourth, when I have everything laid out in front of me at the same time, the meal is sure to go faster. And this, actually, is one of the reasons for a Bento meal – Edo wants you to be able to enjoy their food and ambience even if it is for a quick Obento luncheon rather than a more elaborate and leisurely dinner service.

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The Obento is available in both veg and non-veg, and can be customized to suit a diner’s particular likes and dislikes or dietary needs. So if you’re allergic to something, ask for a substitute. While waiting on our Obentos to make their appearance, we were treated to the fun that is a Sake Bomb. A small cup of Sake is placed atop chopsticks that are strategically arranged on a glass of beer. Now, in unison, everyone counts to three in Japanese: Ichi, Ni, San – and then bangs their fists on the table. Splash and pop – in goes the Sake cup into the beer glass, and then it is time to down the lot in one go!

With Sake coating our insides, and much laughter and story exchange happening, once the Obento trays appeared, loaded with a multitude of deliciousness, silence descended on the table, the kind that a great meal demands. And now for the burning question- what was our Obento luncheon? Rather than the boxes, this Obento meal is served on a large tray, with small trays and bowls of the various dishes. An up-scaled Bento Box, if you will. And the dishes are presented/meant to be partaken of in a certain order, though of course, one can do what they like. First up: pickled vegetables – Oshinko; the appetizer – Zensai – a delectable crab salad; Sushi and Sashimi – fresh and beautiful Tuna and Salmon.

Now was the moment for Miso Soup, but I decided to wait on pouring it out of the cute kettle it was in for a little longer – after all, there are few tastes more pleasurable than a perfect Miso – which I know from past experience, Edo’s is! I also reserved the salty egg custard, called Chawanmushi, for later. Instead I ate the beautiful Tempura of prawns and zucchini blossom (well, I saved one of the prawn ones for last), and then went for the Robatayaki or live grill, which featured a skewer of chicken and a beautifully cooked and sauced piece of fish underneath.

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Now, I dove into the Miso soup – the entire experience, from pouring it out and smelling it, to then partaking of it, with the morsels of seaweed and tiny cubes of tofu, was perfection. Chef had served a bowl of Udon noodles for the main course, and this was the one dish I felt didn’t go with the rest, so I stopped after a couple of bites and dove, with relish, into my Chawanmushi – this one had a piece of fish cake and some edamame atop, and prawn and chicken at the bottom of the bowl it was set it, adding some texture and flavor as I dug my spoon further in.  This dish is a definite acquired taste, and some found it better with some soy sauce added, but I for one, just love it the way it is.

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We of course ended on green tea and dessert (Mizugashi) – which didn’t come as part of the Obento tray, but later on. The fantastic Matcha (green tea) ice cream was served on a caramelized sesame infused cups that were crunchy and sweet – a perfect foil for the delicate ice cream. I happily ate my own portion and stole the half left by my not-blessed-with-a-sweet-tooth friend. A fitting cap to an altogether lovely meal! The meal, though planned for lunch time, will also be created for anyone who would like it as their dinner.

Details: Edo, ITC Gardenia; Obento Luncheon available between 12.30-2.45pm; INR 2250 plus taxes for non veg, and INR 2000 plus taxes for veg.

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