Dine like an Indian king

2012-09-14 08:14

Fragrant meat curries dressed in decadently rich aromatic gravies – this is the signature of this year’s food component of Shared History as Chef Vikram Udaygiri whips up The Imperial Cuisine of the Mughals.

Shared History The Indian Experience is in its sixth edition and every year the festival brings a little taste of Indian culture to Joburg in the form of music, theatre, dance and – my personal favourite – food.

Udaygiri is a well-known restaurateur back home in India, though he spends a lot of time on the road and has so far been an ambassador for Indian cuisine in 17 countries – including South African.

He trained in France, but his passion lies in bringing his country’s food to foreign climes. My first experience of Udaygiri’s food was in 2010 when he presented a menu inspired by the Kerala region of India, of which he is a native.

Last year he served up the Bengal tasting experience and this year it’s the Mughals.

If you are wondering who the Mughals were, well one of them, Shah Jahan, built the Taj Mahal and they ruled a piece of real estate that was 3 million square kilometres in size with, give or take, 150 million people living off it.

It was a time of plenty – which brings us back to the menu devised by Udaygiri to celebrate their cuisine.

He says that the food influences at the time were diverse taking in a range of influences from Persia and then east from there.

Many of the Mughal kings were non-vegetarian Muslims, hence the meat-heavy menu, which is unusual for traditional Indian food.

A few hundred years, and a few thousand kilometres later, we sat down for a taste of this time in India’s past.

Udaygiri started with a rich, sticky lamb broth with lamb on the bone. This was followed by prawns seared in spices and served with daubs of deliciously spicy mint sauce. The vegetarian version was paneer, also delicious (we asked to try both).

Next up was a trio of tender lamb chops served in a rich, velvety gravy – no heat, just spices. This was served with delicious cubes of potatoes tossed with tumeric and chillies as well as a lentil dhal, also rich but very moreish.

As we were licking our fingers (it’s just easier to get stuck in with hands and bread to mop up sauce), the chef emerged to introduce another course.

He also reminded us that when eating like a Mughal king, it’s wise to put aside cholesterol and weight-watching worries.

This proclamation was followed by the show-stopper – a lamb breyani with a grape yogurt dressing.

The sourness of the yoghurt, the tartness of the grape and the richness of the lamb were a culinary match made in heaven.

If I hadn’t been so very full I might have asked for another helping of this one.

Four courses in and a couple of glasses of wine down, we groaned that we’d have nowhere to put the pudding. Who were we kidding?

We ate it. Crisp fried triangles of dough with a condensed milk cream and a dollop of spiced, diced apricot.

Rich enough to make a king’s heart seize, it was just delicious – and just enough, one mouthful more and we wouldn’t have been able to leave the table without help.

» You can taste the Imperial Cuisine of the Mughals at Swad Restaurant in Melrose Arch until September 22. Call 011 684 1007 to book.

» Follow me on Twitter @GayleMahala

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