While the thermometer has dipped with the onset of monsoon, Kanak at Trident is dialling things up a notch. The Taste of Punjab festival, which will continue until the end of the month, promises a ‘culinary extravaganza’. Earlier this week I was invited to a prix fixe dinner held for bloggers. The menu promised to showcase the many facets of Punjabi cuisine – from the rich street food to the homely staples to the extravagant signatures.
All the non-vegetarian appetizers came from the Tandoor, but each one was distinctive. When one talks of the Tandoor, one just can’t omit the Tandoori Chicken. Chunks of Chicken marinated in typical Indian spices and cooked in the immense heat of the Tandoor. While Tandoori Chicken is ubiquitous in most parts of the country, this origin story of this dish is far more recent than you probably imagine. While the Tandoor goes back several hundred years, it was predominantly used for baking bread. Kundan Lal Gujral, a Punjabi Hindu from Peshawar is widely credited with the creating the dish that we’re all familiar with around a hundred years ago. After partition, Gujral came to Delhi and went on to found Moti Mahal, which went on to acquire legendary status due to its Butter Chicken. It’s a simple dish, but its brilliance lies in the details. The one served to us by Kanak ticked all the boxes. The chicken pieces were tender and juicy but the crust had been charred in the tandoor. The marinade was flavorful and deep. Next up was Jhelum ka Jhinga and Adraaki Chaapein. The former is a succulent preparation of prawns marinated in cardamom and green chilli, while the latter is lamb chops with a ginger and pepper marinade. Whoever is manning the Tandoor at Kanak deserves to be complimented. Once again, these dishes had been Tandoored to perfection.
The final dish to emerge from the Tandoor was Atte ka Kukkad, which is also known as Atta Chicken. A famed speciality from the Kotakpura village in Punjab, that is becoming an increasingly common sight in the twin cities. I’ve tried this as Okra and Bidri by Marriott, Punjab Grill, and Vapour. The theatrics of the dish undeniably makes it appealing to the new age kitchens. Chicken (often a whole bird) is twice marinated, wrapped in a muslin cloth, and then sealed in an atta (whole wheat) dough. The dough is cooked in tandoor and then unsealed in front of diners. Unfortunately, this dish has mostly been a disappointment in Hyderabad. I’ve had versions that are overcooked as well as ones that are undercooked. I’ve been served chicken pieces with raw masala and chicken with repulsive amounts of cinnamon. The one at Kanak was probably the best that I’ve had so far. The Chicken was cooked perfectly; moist and tender but not raw. The marinade, however, was rather tepid.
Punjabi cuisine is known for their robust non-vegetarian gravies, but as with almost any Indian cuisine, it also has a fair amount of homely, vegetarian recipes. Our set menu featured three vegetarian preparations. First up was Malai ka Tinda, a creamy preparation of Indian Squash. Tinda might be the butt of many jokes but is loved by every Punjabi. The other two preps – Aloo Methi aur Matar ki Sabzi and Lachhedar Palak Paneer – were also flavorful but simple and homely. Punjabi food in restaurants is often a very garish affair. But, Kanak has tried to stay true to the homely recipes; the dishes are vibrant and flavourful but not exessively greasy or spicy.
Khada Masala is a variant of the famous Garam Masala that uses whole spices instead of ground ones. It’s commonly used in Punjabi cuisine with Chicken and Vegetables. At Kanak, we were served Batair (Quail) cooked in Khada Masala. With quail, the quality of the bird is cruicial, and these ones were just how I like them. The Nukkad da Kukkad is quintessential Punjabi dish that’s popular in Dhabas around the state. The dish that everyone crooning praises was the Patiyala Raan — the leg of lamb, braised in rum and a gentle spice mix.
Punjabi is the most well known among regional Indian cuisines, so much so that a lot of the dishes that are globally associated with Indian cuisine are Punjabi. The ‘Taste of Punjab’ by Kanak stays true to the Punjabi flavours but succeeds in mixing things up a bit. There are the crowd pleasers like Kukkad da Nukkad and Tandoori Chicken. But the highlight for me are the distinctive preparations like Malai Tinda, Adraaki Chaapein, and Patiyala Raan. The festival ends on 31st August, and a meal for two will cost around Rs. 3500.