Every hotel vies with its competitors to host the most innovative food festival. There are a couple of variables. Though the cuisine has to be bold and novel – and of course memorable – it also has to appeal to the taste-buds of the public and be as popular as possible. There are a few hitches on the way: the host hotel tries its best to get hold of as good chefs as possible, but there are hits and misses more often than not. Then too, even if the chefs are good, ingredients pose a challenge. In short, the perfect festival is as real as a pie in the sky. Except in ITC Maurya’s coffee shop, Pavilion, where a recent Pakistani food festival was held. Crowded from the day it opened its doors to the day the festival ended, the food was a revelation.
First of all, it was a far cry from what we, on this side of the border know as Punjabi food. It was not rich with cream and butter, had minimal spicing, very little in the way of whole aromatic spices. Our home-grown version of what constitutes Punjabi food (butter chicken, dal makhni, chicken pakora etc) is a rather hearty, bucolic cuisine. Pakistani Punjabi food was nowhere as simplistic. What came through loud and clear was the cooking process in every case.
The one great pity was that there was nobody in the tightly-knit troupe who could disseminate the cuisine for us hungry hordes. The owner of a catering operation, the manager and a cook were all that were present in the hotel. But then, how Maurya got the little band of men to visit the hotel at all was a mark of how quick they were on the uptake: a few days prior to the festival, there was another unrelated fashion and shopping promotion from Pakistan in another part of the city. Maurya spoke to the caterers of the event and before you could say “I want more” the food festival was on at the hotel. The concept was kept pure. There was no “chapli kebab” for instance, because that was not from Punjab, but from the North West Frontier Province. What there was included Paya Curry, Chinnauti Ghosht and Aloo Ghosht. Besides, there was Lahori Fried Fish that bore a striking resemblance to our very own Amritsari Fish. Oh well!