A PUNJABI FOOD FESTIVAL AT TAJ VIVANTA, PANAJI

Chef Pritpal Singh at Taj Vivanta’s Latitude… introducing Goans to the very best kind of Punjabi food which is more than just butter chicken or chole-bhature!

BY TARA NARAYAN

Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column

FUNNY, one hears of all kinds of exotic food festival from the world over but don’t know about you but rarely have I heard of a Punjabi food festival at a 5-star venue. Well, they were doing a Punjabi food festival at the Taj Vivanta’s Latitude last week and I wondered how many of us in Goa know what’s real and unreal about Punjabi cuisine traditional or modern? What does Punjab food mean to you?
I imagine I hear answers all around me: Punjabi lassi (sweetened rich curd buttermilk, so thirst quenching and nourishing on a hot day but making lassi too is an art and you may like it thick, while I like mine thin and made from skimmed milk curd and if possible sweetened with wild honey). Then do I hear tandoori roti or dal makhani (maa ki daal) or butter chicken, tandoori this, that or the other. Aloo paratha of course (spiked with, all kinds of fillings…in Delhi years ago I remember I was so hung up on gobi-adrak paratha with fresh gobi-gajar-shalgam pickle and gajar da halva, and of course dahibhalla however they’re called.
Anyway, when I heard there was a Punjabi food festival under way at the Taj Vivanta’s oasis-styled restaurant Latitude and I was wondering to go or not to go…I’m sure visiting Chef Pritipal from the Taj Chandigarh would have put dal makhani on his menu and dal makhani is one of my three favourite comfort foods of the subcontinent! Women’s Day was on March 8 and I wanted to go out eating but was feeling sicker than a dog with too much viral flu plaguing me and I was more or less knocked out with several Wikoryl and Tus Q syrup stuffed in me…then I got up at miraculously revived by lunchtime!
A dear friend just did the next best thing. He ordered a dabba of the festival food packed up and sent home to me! Naturally, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Life has its moments and this was one of them. So there we were on Women’s Day in office and home feasting on Bhuney Mutton Di Tikki and Bhuney Lasoon Da Doodhiya Murg Tikka and for me the most priceless to live for Dal Dum Dera and who’d believe Dahi Ke Kebab and Tawa Ki Dabi Arbi so deliciously divine or divinely delicious although vegetarian affairs…somehow folk think kebabs must always be non-vegetarian, nah? Finale: Moong Dal Halwa if anyone had any space going in their tummy.
Savouring the kebabs a colleague asked if Punjabi food could so easily go into Moghlai? But of course. Isn’t Delhi influenced by its history of the Moghal raj … Punjabi and Moghlai have many infinities, I would say. In any case asli Punjab is in Pakistan and the tandoor I dare say was born there.
WHEN I was up to it a couple of days later I went out to Latitude to say hello to Chef Pritpal Singh and the young 20 something years old chef confirmed it. A lot of Punjabi food has its origins out in Lahore and post-Partition fleeing Punjabi connoisseurs of the good food brought along their recipes with their Moghlai touches. Lahore is famous for its Punjabi food. Chef Pritpal Singh is from the Taj Chandigarh where he says they serve all these recipes listed on the menu of the ongoing Punjabi food festival curated by him at the Latitude, “Our restaurant at the Taj Chandigarh is called Dera and so we have our own creations like the Dal Dum Dera which you liked so much…we use only black udid dal, no addition of chana or rajma, others do it but we don’t. Black udid is considered the `ma’ or mother dal in the Punjab and it was Chef Yogesh who created our recipe of Dal Dum Dera….”
Is he going to be around some more in Goa? No, he had to return to Chandigarh because his boss wanted him back! But he’s left their Punjabi recipes for other chefs at the Latitude to do and must have already learned them. I asked him about sarson da saag (the famous mustard greens sabzi of the Punjab which is now selling in cans across the world wherever Punjabis have settled) and he smiled, “That’s not the same thing. Sarson saag is a seasonal favourite starting sometime October and ending in March and in my home we combine mustard saag with other greens like bathua (sour palak), methi (fenugreek) or palak (spinach)….add green chili, green coriander and cook it!”
He comes from Roopnagar, a village in Punjab where his father still farms a seven-acre farm, mostly growing wheat and rice. In Punjabi homes recipes like kadai paneer, paneer masala, dal makhani, dal tadka are routinely prepared and in his Sikh family they tend to be more vegetarian, “although fish is eaten sometimes like river fish which is very flavourful.” When I sound him of about traditional food being more health-conscious he agreed, “But nowadays young people say there’s no maaza if there’s not enough cream, butter, masala, not spicy enough, no taste!” Young people nowadays, he offers, only seek momentary “nasha!”
Ideas of taste are changing and even in the Punjab he sees how youngsters now prefer to eat momo and chowmein than traditional Punjabi food, “Chinese is liked more.” Of course nobody connects the way we eat to being fat or obese or how sedentary lifestyle creates health problems later on…actually, traditional Punjabi food is not so spicy and he doesn’t make his food spicy either, “We use only Kashmiri chili for any spiciness and that is not so spicy….”
It was Chef Pritpal Singh’s first visit to Goa and he was anxious to see some beaches and maybe eat a Goa fish thali before going back to Chandigarh! The soft-spoken chef had to be coaxed into sharing his thoughts and he invited me to visit their Taj Chandigarh to eat seasonal Punjabi food…the young chef’s dream is to go out to join his cousin brother in Pennsylvania in the USA to start a restaurant serving Punjabi food. There is a lot of demand for Punjabi food in the USA! On that cheerful note I said au revoir to Chef Pritpal Singh.
HERE’S hoping they do add some of his memorable flavours of Punjab favourites to the ongoing menu of the Taj Vivanta’s buffet tables…. at least some of his signature dishes: Chilli Olive Naan, Dal Paratha, Punjabi Paneer Makhani, Dal Dum Dera and last but not least of all Tawa Ki Dabbi Arbi and Dahi Ke Kebab. My vegetarian favourites!
Well, it’s left to be seen if wishes are horses and horses may fly and the rest of all my wishful thinking. Some simply super flavours may never be re-captured if the stirring hand is missing, no????

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