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From the land of Jagannath

Savour food from neighbouring Orissa at Firdaus, Taj Krishna

Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

ORISSA CONJURES images of Jagannath, the famed Konark temple, the classical Odissi dance, the Sambhalpur cotton saris... it is often in the news as a state battling natural calamities. Its cuisine is hardly spoken of as other cuisines. So when there is an Oriya food festival the curiosity level rises, for it is something not held often. The Firdaus Restaurant, Taj Krishna bears a colourful look - with the lanterns and wall hangings from Pipli. Eating here will give you a glimpse of the culinary tradition of this State as well as the regional variations (which many may thought to be non-existent). Chef Antaryami Barik (from Sonargaon,Taj Bengal, Kolkata) is sure to tempt you with the delicacies.

"An Oriya food festival has been on my mind since quite some time. Finally we managed to hold it. The recipes have been collected and standardised by the chefs and then presented," says Pradeep Khosla, Executive Chef, Taj Krishna. Chef Barik informs that the food in Orissa varies according to the region. "For instance, in the areas around Puri-Cuttack the food is sweet (sugar, jaggery is used on account of the influence of the Jagannath Temple), imli and curry leaves is used in regions closer to Andhra Pradesh and mustard paste and kalonji is used closer to Bengal." "The coastline offers abundant seafood, while prawns come from the Chilka lake," adds Chef Khosla. Mustard oil is the medium of cooking though desi ghee is used in mandir prasad.

Subtle flavours

Oriya food is not full of masala floating in oil. The flavours are delicate. A taste of the food at Firdaus will remind one of home - for the food is simple and devoid of frills and fuss. And you will be amazed at the cuisine.

Two starters (in each veg and non-veg), eight vegetarian and nine non-veg dishes besides plain rice and sweet rice and two desserts figure on the menu. For the sea food lovers there are lobsters (astoronga lobster torkari), prawns (chilka chinguri macher jhol), fish (Behrampuri pomfret macher jhol, doi hilsa) and murrel (maccha besara masala). The vegetarian dishes (aloo patal rassa, chokka tarkari, vegetable maura, dalma) use desi vegetables like banana, parval, bhendi and so on. And it is quite a change to have them in five-star surroundings. Paanch phoron (a mixture of mustard, cumin, fenugreek, aniseed and onion seed) is one of the commonly used spices besides turmeric and red chillies. Garlic and onion is used in areas other than the temple region (Puri-Cuttack).

Since the Oriyas are mainly rice eaters two varieties (plain and sweetened) is served. Forget you are in a five-star hotel and use your hand for the ultimate flavour.

The dessert chena poda takes one by surprise. It is fresh soft chena (paneer) filled with dry fruits, dipped in sugar syrup and baked. Do not forget to have this, as this is something unusual. The payasam uses Govindbhog rice from Orissa and it is a thick one - filling too.

The Oriya meal needs to be savoured with leisure. So ensure you have plenty of time on hand to do so by August 1.

R.R.

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