My first feast in India would be a memorable one, finger-licking-good indulgences criss-crossed with pauses from jet lag induced exhaustion. It was perhaps fitting that my introduction to authentic Indian food would be at one of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants. Setting the scene…
Bukhara at the ITC Maurya Hotel first opened in 1978, specializing in dishes from India’s North West Frontier. The British demarcated the region in the year 1900, which comprised parts of Afghanistan, and the North-West part of pre-independence India. Today the chefs at Bukhara celebrate the regions culinary tradition of camaraderie around the warm glow of a campfire via crispy naan cooked in traditional tandoor and sizzling skewers of meat fired up on an open charcoal grill.
As soon as one walks into the restaurant they are greeted by a wall covered in portraits of notable past guests which include US Presidents (Obama and Clinton), Prime Minister Tony Blair, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Indian cricket team. Before sitting in my seat it was made clear that Bukhara is where the most distinguished personalities visiting Delhi come to break bread.
The Bukhara dining room in Delhi is a magical space featuring rustic stone flooring, colourful carpet adorned walls, copper pots and urns found suspended from the ceiling and comfy cushioned stools tucked under large feasting tables. Guests can watch chefs through the display kitchen windows where hundreds of mutton, chicken, prawn and paneer adorned skewers dangle behind flaming charcoal grill and steaming tandoor.
As luck would have it, I was joined at the table by Toronto’s own Mariellen Ward, an Indian travel expert telling tales at BreatheDreamGo. While wagging our fingers through the menu we both sipped glasses of Sauvignon Blanc produced by award winning Sula Vineyards in Nashik, located 210 km’s north east of Mumbai.
Over the course of the next two hours a parade of plates whisked there way from the kitchen and plopped themselves under our noses. We were encouraged to eat like a local, with our hands, to experience the food through all of our senses.
One can’t go wrong sampling through each of Bukhara’s signature dishes (they’ve been tried, tested and true). The kitchen’s famed Dal Bukhara takes 18 hours to prepare over low charcoal flame and is best enjoyed with a whisper of warm naan.
A testament to the kitchens brigade of fire experts, a plate of melt-in-your-mouth Tandoor Jhinga (jumbo prawns) offered the same delicate consistency as crispy chunks of Paneer Tikka. But who am I kidding, it’s really the sizzling meat selection here that makes its memorable mark. Crispy, succulent, satisfaction found via Murgh Malai Kebab (chicken marinated in yogurt and lemon) and Sikandari Raan, a whole leg of Spring Lamb marinated in a mixture of malt vinegar, cinnamon and black cumin.
Half way through our meal I realized I had a tendency and compulsion to clean my fingers after sampling each new dish. I had to force myself to let my hair down and relax, fingers haphazardly prancing from one plate of sizzling meat to the next. It really goes without saying, one becomes intimately familiar with their food the more they fondle it.
Sula Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Nashik India
black lentils, tomatoes, ginger, garlic simmer overnight on slow charcoal fire and finished with cream and dollop of butter
jumbo prawns marinated in a “ajwain” flavoured mixture of yoghurt, red chillies, tumeric and flavoured with garam masala skewered and roasted over charcoal fire
Murgh Malai Kebab
creamy boneless chicken blended with yoghurt, lemon juice and green coriander, grilled in Tandoor
kebabs of fresh cottage cheese, marinated in cream, gram flour and yellow chillies
scooped potatoes stuffed with potato hash, raisins, cashew nuts mixed with green chillies, green coriander and roasted over charcoal
whole leg of Spring Lamb, marinated in mixture of malt vinegar, cinnamon and black cumin
tender rolls of succulent lamb mince, mixed with ginger, green chillies, coriander, spiced with royal cumin and saffron, grilled over charcoal