Sunday, 15 April 2012

Tajik Cuisine - The beginning of the spice trail

Tajikistan means the ‘Land of the Tajiks’. In medieval Persian literature, Tajik appears as a synonym of ‘Persian’. This mountaneous land locked country with Persian speaking Tajik ethnic group, the territory of which is now the Republic of Tajikistan has been inhabited continuously since 4000 BC. It has been under the rule of various empires throughout history, for the longest period being part of the Persian Empire.

Arabs brought Islam in the 7th century, more or less forcing the people to convert. The predominantly ethnic Tajik cities of Samarkand and Bukhara remained in the Uzbek SSR. The proportion of Russian among Tajikistan's population meanwhile also grew. Post the political turbulence and the civil war Tajikistan is officially a republic and holds elections for the presidency and parliament. The government of India rebuilt the Ayni air base, a military airport southwest of capital Dushanbe, It is now the main base of the Tajikistan air force.

The long and eventful history of the Tajiks have given rise to a varied and enigmatic cuisine.

The Persian lineage and the muslim community has given the cuisine of the Tajiks its own personality with characteristic influence like the usage of abundant dried fruits, local fresh fruits and vegetables, goat milk yoghurt, robust home made breads like rye, wheat and non, hearty soups like the solyanka, great varieties in unique sheesh kekobs, aromatic and rich pilau, sambusa, lemon cake and much more. The Tajiks believe in festivity and their culture is equally glamorous. The food is hearty and delicious. 

A typical meal starts with Halva ( essentially made of wheat ). Appetizers include Shashlyk Lipioshka ( tender lamb shashlik served with flat bread and sliced onion) , Seekh Kebob ( minced vegetarian and meat on skewers), Sambusa (minced turkey filled fritters), Vatushiki (spinach and cheese filled deep fried crispies). Popular soups are Shorpur Laghman (meat and vegetable soup with noodles), Kaurmo Shurbo (vegetable soup ), Mastoba ( rice soup ).

Choykhana is local green tea which accompanies a hearty meal. Other beverages include Kefir ( fermented milk beverage ).

Some typical salads are Hissar (traditional tajik salad), Stuffed Aubergine Salad. Fresh whole fruits, fresh whole vegetables and a variety dried fruits and nuts are a regular part of a balanced meal. Several dips and dressings are also prepared to lend variety and compliment a meal.

The main meal includes Mantu or Tushbera (similar to ravioli with vegetable/ meat and spices), Shakhlet, Kaurdak kaimak (roast meat servedwith fried onion and sour cream), Golubtsi (Stuffed cabbage rolls with tomato broth), Qurutob (baked vegetable with salted yogurt and flaxseed oil).

Oshi Pluv ( traditional tajik pulao) and Domlama (mutton with assorted tajik vegetables) are delicious rice preparations, provide great insight on the Biryani that we eat today how it evolved from Persia !

Breads include Non, Sambusa Baraki( tajik bread), Katlama (puff flat cakes).Typical desserts are Shirbhirinj (milk pudding) and Halvaitar (liquid flour halva).

It is mystical to think and realise that it all started here the beginning of the spice trail from the Turkish coasts all the way to China and also to Afghanistan and further to India. Tajikistan played such a pivotal role and the thoroughfare helped cultures change hands along with the passage of bounty that the trail witnessed for centuries !

By : Devraj Halder

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Menu Trends 2012

Multi cuisine is more or less out and multi specialty is in. Discerning customers of today want to savor specialized world cuisine/s seated on the same table. Hence the need for restaurants to hire multi cultural chefs to keep the cuisine/s alive.  The trends are also going the ingredient way; menus which boast of customized ingredients from across the globe stand an edge.

As far as presentation goes, the trend which started sometime back of beauty in simplicity is going great guns. The concept has evolved extremely well and is all set to change the very essence of food presentations. All kinds of tacky, cluttered, multicolored mish-mash is definitely out. As far as food is concerned the ingredients are suddenly visible and not under layers of marinations, accompaniments, sauces and gravies. The visible ingredients are fresh, natural, subtle, appetizing and bold !
The great news is that Indian ethnic food is getting a quick make over in Indian restaurants. New-age Indian food is in and we’ve got to make it stay. It gives a whole new dimension to how Indian food was always perceived and now that the sophistication is creeping in steadily it opens up new challenges to the Indian chefs to put on his creative caps and also keep the heritage and culinary depth of the cuisine alive.  Indian food is also set to find new alliances getting married to global wines as the trend is picking up big way.

Health Café, Health Bar, Haute Cuisine, Tuscan, Albanian, Iberian, Tahitian; the new-age customers have developed insatiable palette for more and the versatile. So bring it all on, there will be hardly any eye-brows raised !
In todays scenario it is also very important to be aware. Ponder on the following :

I.  Healthy and fresh ingredients are not so healthy any more most of them are laden with harmful chemicals so the most basic thing is to wash them really well, again and again. Look out for any signs of discoloration, bitterness or even allergic reactions .
II. Brush up your knowledge on Genetically Modified foods( GM Foods). They always look the most attractive and healthy in the supermarket but look for valid accreditions. 
III. Always buy food which can be traced back. Like branded rice, flour, grains, cereals, milk even sweets are still better than to buy them from the open market. Food adulteration is so rampant you will never know what is the real thing !

The mantra for 2012 would be to rededicate oneself to provide culinary surprises, exemplary cuisines and out-of-the-box concepts and experiences.
By : Devraj Halder

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Refreshing Recipe - Pommery mustard vietnamese basa

Pommery mustard vietnamese basa  with sichimi tossed asparagus and nimbu- chlorophyll oil ( Serves Two )
Vietnamese Basa Fish                                                   300 gms
Lemon Juice                                                                   01 tsp
Garlic Juice                                                                     01 tsp
Galangal Juice                                                                 01 tsp
Cooking Cream                                                              02 tbsp
Lemon Grass , chopped                                                  a pinch
Pommery Mustard                                                          01 tbsp
Seasoning ( salt and white pepper pwd )                         to taste
Chlorophyll Oil                                                               01 tbsp
Green Asparagus                                                            80 gms
Sichimi Powder                                                              a pinch
Salad ( Sprouted peas, alfa alfa, beans )                          to accompany


Marinate the fish in the following order; the seasoning, lemon, garlic, galangal, lemon grass. Let it stand for 20 mins and then add the cream, mustard and the oil to complete the marination. Cook in the tandoor and serve with grilled asparagus sprinkled with sichimi powder and the side salad.

By : Devraj Halder

My Interview @

My Interview @

Food becomes transformed at his magical touch. Taste buds get tickled at the wave of his wand. Meet Chef Devraj Halder, EAM, Food & Beverage, The Suryaa, New Delhi, in a candid chat with Poonam Thapa.
Devraj Halder The Wine Club: How did you get involved with the world of food?
Devraj Halder: Interestingly, my family consisted of doctors and engineers and hence I was guided toward the same. However, I was not convinced. Fortunately, there was this opportunity for a hotel management which I took it up as I wanted to do something else. Right from the beginning, I found the kitchen area to be the most interesting in terms of creativity and lucrativeness. Food seemed to tickle my senses and today the world of food fuels my passion and helps me stay connected to myself. There is always something more to learn, something new to try out.

The Wine Club: Tell us something about your background.
Devraj Halder: I was born in Bengal and brought up in Dhanbad. I have spent close to 14 yrs in 5 kitchens before taking over at the helm of food and beverage.

The Wine Club: What are the most important restaurants you've worked?
Devraj Halder: Al Fresco in Mumbai. Carnival, Polynesian in Goa. Chef & I, Bonitos, Sampan in New Delhi.

The Wine Club: Do you have any mentors?
Devraj Halder: There are many not just in my profession but from various strata of life who made the difference to how I think and how I've grown.

The Wine Club: What is your philosophy on food and wine?
Devraj Halder: Like in Italy they say 'non impegnativo' which means non intrusive; food and wine are heavenly creations in their very own right and should not supersede each other under any circumstances. They have some kind of nuptial sensuality about them and should naturally bond or rather fuse to an orgasmic harmony on the palette of the diner.

The Wine Club: How do you compile the wine list at The Suryaa?
Devraj Halder: The wine list is a window to the terroir. We have the list broadly divided into sparklings, reds and whites which is further divided into countries; the old world first followed by the new world. Within the countries we have selection of regions and grapes.

The Wine Club: What is the concept behind The Suryaa and its wine program?
Devraj Halder: We try to strike a balance between the preferences of the guests; Regular wine drinkers have a developed palette and enjoy slightly oakier, drier and older wines. While the youngsters like it fruity, rounder and younger, and 'drink now style' wines. Wine suggestions are vital to ensure a perfect dining experience.

The Wine Club: How do you go about pairing wine with courses?
Devraj Halder: The basic and intrinsic flavours of food are the key which help decide the kind of wine. We also try to keep it simple and uncomplicated for the guests to actually enjoy without inhibitions.

The Wine Club: Do you always consult with your sommelier while pairing up the dishes with wine, or do you decide on your own?
Devraj Halder: The Suryaa, New Delhi enjoys continuous patronage of repeat clientele. We know our guests well enough to look for outside help.

The Wine Club: What wine trends are you seeing in Delhi and also in India?
Devraj Halder: Wines from Australia, Chile, Argentina and South Africa are doing extremely well. In Delhi what I like is Delhites speak their mind. I do hear comments like 'I don't like French wines' or 'Pass the wine keep the jargon'! The wine communities promote or write highly about imported wines while the expats ask for Indian wines which show that there is a divide in perceptions. Guests also ask for their favorite grapes.

The Wine Club: What is your favorite wine?
Devraj Halder: My personal favorite is the Riesling. This superlative grape makes aromatic, fruity, acidic and refreshing wines.

The Wine Club: What is your favorite food with this wine?
Devraj Halder: As Rieslings can stand up to spiced food and I am an avid fan of Indian cuisines; a good fish lightly marinated with turmeric, staranise, garlic, ginger, lemon-mint, cream and cooked over charcoal fire would be an amazing pair.

The Wine Club: Do you lean more towards Old World or New World wines?
Devraj Halder: Well, both are important and both kinds have their avid lovers. Personally my leaning is towards the younger wines as it is more casual and hence popular among the youth. Old world wines make you think a lot and I feel today the youth has no time to think. Another issue why old world wines take a backseat is the price factor. As they are imported, they become more expensive as compared to the new world wines.

The Wine Club: Tell us about a perfect wine and food match that you have discovered.
Devraj Halder: Well, let me touch upon an interesting situation which I recently countered requiring a chocolate and wine pairing! Now there are two routes; one is the similar pairing approach while the other is the contrasting pairing approach. The former is less challenging; start with milk chocolates with a lighter wine and then proceed on to the stronger and bitter ones with wines with stout tannin levels to match up. But my risk taking instincts as a chef prompted me to take the contrasting approach and gave much satisfying results. A top quality dark chocolate will go brilliantly with an intense Napa Valley Zinfandel. The tannins are actually softened by the fat content of the chocolate to give a cider-vanilla finish!

The Wine Club: What types of wines are most popular with your clientele?
Devraj Halder: We get a good mix of wine lovers so any particular kind of wine is not a factor.

The Wine Club: What in your opinion does it take to become a good chef or a good sommelier?
Devraj Halder: Food and wine alike, it is most important to follow your senses, it always lead to great satisfaction.

The Wine Club: What is the best part of being a chef?
Devraj Halder: That I never have to go hungry! Actually life as a chef is highly interesting and varied. The package includes action packed days, tense moments, great ups and equally great lows, a lot of different people to meet and also a lot of riddles to solve. Overall, it is not as monotonous and routine as so many other professions.

The Wine Club: What happens at home? Do you insist on cooking your meal yourself, or do you let your wife/mother cook for you?
Devraj Halder: Cooking my own meals in a family would be quite rude. Humility describes me better.

The Wine Club: What would be your advice to aspiring young Chefs?
Devraj Halder: Career as a chef, is quite an experience. Go for it, if the words which describe you are, passionate, tenacious, creative, physically fit and you wish to do something meaningful. In the true sense, it is a profession for the brave yet warm-hearted.