New Delhi, Sep 22 : It's where "The Jungle Book" once played to packed houses. Thus, it's only appropriate the cavernous lower ground floor of what was once the Chanakya cinema and which is today home to a fine diner offering a staggering 17 different cuisines should be serving a rustic Wilderness Menu set against a video wall that magically transports you to a land where the tiger is truly the king of the jungle.
"We wanted to give our guests an authentic feel of the wild and have deliberately kept the food as rustic as possible," Chef Sachin Sharma, clad, not surprisingly, in military fatigues and a black beret, who has curated the festival at the swish MKT diner at The Chanakya mall here, told IANS.
That was quite evident from the tandoori chicken chat that Sharma quickly brought up.
Restin in a bird's nest crafted out of fried noodles was tandoori chicken with baby potatoes masala, chickpeas, tamarind chutney and sweet yogurt.
Crunchy and chewy at the same time, the bird's nest lent just the right authenticity to the appetizer.
Skipping the bhuttee ki kees (grated corn cooked with milk and tempered with mustard seeds, asafoetida, cumin green chillies, lemon juice and turmeric to maintain the flavour balance), the choice was now between a dungaree meen and a Gondi chicken.
The former was a smoked fish with a touch of green chilli, coriander and garlic, served with smoked tomato kachumber and the latter a unique preperation of the Gondi tribe with local masalas without using a single drop of oil.
"The masalas bring out the juices of the chicken and slow cooking does the rest," explained Sharma, the head chef at the Pasangarh resort at the Panna National Park in Madhya Pradesh.
It proved to be the right choice, the five mid-sized chicken pieces disappearing without as much as a "by your leave", the masalas blending perfectly.
"Thanks to our vast network, we are able to do extensive research, often going deep into the interiors, which is where most of the authentic recipes and masalas survive," Sharma explained.
It was then time for the main course and what a surprise it turned out to be.
Bamboo chicken was just that -- the meat marinated with basic spices and cooked in a foot-high thick bamboo stem.
Sharma carefully prised open the top, sealed in place with a dough and served up a delectable treat -- again a wondrous example of what slow cooking can do.
This is also a dish that requires a fresh pot each time because the bamboo stem cannot be recycled.
One is normally wary of minced meat but the handi keema that came up next dispelled all my apprehensions.
This too was slow cooked in its own juices, with the garlic flavouring, freshly ground spices and yoghurt blending to perfection.
"It takes a lot of patience and practice," Sharma said rather modestly.
Up next was jungli maas, described as a "hunter's meal" and a hearty one at that.
Cooked with only three ingredients -- whole red chilli, homemade ghee and salt -- the lightly cooked meat with an accompanying paratha was immensely satisfying.
In all this, the vegetarians have not been forgotten.
Starting with an aloo papadi chat, this can be followed up with kudak (stemed arbi), a khatta mitha baingan, jungli bhaji (a leafy vegetable from the spinach family) and a chhachiya aloo (potato tempered with mustard and curry leaf and cooked in homemade buttermilk).
After the "hunter's meal", one could easily have called a halt here but the two deserts on offer -- jungli platter and khoe ki potli -- were just too tempting.
The first was a combination of kheer, halwa and milk shikanji and the other sweetened milk and panner baked in filo pastry on a bed of reduced milk.
My vote went to the latter for its crispiness.
The Wilderness Menu, which debuted on September 14, will be available till September 23.
(Vishnu Makhijani visited MKT at its invitation.
He can be contacted at email@example.com)