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THE first of two Pakistani Food Festivals took place at Al Areen Palace & Spa’s Saffron restaurant and terrace over the weekend with live cooking stations and musical entertainment delighting diners.
One of my favourite culinary connoisseurs, Executive Chef Janardan Das, and his team, have delved deep to capture the true flavour of the cuisine and even shipped in special spices for the occasion.
As a lover of Indian food, I was at first a little intrigued as to how neighbouring Pakistan could possibly deliver anything different and was pleasantly surprised by the subtle and, at times, not-so-subtle changes in taste and presentation.
So, let’s make things clear: Pakistani food is not the same as Indian food. They might feel similar, as similar as say Japanese is to Chinese or Indonesian cuisine, although the traditional food of the two countries date back to the times of the Mughal Empire. Dishes like Halwa Puri, Daal Chawal, Chicken Karahi, Biryani and the drink of Lassi are not only famous in Pakistan they are equally liked in India as well.
Thursday evening was on the chilly side, so I opted for a warming starter soup and the Tomato Dhania Shorba did not disappoint. A heartening start to the eating out experience, especially when accompanied by assorted roti or naan bread, baked in the oven, wrapped around a stone tandoor.
The salad selection was vast and included curried egg, red kidney beans & corn and a spicy crispy vegetable presented perfectly in a cocktail glass, with accompanying dips.
A good friend who hails from Balochistan suggested I search for his family’s ‘home speciality’ and sure enough Sajji Murg had pride and place, alongside the Boti and Kakoori Kebab, at the live BBQ station outside the roomy and comfortable neatly-themed restaurant.
I went for the chicken cooked on skewers, having been first marinated Sajji-style only in salt, to provide a soft, succulent and sensational serving, proving that size really does matter when it comes to Asian cuisine. Chef Azhar Mohammed and other chefs, working in close range of the heat, deserve special praise for grilling the large chicken and meat pieces to perfection with lip-smacking spices.
There appeared to be a treasure trove under every lid such as Bhuna Keema & Phindi Channa served with Tawa, a minced curry marvel, and, for fish lovers, the Tikka Hariyali, rubbed with an intoxicating paste made with cilantro, mint and other distinctive flavours, was outstanding, according to the good lady wife, Kathryn.
The kebabs were meaty marvels not to be missed and my main course was completed with generous helpings of Bahrain’s favourite dish, Biryani, both the Zaffrani Mutton and the Sindhu Chicken varieties, because I couldn’t make my mind up which one to choose.
This particular food festival is filling to the extreme and the dessert table boasted a host of tempting pastries and cakes too but, once again, the traditional favourites stood out with a racy rice dish called Zarda, served alongside gajor halwa, a carrot-based sweet dessert pudding, helped on with a scoop of ice-cream, making my evening complete.
The Pakistani Food Festival returns to this venue on Friday, February 16, and my friend The Whisperer informs me that the ambassador Javed Malik, who was born in Islamabad, may be in attendance, alongside other VIPs. Sir, you will not be disappointed … a real taste of home is on the menu.
Tuck in for the splendid price of BD12++. Call 17845000 to book a table.