I can’t believe that it has been 15 years already! I remember when the ITC Sonar building was under construction, there was so much curiosity amongst the general public. That time, Kolkata did not have too many luxury hotels so we were all very excited. My first visit to ITC Sonar took place soon after they launched and it was a visit to Peshawri. For the last 15 years, it has been one of my favorite hotels so I felt really special when the management invited me to be part of their Crystal Anniversary celebration. On this special occasion, ITC Sonar has come up with a range of offers for their patrons. One of them is called 15 Hours Nostalgia where you basically spend 15 hours in the hotel experiencing luxury at its best.
A man whose charm reflects his origins from the warm shores of southern Italy, Chef Vittorio Greco brings to life the beauty and richness of Italy in bright techno color. All through the panoramic canvas of artistic expression-food!! Once armed with experience hard won across one star Michelin restaurants in Italy, he set out to Australia to try the dice of opportunity with two restaurants in Brisbane and Queensland. Today, he is wooing the city of Bangalore, in the realms of the luxury hospitality segment in India with ITC Hotel’s signature restaurant, Ottimo. Chef Vittorio Greco is now in Kolkata heading the West View Bar & Grill kitchen at ITC Sonar for the International Week of Italian Cuisine.
ITC Master Chef Sakala Sankara flew in from ITC Kakatiya in Hyderabad last week to give us a taste of the rich, spicy and fiery cuisine of the state of Telengana. Flavors of Telengana, part of ITC’s Kitchens of India initiative was on till 21st February at the Eden Pavilion!
The menu was changed everyday during the course of the festival and Chef Sankara brought in a good mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items. Being the carnivore that I am, I gorged on chicken, fish, prawns, mutton and liver on the day of the tasting. From the menu, these are the dishes I loved.
- Karjam Vepudu – This spicy fried lamb liver dish with onion, chilli and curry leaves was a major reason why I was so excited to go for the festival. I saw the picture in T2 and was literally salivating. Between the eight of us, we finished off three plates of this dish so you can very well imagine how good it was!
- Royyala Vepudu – Buttery soft melt in the mouth prawns cooked in a thick onion and tomato gravy. I had two servings of this
- Gongoora Mamsam – Hot and spicy mutton curry cooked with roselle leaves. The mutton was soft, succulent and cooked to perfection. The roselle leaves added a unique fiery and tangy flavor to the dish which made it so delicious
- Velluli Kodi – A garlic flavored chicken curry
- Ragi Sangati – Balls of steamed rice and millet mixed with ghee. Ragi Sangati is paired with gravies
- Chapa Pulusu Pulao – A spicy and tangy fish pulao
- Pachadis – Chutney/condiment that accompany all Telengana meals . There were three types, brinjal + tamarind, raw mango + garlic and tamarind+peanuts
- Basundi – Sweet thickened milk flavored with cardamom and nutmeg. Similar to our Bengali Payesh.
I must admit that when it comes to food from the north east, my knowledge is not that great. Assam is the only state where I’ve been to but I was a toddler then and I hardly remember anything. What I did know about north east cuisine before going to ITC Sonar last Friday was that the people make amazing pork dishes and I was really looking forward to trying some. And also, to know more about north east cuisine in general.
ITC has taken up an initiative to showcase India’s wealth of unique, undiscovered, royal and forgotten cuisines. Last month, ITC Sonar had organised the Sheherwali food festival which brought the royal cuisine of Murshidabad to Kolkata. This month, is the turn of the Jewels of the North East, a week long festival to showcase food from Arunachal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and some from Sikkim as well. The festival started on the 18th and they plan to highlight dishes from one particular state every day. It is part of the Eden Pavilion dinner buffet and last Friday, I tasted some amazing vegetarian and non-vegetarian food from Nagaland and Assam.
When a hardcore non-vegetarian girl received an invite from ITC Sonar for a tasting of pure vegetarian Sheherwali cuisine, her first reaction was “Sounds interesting but how do I have a whole meal without fish, meat, potato, garlic and onion??”. It was the first time she heard about the Sheherwalis, the Jain community from the havelis of Murshidabad and she spent some time researching on their history and their food. She got really interested and eagerly looked forward to her meal at the ITC Sonar Eden Pavilion.
The Sheherwalis have been living in Bengal for almost 300 years. The Jain families who came to Murshidabad became a close knit community with their distinct culture, demeanor, style, food and way of living. They adapted to their new environs, and migrated to a new lifestyle in empathy with local customs, practices and values. The love of food, especially all things sweet, is an accurate label for any Sheherwali. Food features prominently in this community, evolving passionately through their 300 year history in Bengal. Sheherwali cuisine is a vegetarian’s paradise, in which Bengali meets Rajasthani, Afghan, Mughal, Awadhi and several European culinary practices making it a unique mix of ingredients and flavors that tantalizes the palate.