Kufri or Bust Part I

Every year around this time, the 25th of January, we make a tribute to immature boyhood – an all boys trip to somewhere, without really accomplishing anything. As far as age old traditions go, this doesn’t have much of a history; it is fun however. The first year saw us embarking towards the general direction of the hills in three cars. One never made it, 2 did, 2 nearly fell off the mountain side in an uncontrolled slide on icy roads. They did survive however and the occupants experienced a chilling, warm, cold and yet cosy stay in a natural snow structure built into the mountain side. Fun. Another year saw us driving in a straight line, till we reached a fair distance into Nepal. That is another story altogether and it too has elements of culinary interest – thats all I do, you see.

This year, we plan to revisit our first destination and see how we can do it better. There will only be three of us this year – Gurdeep Singh Harika, Vivek Acharya and myself.

Yes, I know the topic of this blog is food. The plan is to see what culinary treats I can find on our way. There is the fabulous mutton, chicken and mushroom pickles you find a little way up, there’s pal dhaba in Chandigarh which serves the most scrumptious, delicious, tasty, tender and fresh mutton you’ve ever tasted, in two varieties – curry or saag. For those of you who don’t know what saag is: Saag is blanched, seasoned and pureed fresh spinach leaves. It has a very traditional avatar called ‘Saag’ which is eaten with makki ki roti [unleavened cornmeal bread], but is also used in contemporary cooking like ‘Saag with corn’. Saag Meat is another variety that is a must-not-miss for anyone who like their red meat.

I’m aboard the Shatabdi express now, making my way to Chandigarh. After a brief stopover, we’ll make our way uphill. Keep watching. [END 1800 25/01/08]

We had dinner at Khyber, one of Chandigarh’s oldest and best restaurants. I had the good fortune to run into Sanjiv Verma, an old friend, who happens to own Khyber, which is in sector 35 Chandigarh. Sanjiv is a professional chef turned entrepreneur with an enviable pedigree and loads of experience. Naturally, I cornered him and began picking his brains. Sanjiv, being a nice guy who loves his subject, warmed to the challenge and it was midnight when we realized that we had been guzzling alcohol, talking food, but not ordering or eating any. Sanjiv’s staff were patiently waiting for us to leave so they too could call it a day. So, we ordered dinner – Chilli Paneer, Tangri Kebab, Butter Chicken, Kadai Paneer and a basket of rotis. Good! Meal and booze for 3: INR 1800. Did I mention that the quality of service is quite good and Khyber and that you simply *must* visit it if you’re in Chandigarh? It has a bar in the basement called the ‘Wild West Bar’ and the ground floor houses the uniquely styled restaurant.

Chilli Paneer is a spin off from the hugely popular Chilli Chicken and is essentially batter fried cottage cheese in a mixture of fried onion and capsicum. While it isn’t anywhere close to the Chinese dish it is touted as, it still tastes nice. Butter chicken is roasted chicken [tandoori] immersed and lightly cooked in a tangy tomato gravy and garnished with a dash of cream. Contrary to popular belief, butter chicken doesn’t use any butter. Kadai paneer is a staple of north Indian restaurants and is cottage cheese cooked in a thick curry with onions and tomatoes. I couldn’t take any photographs, but there are loads more on the way.

Tomorrow: The Journey Begins. [END 0100 26/01/08]

By Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is a wellness coach who works with different aspects of lifestyle change towards the accomplishment of goals such as weight loss and blood sugar management among other health situations that require the presence of specialised, precise diets and lifestyle change. His methods address aspects of food, nutrition and the mind.