Whenever I think of adding a nationality as an adjective before a type of cuisine, I’m always reminded of a scene from US Sitcom FRIENDS; Ross is pondering going to China and Chandler advises him to go, forget about Rachel and eat Chinese food, except of course, Chandler muses, in China they would probably just call it food.
We tend to do this kind of thing a lot, and when it comes to ‘Indian Food’ we throw the term around pretty loosely, as though it’s a term that could fully encompass all the dishes this culinary heavyweight of a country has to offer. The regional variations are frankly mind-boggling. Asha’s, the restaurant concept founded by legendary Indian singer Asha Bhosle, has mainly focused on serving traditional North-Western Indian cuisine and new-age fusion dishes. With the wealth of dishes on their menu focusing on this distinct geographical area, it’s difficult to imagine what a comprehensive Indian menu would look like!
This is where Asha’s ‘A Journey through India’ menu comes in. This special menu serves as a gastronomic tour through the country, encountering the mountains of Kashmir, the fertile plains of Punjab, the Bay of Bengal and the backwaters of Kerala to name but a few destinations. They have put together a ‘best of’ if you will, of what the rest of the country has to offer. Think of Asha’s as your guide book, letting you know what’s worth your time to visit, and the service staff, who are young, friendly and knowledgeable, as your all-knowing tour guides who highlight authentic local flavors and popular regional delicacies along the way.
With Asha’s by your side on your journey, you won’t be slumming it in hostels and lugging around oversized backpacks. You’ll be taking your journey through India in style. The contemporary design of the restaurant and plush, funky furnishings will give you the five-star experience the whole way. The drinks menu alone at Asha’s is so strong they even a have a bar seating area where diners can sip on one of their tasty tailor-made beverages before dinner. The selection is too long to list, but we enjoyed the traditional Mango Lassi, Delhi Devil and a Ginger Moscow Mule. Honestly, you’ll enjoy any drink on the menu.
After we’d checked in we dived right in with the Tiranga Paneer Tikka, creamy coconut marinated cottage cheese skewered with pineapple, tomato and onion, popular in Punjab. As a tribute to the Kandahar region famous for its pomegranates, the Champ Anari is tender marinated lamb chops with fresh pomegranate. The Khumb Khazana, a delicacy from the royal courts of Hyderabad, consists of breaded button mushrooms, stuffed with cheese and spinach and topped with a creamy sauce – definitely a discovery I wouldn’t have expected to find in India, but my favorite of the starters. Seems I have regal tastes.
Traditional to Orissa and Bengal, Panch Phoran translates as five spices and comprises fennel, fenugreek, mustard, onion and ajwain seeds. This spice mix creates a seriously hearty lentil dish in the Panch Phoran Dal full of deep flavors and delicious aromas. The Macher Jhol is a traditional fish curry that utilizes this same five spice mix to create a delicately flavored sauce and a rich satisfying dish. Moving on from Bengal’s spices to the backwaters of Kerala for the Boatman’s Prawn Curry meant a shift in flavors from deep and earthy to fresh and creamy. The prawns are cooked in a coconut sauce and blended with spring onion and fresh tomato in tribute to the boatmen who make this (my favorite) curry from their catch of the day. We then journeyed on through to Lucknowi for Anafi Kofta Biryani which features cottage cheese, pomegranate and flavored with saffron, and a classic Chicken Biryani with a yogurt and star anise marinade.
Coming back to that term ‘Indian food’- whenever I think about it, I never associate it with dessert. I obviously am less well-traveled than I thought I was! Coconut Payasam from Kerala is a homely dessert with simmered coconut milk traditionally found in Grandma’s kitchen. Representing Gujarat is Shrikhand, which is a dessert made from sweetened yogurt and is very popular at wedding feasts. After seeing and tasting it, you’ll quickly realize why – it’s a delight for the eyes and the tastes buds. But my royal tastes were awoken again with the arrival of the Shahi Sandwich, which literally translates as ‘royal sandwich’. A favorite of the emperor’s court, it is made with fried sliced bread, evaporated milk, sugar, nuts and flavored with saffron and cardamom. This dessert could make even the lowliest subject feel like a king with its exotic flavors and decadence.
After trekking though India’s culinary heritage we relaxed with a Massala tea and realized the sheer magnitude of what a full-scale gastronomic Indian expedition would be like. It would probably take you a lifetime but you’d certainly enjoy many new flavors and textures. Probably better to head down to Asha’s where they’ve done the hard work and hand-selected the dishes for you, focusing on regional specialities and favorites and detailing a little of the history for you along the way.
‘A Journey through India’ will run until the end of June with the most popular dishes being selected to feature on the permanent menu. So get down there and experience the full journey while you can.
Asha’s is located at Marina Crescent and The Avenues. For more information on Asha’s visit ashasrestaurants.com or call 2224 4502 for more details of ‘A Journey through India’.