Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Souked out

Yesterday, after the Prabha Khaitan Memorial Lecture on Panch Kanyaa, I had lunch at the Souk restaurant in Taj Bengal. Normally, whenever I go to The Taj Bengal, I grab a bite at the Coffee Shop or Chambers. I had been to the Souk when they had relaunched their new vegetarian menu. But yesterday, for the first time, I had lunch in their private dining room with Dr Sonal Mansingh who delivered the lecture.
The word Souk reminded me of the huge souk market that I had once visited on my way to the world famous Grand Mosque of Damascus also known as the Umayyad Mosque in Syria. It was the first recommended place for me to visit and those who have been to that part of the world know what an extraordinary experience it is.
For centuries souk or souq has been the common market place held outside the cities in parts of Africa and West Asia where caravans loaded with finest products from the neighbouring and far off regions would be on display for sale. At that time, souqs were more than just a market to buy and sell goods; they were also major festivals and many cultural and social activities took place in them.
Later, with the growth of cities and importance of marketplace, souks came to occupy a permanent place of operation in urban centres. Manama (Bahrain), Bizouriyya (Damascus), Saray (Baghdad), Khan Al Zeit (Jerusalem) etc are some of the prominent ones.
My lunch at the Souk was also an extraordinary experience. We Kolkatans mostly prefer Chinese or Italian when it comes to choosing non-Indian cuisine. But, if one really wants to discover imaginative flavours from the royal Morrocan cities of Fez and Marrakesh; Turkish gastronomic delights from Istanbul and Konya; the ancient intense flavours of Egyptian pickles; Grecian savouries from Crete, Dodecanse, Athens and other exotic flavours from Lebanon and West Asia – Souk is just the right place in city.
Dr Sonal Mansingh, who was to attend another function at the Science City, enjoyed the lunch immensely and the original plan for a quick meal stretched over two hours and at the end of which she complimented Chef Prasad Metrani, “This is the best international cuisine in India I have had.” We were completely Souked.
I am someone who doesn't have any fancy for ice-creams and usually stick to hardcore Indian food, was bowled over by the really fresh and innovative cuisine.
The Afro-West Asian gastronomic pilgrimage began with Mezze's or appetisers - Hummus, Shankaleesh, Tabbouleh – which were as exotic in taste as much as they sounded. This would followed by soup called Ash e reshte.
Chef Metrani rustled up two special dishes from the menu for the main course – Khudra Meshwi and Khorshet e asparagus – especially for us. But our gastronomic journey continued beyond desserts – B'stilla au lait, Ataif Makhli, Rose Petal Ice-cream - and concluded with sips of Turkish coffee and Morrocan mint tea.
I would, however, recommend, that the best item on the menu at the Souk is the unforgettable Rose Petal Ice-cream which is out of the world. It is refreshing and leaves you with the exhilarating feeling of fresh rose petals in the mouth.
The great thing about Souk is that it has brought together a diverse range of exotic cuisine using aromatic spices and traditional cooking styles to treat you to some of the most exotic dishes and flavours from some of the ancient civilisations of Africa and Asia that has been passed on through the ages.
Tomorrow I am flying to Delhi.
ess bee

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