Over the past couple of weeks, I was recovering from a culinary storm which blew me away some time ago. I am sure we are aware of that chocolate cake known as Death by Chocolate (has dark chocolate, chocolate pudding, chocolate chips, grated chocolate and is served with chocolate sauce). Similarly, we had a wonderful lunch experience where there was Mutton, and Mutton, some more Mutton and some more and then some more…..I titled that experience as “Death By Mutton”, in fact very delightful which one would want to encounter many times over.
Like always, Chef Sanjay Pawar found out this place and insisted that we go there for lunch. Now, his recommendations are seldom to be taken lightly. And we were soon heading to encounter a storm, a delightful storm though. We stoppped at a restaurant called, Matamaal in Gurgaon, serving Kashmiri Brahmin cuisine (yes, Brahmins in Kashmir eat meat and quite a few of their dishes are to die for). The term Matamaal in Kashmiri means “Naani’s Home/ Grandmother’s Home”. This summed up that we could expect some authentic fare from the valley and is bound to be a great culinary journey.
We were greeted by the owner Nalini Sadhu who hails from the region and she started this venture about two years ago. A short talk with her told us that they are still not very commercial like restaurants and that if we were to enjoy a variety of the offerings, Thali was the best option. We agreed.
The restaurant interiors resemble a typical Kashmiri house with a wooden floor, wooden false ceiling, wooden furniture, walls adorn pictures of scenic beauties and some historical moments. Not to miss is a colorful Shikara holding a place of pride in one corner (must have a picture clicked with it). The balcony of the place had some cane furniture placed for waiting outside if the place inside was full and that too is typical of the valley.
Well, by the time we finished our observatory appreciation of the settings, our food came. First to arrive was a basket of assorted breads containing, Kulcha, a small, hard dry, crumbly bread, usually round in shape and with khaskhash (poppy seeds) on it and usually has a salty taste. Then a special kind of czhot/roti made with an addition of ghee to make it extra soft and then cooked in tandoor. And Lavasa, a thin, large, unleavened flat bread, white in colour, made of maida. Was a visual delight and was an equal pleasure to savior them on its own and with the various curries.
Then came our Thali ! The looks and the aroma conquered us, instantly.
It had seven dishes sitting pretty in a steel Thali. The fare included Kabargah (Mutton), Masc (Mutton), Roganjosh (Mutton), Yakhni (Mutton), Chok Charwan (Mutton), Haak (leafy greens), Mujhey Chutney (curd based) and finally the desert, Phirni…what a spread !!
So, first thing first. Let’s start with Kabargah, a Mutton Ribs delicacy, also known as Tabak Maaz and is normally a part of Wazwan, the Kashmiri spread. In looks it resembles our Mutton Burra but this one has a little more glaze on it. A bite of the meat told you it was crisp outside and juicy inside. Had very mild flavours but the taste of meat seared with fat gave an amazing flavour. The recipe includes cooking the Mutton Ribs in raw milk or yoghurt and then pan fried to crisp. A very good piece of meat to start your meal.
Then was the time to turn towards the curries. Starting clockwise, first dish was Masc, a Mutton Kofta Curry. Two big size Koftas sitting drenched in red oily curry was a delight to look at. They were soft and easy to cut thru with a fork. A bite in the mouth and it landed spicy flavours on your palate. The meat consistency was neither pasty nor too coarse. Rather it was a blend of the two and was quite flavourful. The curry was oily like qorma, a bit spicy, yet very flavourful. Was a delight to have with the Kulcha and the roti.
Next was the turn of our very own Roganjosh to be tasted. Again two pieces of Mutton were sitting pretty on a bed of curry which gave aroma of a well cooked Mutton Curry. In Kashmiri households, Roganjosh is cooked without onions, garlic and tomatoes. It’s color is attributed to the generous use of Kashmiri red chilli powder which is not very hot but gives out a fiery red color. While the curry was very flavourful and went very well with rice and roti, the meat was a bit dry and fibrous. However, the flavour of curry and the Mutton made up more than it.
Then came on the centre stage the hero dish, Mutton Yakhni. I loved its very look, aroma and the mild flavours. Yakhni is a creamy dish where Mutton is slow cooked in asafetida and yoghurt, normally with whole spices. This pale yellowish curry had Mutton pieces coated with the spices and the buttery cream. The meat was melt in mouth which came out easily off the bones, juicy and succulent. The whole spices and the mint provided that mild sharpness to the taste. Was a delight to have with rice. I liked it so much that I saved some curry to eat with rice again, after I was finished with all the dishes and before wrapping up.
Now was Chok Charwan on the agenda. It was a dark colored dish with chunks of Goat Liver (Kaleji) in a thick yet glazed curry. The looks were quite attractive with a half of green chilly sitting atop. A spoonful in the mouth took you to all together on a different way. Unlike the other meat dishes tasted so far, it was tangy, rather quite tangy. That peculiar flavour of kaleji soaked in the sour and tangy curry did wonders. Although, for me, a little less of sourness would have worked better. However, it is an amazing dish and was a delight to have with lavasa. This meat dish is basically tamarind based which has spicy and sour gravy. It’s different.
Having done with the Mutton dishes, it was a pleasant change to savor Haak, a green leafy dish which had a soupy gravy in it. It is prepared with green Collard Leaves using water, basic spices, whole red chilli and pungent mustard oil. One, the pungent greeny veg provided a good change from the meat and also served as a palate cleanser. It’s soupy gravy was a delight to savor which had a sharp flavour supported by mild seasoning. The white Mujhey Chutney, dusted with Kashmiri Red Chilly Powder, was in short, a cold Mooli Raita. The mildly salted cold yoghurt with grated radish was very refreshing. It not only soothened your palate but also helped to condition your palate in between various Mutton dishes.
The meal was wrapped up with a bowl of cold, well set Phirni (there is a choice to have Phirni or the Kashmiri concoction Kehwa). The top layer had a generous sprinkle of dry fruits and Khaskhas (poppy seeds) which looked as if it was decorated with pearls. The crust when pierced with a spooon gives way to a pasty consistency. A spoonful is a combo of mildly sweet rice paste and crust which is cooked in milk and is interspersed with dry fruits. A perfect dish to wrap up the“Death By Mutton”.
We all were flooored with the variety and the flavours. I think, the place surely needs a few more visits. What say ?