Uttam Bhoj with Chef Gunjan Goela at ITC Sonar

Nine out of 10 Bengalis I know would smirk at the idea of vegetarian food, leave aside braving the blistering heat to make way for a buffet that showcases Sattvik food. Sattvik food is bland and tasteless...this is probably the biggest misconception we harbour. So when I got an invite from ITC Sonar to sample their Uttam Bhoj of Old Delhi curated by Chef Gunjan Goela, I became curious and took to the Internet. It added precious little to my knowledge but having followed and admired Chef Goela's recipes on NDTV, I decided to go ahead and attend this one-of-its-kind event.
Apart from being a consultant with the ITC hotels in the domain of Indian vegetarian food, Chef Goela also boasts of a degree in philosophy, and this became evident in the way she has strongly relied on Charaka Samhita to concoct her recipes which not only are pleasing to the tastebuds but also soothing for the body and soul. In one of the most interactive sessions I've attended in recent times, Chef Goela explained to us in detail about the pairing of ingredients and spices in accordance to the ancient texts. She harped on the use of seasonal and local produce and placed utmost importance to consuming the right kind of food at the right time. But food alone can barely fulfil its task unless supported by a lifestyle that aids longevity and prevents diseases. The hazards of modern life and the irregular hours of activity are, according to her, the chief reasons why so many of us are falling prey to unhealthy eating.
As we seeped in the anecdotes she had to tell us, we were presented with the first course of the day. The Tamatari Mattha was a delicately balanced buttermilk-based drink with tomatoes, thicker than usual, and with a slight smokiness coming from roasted cumin. A perfect start to a Summer meal, I told myself.

The appetisers consisted of Chhole Methiley (or our local favourite Ghugni), Aloo Rismisey (sweet potato chaat), Dahi Bhalla and the universal favourite Paani ke Bataashe (a variant of phuchka or paani puri or golgappa...whatever you choose to call it). My picks from this section were the sweet potato chaat and the bataashe. The sweetness of the potatoes was perfectly offset by the sour chutney and spices and took me back to my days in Delhi when I would have such chaats from the local shops and vendors in between bouts of mindless shopping at Lajpat Nagar.
We Bengalis are phuchka-snobs and leave no stone unturned to find flaws with phuchkas in the form of "uff, boddo nun beshi, tawk ta kom hoye gelo, phuchka ta thik muchmuche noy, alu makha te beshi kaNcha lonka pore gechhe" (it's too salty, there isn't enough tang, the phuchka shells are not crispy, the potato filling has too much green chillies). But even my overcritical phuchka-palate couldn't find fault with this one. The bataashe had a unique texture of their own... perfectly crunchy with a pillowy base. I was quite overwhelmed with it and tried to explain Chef how it was drastically different from the phuchka we have (and yes, in a very good way) but couldn't really muster the perfect adjectives. Phuchkas are like that, isn't it? You can't really explain their beauty, you just need to taste them.

By now I was completely hooked to the perfect marriage between savtik and rajasik food and was eagerly looking forward to the main course. First up was the Kishmishi Kesari Pulao (Pilaf with Raisins and Saffron) which was paired with the divine Mangori Kadhi (Lentil dumplings curry). Soft and melt in the mouth, the first item on the main was a hands down winner. Next in light were light and fluffy Beetroot Pooris, Ghwar Phalli (cluster beans), Aam ki Subzi (Ripe Mango Curry), Namak Parathe, Zaafrani Paneer Kofte (Cottage Cheese dumplings in a saffron-based gravy) Baajre ki Khichdi, Bedmi Poori and Aloo ki Subzi. My picks from this list were the pooris (made with beetroots and wholewheat), the sweet and tangy concoction of the Aam ki Subzi and being a fan of rich, hearty gravies, undoubtedly the koftas. The aloo ki subzi was the regular run of the mill kind but my love for potatoes is something that knows no bars. So despite sampling so many items that were new to me I think I gravitated more towards the aloo and the bedmi poori (the pictures of which you won't find here as I was busy eating!).
What I would also want to mention here was the ultimate comfort the Baajre ki Khichdi brought in its wake. Very pale and subtle, barely containing any spices, it's not something you might want to order in a restaurant, but give me a book and a cold winter night (in the present context of temperature, a cold winter night is way more desirable than a book), and I would love to curl up on my bed with a plate of that.
The dessert platter that came with Rabdi Falooda, Semai Kheer and Chandrakala looked pretty as a picture. The kheer was just enough sweet and despite being not a lover of Indian sweets I emptied the bowl. A couple of spoonfuls of the falooda showcased the beautifully soft texture of the same but given the mercury quotient and my saturation factor, I decided to give the deep-fried sweet a miss.
But you shouldn't miss this fare, especially if you feel there's nothing the non-living world can offer you in terms of food. Drop in at Eden Pavilion, ITC Sonar for an experience of Uttam Bhoj of Old Delhi before June 7th and I'm sure you'd be pleasantly surprised.
Breakfast buffet: 7-10:45 am
Lunch buffet: 12:30-2.45 pm
Dinner buffet: 7-11.45 pm
Cost of dinner buffet: 2,250+tax/person

PS: This was an invited review and the post is completely a personal account of the blogger based on her experience. No monetary compensation was involved.

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