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Gujarati babaganoush, anyone?

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Culture House at Chowpatty, which opened its doors this week, offers traditional vegetarian food with a twist, says Menka Shivdasani

Foodies who like their meals to be pure veg, traditional and yet gourmet,  have a new destination at Girgaum Chowpatty—The Culture House (TCH), which opened its doors to the public on December 19. ‘Simple Indian food. Served simply’ is their tagline, but there is nothing simple about it; the dishes are inventive and presented in style in the cosy brick-lined ambience of this inviting space. Even the finger bowls placed before you at the end of the meal conjure up a sense of royalty.

Jayesh Vora, Director of Trizen Hospitality Pvt Ltd, the company behind the venture, points out that in the last 15 years, there has been a huge change in Indian eating patterns. “Italian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese… all these different cuisines came in,” he says. “People started eating out, and ghar ka khana got affected. Then, five years ago, there was another big shift. App-based delivery services brought restaurant food to our homes,  and the consumption of traditional food at home went even lower. So we thought if they were eating restaurant food at home, it was time for them to eat traditional food outside!” Jayesh has three partners in this venture, Kaushik Mehta, Divyesh Thakkar and Samir Gandhi.

TCH offers dishes made with forgotten ingredients such as jowar and bajri, but serves them in ways that would make them appealing to all ages. Indian traditions are honoured with a substantial fasting menu, which has options such as Assorted Fries (sweet potato, purple yam, elephant yam, Rs 251). The focus is largely on Rajasthani and Gujarati food, with a few Sindhi dishes (given the Kutch influences) thrown in, and even a Parsi-style dhansak.

Expect a twist in the tale, though, with one-plate meals such as Khichu Khausuey (Rs 379), which offers a Gujarati twist to a Burmese dish; Bhakri Pizza (Rs 299), or Nachos Paratha in the kids’ menu (Rs 299), with the nachos swapped out for wholesome parathas stuffed with Mexican-style veggies. Give them a Kit Kat Frankie, (Rs 299) for dessert and watch them smile!

The innovations begin with the welcome drink, served in shot glasses. The Damroo Paan, described as a ‘signature TCH delicacy’, is a blend of rose petal paste, betel leaves and paan-flavoured ice cream. Vibrantly green, it is rich and refreshing; dig in with a spoon for all the good stuff that has settled at the bottom. Or try the Ice Orange Cold Coffee, dairy free and delicious.

The menu, which runs into several pages, has a choice of appetisers, soups, small bites, meals, breads, papads and more. The Bajri soup, generously thickened with pearl millet grains (Rs 249) was flavourful and satisfying; if you’re feeling adventurous, try their cold soups (Peru Cucumber or Orange Tomato, both Rs 249). For appetisers, there’s the Moongdal Bajri Khichu, made with millets and lentil flour (Rs 299) and the Sasumaa No Handvo (Rs 299), which would, indeed, please your mother-in-law. Our favourite was the Tam Tam Khaman, with spicy, sweet and tangy elements (Rs 279), which you are advised to eat with the chutney served alongside, but tasted perfectly fine without it.

It’s in the chaats that they get truly inventive. “Put the whole thing in your mouth and feel the explosion of flavours,” urges Jayesh, as a sev puri-like dish turns up at the table, but is actually sweet jalebis topped with hot chilli fritters. Since we don’t like our food too spicy, we are a little wary of this, but then, as we take tentative bites, it turns out that the jalebi cuts through the spice and makes the Jalebi Mirchi Chaat (Rs 279)  perfectly palatable.

The Kolkata Dahi Vada on the menu sounds sacrilegious. Who would take a sumptuous rosogolla and turn it into a chaat? (Though it is true that legendary cookery queen Tarla Dalal had a Rosogolla Sabzi recipe in one of her earliest books in 1978, The Delights of Vegetarian Cooking; we were horrified!) It turns out the dish actually works, the rosogollas doused in soothing yoghurt, and topped with tangy chutney and spices. A brave dish, that one, but come to think of it, the dahi vadas you eat at most Udipis are usually sweet, so this is just a logical extension!

One dish in the main course menu stood out for this writer—the Rigna No Olo with Bajri Rotlo (really!), described as ‘Gujarati babaganoush’ (Rs 449), with the rotlo served with jaggery and white butter, making the traditional taste-buds happy. The other outstanding dish, in the rice menu, was the delicate Kolkata Paan Biryani served with Paan ka Raita (Rs 399).

If you have a strong sweet tooth, round off the meal with desserts like Madhur Milan (Rs 429), with layers of gulab jamun combined with rich rabri and motichoor boondi.

Whether you opt for familiar dishes or get adventurous with your choices, a visit to The Culture House can make for a truly satisfying meal; there’s also a good chance you won’t miss the alcohol.

Where First floor, Soni Building, Opp. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Girgaum Chowpatty

Contact 022 - 23614466


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