Baankahi: A watering hole for Assamese cuisine lovers
If one sees the trends in the food culture of the city, every new restaurant seems to be playing it safe. They’re serving tried and tested cuisines like Italian, Thai, Chinese or if they are more adventurous, then a fusion of the above. The pioneers seem to be introducing foreign tastes and rarely look at a cuisine from the cultured, colourful, diverse lands of our own.
When Baankaahi opened its doors recently, it welcomed customers to its clean, simplistic interiors with tables covered in red and local jute crafts adorning the walls. A lovely open area with green pots are for those who prefer the outdoors. In the earlier times, guests were served a meal on a large traditional plate on a stand. This was called a “Baankahi”. One of the most intriguing cuisines, the Assamese cuisine is virtually alone in preserving the six basic tastes of ancient Hindu gastronomy including alkalinity. A Baankahi held different dishes that balanced out all the tastes. Though the utensil has been replaced by a typical thali now, it seems an ideal choice to savour a true Assamese meal.
What is a good meal without a good appetizer? Another form of ‘Bhaji’ as found in Marathi, Tamil and Telugu cuisine or ‘Pakoras’ in North India, Boras like Aphu Bora, Til Bora, Kaas Kol Bora, Narasingha Bora and Major Bora are served in the vegetarian section; each unique in its flavours and colour. Curry leaves to me play a backseat role in most dishes, but as fritters or Narasingha Bora they delighted my senses. Happily tossed in their delicately spiced batter and fried, they were crisp, slightly mellowed yet distinct in their taste. They would make a perfect companion to a hot, steaming cup of Assam tea too.
Our Non Vegetarian pick was Khorika (kebabs on skewers) . Kukura (chicken), Gahori (pork) and Maas (fish) sizzled on their plates and were grilled to perfection. Mildly spiced using a dash of mustard oil, salt and turmeric they were moist juicy and ambrosial. A big hit with my taste buds.
Where the East of India is concerned, much of the culinary knowledge that we hold ends at West Bengal. Beyond that, the food knowledge is a blur to the rest of the country. The Thali at Baan kaahi is a perfect assortment of the dishes from Assam for one who doesn’t know the cuisine much. Carefully arranged in a particular order, one must start the meal with Khar. Made with raw papaya, water gourd and the exotic liquid strained from the ash of burnt banana- tree stems, the Khar cleanses the stomach and is alkaline in nature. Rice is the staple and sits in the centre of the thali. While dal, Pithika, Sabzi, Brinjal fry are common to all the thalis, for the fish lovers, there’s the iconic Fish Tenga. A slightly sour stew made by frying fish pieces in mustard oil, then simmering them with fenugreek seeds,vegetables and lime juice the Tenga seemed perfect. The sourness from the Tenga carefully balanced the alkaline khar. A lemon wedge, green chilli and a ball of mustard based Kharoli are served in a bowl to add extra seasoning. The aloo pitika with its distict mustard tang in the background and the okra sabzi were light with minimum use of masalas. Very few restaurants master a good pork curry and Baankahi excels in it. Perfectly cooked in its own fat with garlic, ginger and green chilies.
If there’s a dish that is a show stopper it is Sungat Diya Misa Maas – The bubbles emanating from the surface of the bamboo tube and a scoop of the fork to dish out a plump prawn cooked with a mix of green chillies, mustard oil,coconut and chopped onion got me excited. The juices that interplay with each other when cooked in a tandoor result in a dish earthy in taste and robust with flavours. The Mitha Aloo Pitha, sweet potato cooked with jaggery and coconut is a perfect ending to a delectable meal.
India is a diverse country with variant cuisines. Baankahi establishes that there is an appetite for regional cuisines and we hope we get an oppurtunity to taste more aunthentic flavours from different regions of India soon.
Address: 1, Sardar Patel Marg, Chanakyapuri, Chanakyapuri,, Delhi, 110021, India
Timings: 12:00 – 3:30 p.m and 6:30 – 10:30 p.m.