Kebabs have been around the Indian sub-continent and the world for as long as time can tell. If one could peer into the past, one would, at any given point in time, be able to find a group of people merrily huddled around a fire, with chunks of marinated meat dancing over the flames. Be it a caveman, char-grilling his game over a bonfire, or the epic characters in the Mahabharata roasting the spoils of their hunt, kebabs have found their way into the hearts (and bellies) of people from every corner of the globe.
While not many can claim to be unfamiliar with this timeless finger-food, it’s true origins are shrouded in mystery and ambiguity. The term ‘kebab’ is said to be an adaptation of the Persian “kabab”, meaning “fry” according to Turkish etymologist Sevan Nisanyan. The American Heritage Dictionary also points to a possible link between the term and “kabābu”, meaning “roast” in Akkadian.
As a tribute to these versatile dishes and their centuries of heritage, Waterfront Terrace & Bar, Marriott’s own multi-cuisine restaurant, organised a festival celebrating kebabs and their irreplaceable part in India’s culinary heritage. While the tandoor-style of preparing kebabs is a household favourite in most parts of the country, Executive Chef Pavan decided to raise the skewer a notch by dabbling in the Lagan, Tawa and Kadai styles, bringing flavours from across the subcontinent to every plate at the festival.
Tandoori kebabs, a must-show on any Indian menu, are traditionally prepared in a charcoal-heated clay oven. This slow cooking allows the heat to seep into the very core of the dish, cooking it all the way through, while retaining that smoky, barbeque flavour that we all know and love. Mahi Tikka, a rare fish kebab marinated with carom seeds, yellow chillies, fresh yoghurt and ginger garlic paste piqued the interest of many at the event. The chefs were careful to ensure that the kebab was well cooked and seasoned while keeping it firm and palatable.
Picture credits: Amati Life
Sizzling away in a deep kasai, the Kadai kebabs undoubtedly stole much of the limelight at the function. Murgh Russian was a unique dish that drew curious glances and gracious acclaim from nearly every person who passed it by. “The kebab has nothing to do with Russia,” came the cheerful clarification from Chef Pavan, “It was an anglicised version of ‘Reshya’ which meant fine strands; the chicken is so fine, that it resembles threads.” True to his claim, the Murgh Russian kebab consisted of chicken so finely shredded, it practically melted away in one’s mouth. It was pre-marinated in green chillies, yellow chilli powder and ginger, covered in crisp ‘sev’, deep fried and served with mango chutney, putting a lip-smacking cherry on a dish that truly took the cake at the festival.
Gosht ki Galouti
Picture credit: Amati Life
Hot from the tawa, Gosht ki Galouti, a creatively concocted kebab, infused with chilli powder, cashews and onions caught the fancy of those in the audience that favour lamb over other proteins. While hints of rose water, screw pine water and saffron were tastefully added to the preparation, the crispier base of the kebab seemed to upset the delicate balance of the otherwise innovative recipe.
In the Lagan Se section of the menu, Lagan ki Boti gave lamb-lovers yet another reason to celebrate. Staying true to its Indian roots, these succulent cubes of lamb were simmered in a ‘home-made’ garam masala that would bring a tear to the eyes of even the fiercest nawab. Tossed with brown onions and black pepper, these delightful chunks of heaven were artfully prepared and deservedly well received.
Gosht ki Galouti , Mahi Tikka & Tandoori Aloo
Picture credit: Amati Life
Vegetarians felt none too left out at the festival either. Tandoori Aloo took center-stage for many as the spicy blend of green chillies and ginger, packed into barrels of spiced mash tickled taste buds and warmed hearts throughout the evening. Seekh Nilofari played the vegetarian underdog at the event, but one that might have seen a strong comeback with the right palate. Though uncommon, its lotus stem and cottage cheese body, laced with mace powder and black pepper made the Seekh Nilofari stand apart from the average veg. kebab, even if it did stand alone. If paneer was your poison, the Doodhiya Kebab would be your first and final stop at the festival. Skillfully carved paneer escalopes, nestled between spiced potato, cheese and tomatoes made this a treat to the eyes and lips as well. For those in the crowd with a penchant for the West, Chef Pavan whipped out a wicked Vilayati Subzi kebab. Brimming with English vegetables and low-fat cream, this green kebab seasoned with black cumin, white pepper, yellow chilli powder and a dash of olive oil was a delight to vegetarians and meat-lovers alike.
Hara Bhara Kabab
The first phase of the festival, held between June 16-20, 2017, garnered a healthy response, with many experiencing the delights of vegetarian and other unique kebabs for the very first time. To top it all off, Chef Pavan has guaranteed us that he has much more in store for the future.
In retrospect, the Kebab Festival left me wondering about how odd a world without kebabs would feel. It’s hard to imagine a picnic without someone breaking out the seekh-kebab rolls, or a family barbeque without your uncle skewering a row of chicken tikkas, but luckily, we probably won’t have to. With innumerable styles and variations, growing in number and popularity each day, the infamous kebab could very well outlive us all. And with all that we’ve experienced at the festival, it’s safe to say: a future with kebabs is one I’d like to live in.