Being a food blogger has its advantages. There are limited duration yet interesting food events that one can miss in a blink. Getting to know about them first makes one plan in advance and not only cherish them, but the quality of time that one gets to spend with the specialty chef at times also enhances the learning.
I am off to Zambar to try the Suriani festival, which are delicacies of Syrian Christians settled in India. This is not my first meeting with Chef Arun Kumar whose interesting profile has always intrigued me; a journalist who became a movie critic and later a film director. He left his interesting lifestyle to pursue his passion in cooking and to bring the home style cooked south Indian food to people who had never ventured beyond ubiquitous dosa and idly. An electric mixer, pressure cooker and tenderizer are still unheard in his commercial kitchen and perhaps the reason behind a new stand-alone chain ‘Zambar’ now challenging many stalwarts in the industry.
Chef Arun tells me that Kerala cuisine is largely dominated by three variants – Nair, Mooplah and Suriani. Nair is predominantly vegetarian, Mooplah is the cuisine made popular by Muslim Arabs who migrated to Kerala and lastly Suriani cuisine by Christians. These were the people who brought the use of tomatoes in India. After food for thought, I wanted some food for soul and it wasn’t much delayed.
Stir fried mushrooms had predominant flavors of black pepper (Mushroom Olathiathu; 325). The fish fry was simple yet so enjoyable. It was a firm fish (Kingfish), not too rare nor too crisp, just right for me and retained its soft and moist texture. The Meen Porichathu (550) is normally a flash fried fish but here it was wrapped in a banana leaf before being pan fried. Chef Arun countered my point by saying that the fish (Mackerel in this case) will lose its flavors and the marination will disintegrate in the ladle. I take your point chef, but I would have still liked to experience the ‘real’ thing.
Post the limited starters that we opted, our entire focus was on the chef’s special which had fried beef and roasted duck and pork. It is difficult to get good beef in Delhi and the one we had was also buff, however it was neither tough nor chewy. Fried tenderloin (Erachi Olathiathu 700) was made well with onion, coconut and spices and was a delight with accompanying Malabari parotta. The parotta was crisp and well layered even without using egg given many vegetarians who frequent Zambar. How chef does them so well without an egg is still a secret.
Roasted Pork (Panniyerachi Roast; 700) was another dish that one shouldn’t miss. It is a lovely dish with tangy flavors coming from the tomato used in this dish. Chef Arun says that Suriani cuisine is not very hot but every flavor from spices like cardamom, pepper, cloves etc will make its presence felt and it was truly the case. One can order unlimited free accompaniments like appam or malabari parantha and I chose appam to go with the pork roast.
Duck meat is popular in Syrian Christian culture and is prepared on all important festivals like Christmas, Easter and weddings.It can be tough and dry if not cooked well. Duck Roast (Tharavu Roast; 750) at Zambar is not the best I have had but it wasn’t bad either. The spices and ingredients used in this were almost similar to the pork roast. So pork roast will be a better dish to order if you are planning to visit the festival at Zambar.
I was looking forward to Black Halwa which is raw rice flour made in thick coconut milk and black jaggery, however it was out of supply. The other option being Bananna fritters with Icecream (Rs 195). The icecream was topped with a yellowish sauce from the bar which didn’t go with the ‘traditional cuisine that we were experiencing all this while.
There are not many restaurants in Delhi which offers glimpse of Syrian cuisine. If you are a foodie and want to experience a wonderful cuisine without stepping out to Kerala or beyond, you must visit Zambar for the festival that is on only till 5th January 2014.
Ratings (Out of 5)
Food: 4.0 | Ambience: 4.0 | Service: 3.0 | Overall: 3.5
Meal for Two: Rs2000 (without alcohol) | Alcohol: Yes | Credit Card: Yes | Surani Festival Duration: 25th Dec’13 – 5th Jan’13
Address: Zambar, 3rd Floor, Ambience Mall, next to Funcity / Haldiram, Gurgaon | Phone: 0124-4665639 / 9311520729