The taste of Kakke da Dhaba in Dubai

When I received a request from Pullman to come and review the Friday Theme Night – Punjabi food spread, I frankly wasn’t over the moon.  I don’t dislike Punjabi food, but I’ve eaten so many versions of the Tandoors, Naans & Kulchaas, Daal Makhani and Butter Chicken, is there really another dimension to explore?

With that notion, I took my friend and found myself at Pullman Dubai Creek City Centre.  I was delighted to meet Sweety Baluja – the man behind the cuisine and spread.  I know of him as the man behind the legendary Kake Da Dhaba in Delhi.  I haven’t eaten there myself, but I know that if Delhi were to be defined by its culinary landscape, then Kake Da Dhaba would definitely feature among the top 5 mentions.  Five minutes into the conversation with him and I realize that the passion for food runs in his genes. For several decades, his grandfather ran a successful business selling goodies off a food cart.  His father continued the tradition of being in the food business. Even when he lost his power of sight due to ill-health, his sense of smell allowed him to sniff a dish and tell by aroma what needed to be perfected in the recipe.

Sweetyji’s ideology of cooking bears the same essence of honesty that runs in his lineage.  He doesn’t talk about intimidating techniques and alien ingredients.  He talks about love and simplicity at the core of the cooking and feeding process – and you can sort of see that ooze out as he stands and personally serves you portions of Orange Chicken TikkaPaneer Parda Dara Tikka and Matar Makkai Ki Tikki. I was slightly dreading the Orange Chicken Tikka – I rather dislike the flavour of orange combined with a protein, but I found any apprehensions I had rather misplaced.  The dish was amazing!  Succulent morsels of chicken that were actually enhanced by the mild flavour & aroma of the citrus.  The Matar Makkai Ki Tikki was crumb fried and with a cheese centre, which in my mind should have added up to rich food.  Surprisingly though, the dish was neither heavy on the stomach nor on the palate, and when I was done, there wasn’t the slightest trace of oil on my fingers.

Sweety Singh, in his mild, almost unobtrusive way, goes on to talk about how the asli Punjabi cuisine is so far removed from the massy notion of it.  It is neither rich nor heavy, rather nutritious and nurturing.  I learnt, that Daal Makhani didn’t get its name on account of being loaded with butter.  Rather, the slow-cooking of the lentils lends it a buttery texture, and hence the name.  Cashew, saffron, and food colours which are synonymous with the popular notion of the cuisine don’t find a place in Sweetyji’s homely style of cooking.  All his food is prepared in desi ghee – rooted to tradition and slowly getting recognized again for its health benefits. Also, he prepares his spices from scratch.  The Pindi Chholey served to us, is by far the best I have ever eaten.  His hand prepared Chhole Masala is the only other ingredient in the dish – a careful (and maybe secret!) blend of 32 spices. Rajma, another dish very much at the heart of the cuisine is something I’ve eaten several versions of but this had to be the best I have eaten yet!  The Rajma itself was cooked down to a near gluey consistency which in fact is, as Sweetyji points out, the true essence of the dish.

For me really though the show-stopper that evening had to be the Kukkad Dahi Waala or simply Dahi Chicken. For a dish by that name, I would have expected a creamy-ish tangy gravy, but I was more than a little surprised when I lifted the lid.  What we had there was, a light and aromatic chicken curry that to me was very reminiscent of my mother and grandmother’s cooking.  So light, so flavourful, and so very neatly balanced, it had me going for seconds (possibly even thirds). I noticed that my friend, who would easily classify as a small eater, also happily allow herself to indulge more than a few times to his cooking, in particular the Amritsari Meat Curry.

What adds to the charm of the experience is that even after a hard, long day in the kitchen, Sweety Singh still sits across you at the table, personally feeding and serving you.  We talk about his travels, about his passion for taking Punjabi cuisine across cultures and banishing the populist notion most of us carry of it.

I just sat listening to his stories, thinking, what an honour to be here!  The Friday Indian theme night is a consistent feature at Pullman.  Sweety Singh himself travels to Dubai every few months, tweaking and revamping his menu – perhaps even adding a few seasonal favourites.  You’d be lucky to match your visit to the restaurant to his visit, but even if that’s not happening anytime soon, it is well worth every dirham to go and indulge in an exploration of Punjabi food, in a way you never have.

Ratings out of 5
Food: 4.5 | Ambiance: 4 | Service: 4 | Overall: 4
Meal for Two without Alcohol: | Alcohol: | Credit Card:
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Address: Deira City Centre, Port Saeed Road, Deira, Dubai
Telephone: +971 4 294 1222

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