Ek Bar – Once upon a time (a preview)

Delhi has a new bar dedicated to the drinking culture of India and Skeety visited to get a feel. It is kitschy, it is sassy and it is a neighbourhood bar called Ek Bar by AD Singh of Olive in partnership with the very talented Chef Sujan Sarkar. Ek Bar is located in Defence Colony and the place gives a carnival-like vibe with a giant merry-go-round installation just above the bar. One walks in at Ek Bar to witness eager bartenders doing their shaking jig and that sets the tone for the evening. 

City of Nizams (right)

Drinks
All drinks have an Indian touch. They are re-imagined in the Indian way. You can sample, murabba, amrak (starfruit), gondhoraj lime, Indian spices and such in your drink. The names of the drinks are quirky and Indian: Murabba Mule, Platform @ CST, Sher Singh, Susegad and more.
Mogito-6 (right)
At Ek Bar you decide what mood you are in and pick a card (menu) accordingly. There’s A,K,Q andJ. Choose your drink and get going. The bartender who came with Skeety’s drinks had a story to tell with each of them, making the experience superlative. Our welcome drink was the Royal Indian touch. Nitin Tewari, Skeeter’s bartender for the evening told ‘Punch’ is derived from the Sanskrit word which means five and was first made in India in the 16th century using five ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and tea or spices. When Britishers came to India they enjoyed the drink and took it back to their homeland from where it became popular globally. At Ek Bar, this Punch is served in an intricate teapot that comes with cups to depict the community drinking culture in India.  The Mo’g’ito 6 is Ek Bar’s take on a mojito. In India, most pronounce it wrong and hence it is deliberately misspelt at Ek Bar. The story behind the drink goes thus: If Mojito was made in India, it would have our local citrus fruit Amrak or starfruit. And Amrak is sold in Old Delhi during winters, so the bartenders added 6 spices to this drink that they procured from Khari Baoli spice market in Old Delhi. This drink could do with less ice, though! 
All drinks are claimed to be made within two minutes and the ingredients like shrubs, bitters, juices are all homemade.
The Royal Indian Punch (left)
Ek Bar – Granola Bar (right)

 The City of Nizams is gin & tonic, done the Indian way. This bright yellow hued drink comes with  Gin, turmeric, orange syrup and tonic water. While fancy icecubes may be the way the world is going, at Ek Bar, this drink had Katori shaped ice in it and inside the icecube was a blade of mace. As Skeety sipped her drink slowly, the mace broke out of ice to lend a hint of added flavour.

Nitin Tewari, mixologist at Ek Bar 

The grub
The Ek Bar Granola Bar is joyous. It is made of Jhalmuri, Avocado and imli gel with frozen Dahi Bhalla ice-cream on the side. This one sets your mouth on fire and Skeeter would go back just for this. It goes very well with alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Fresh local Burrata comes seated on a bed of tomato kut and is topped with a coriander and walnut chutney crumble. The freshness of the Burrata is stunning and the tart-sweet tomato kut beneath only adds to it. What is really good about Ek Bar is that they have engineered the menu that is full of nibbles and finger food. Skeety always wanted a place where she can just snack, drink and be happy and Ek Bar is just that. 
The Veg Thali is just a name. It is essentially appetizers put together to form the Thali components. In the Thali, mushroom galouti hot dog was innovative, beetroot and peanut coin was okay, ricotta stuffed bhavnagiri mirchi packed the punch, rawa fried paneer was different from the tikkas that the vegetarians are dumped with, rajma hummus was fresh and creamy and the charred roti made a perfect accompaniment. They have a cheese Thali too and Skeets would want to go back and try that some day. End your meal on a sweet note with some carrot halwa cake and savoury buttermilk icecream. This combination was delightful and reminded Skeeter of her garam halwa-thandi malai winter eating ritual.

Where: Ek Bar, D-17, Defence Colony (corner building near petrol pump).

Note: The place opens for public on September 23rd. This was a preview on invite.

Flavours of Shahjahanabad

When Old Delhi comes calling one has to oblige. Having heard of the feasts put together by the Jalalis and experienced one herself, Skeeter met the Jalalis one on one over a lunch table hosted by them at at Le Meridien, Gurgaon. And it couldn’t have been better! Osama Jalali, a food writer has curated the dining experience and the meals are prepared by his mother Nazish Jalali & wife Nazia Khan. What one gets to sample is the kind of food that is found in the homes of Old Delhi or Shahjahanabad. Nazish Jalali or Ammi as she is fondly called is a passionate cook who learnt her craft from the khansamas of the nawab of Rampur before she got married and came to Shahjahanabad, where she added more recipes to her repertoire.

Emperors Aurangzeb was a vegetarian, Humayun turned vegetarian even if briefly and Akbar was vegetarian towards the latter half of his life. This did not mean they lost on sampling the best flavours that the khansamas had on offer. There were vegetarian delicacies prepared to pamper these emperors. Some of the recipes may have been lost in time, yet others live to tell a tale.
These Mughlai recipes by the Jalalis are showcased at food festivals across prominent hotels time and again. This time round the focus was on some interesting vegetarian ones. The first of these was a very flavourful Kathal ki Galouti. Skeeter has sampled unusual preparations of Jackfruit but this one outshone them all. Steamed and boiled jackfruit is mixed with lentils and whole spices for a well-textured, sublime galouti. French beans ki Shammi appeared next. Again, a well-made, melt in the mouth preparation, which forces the French beans out of their stir-fry, sabzi, pulao and other avtars. And the third stellar appetizer of the day was a daliya ki tikki. Yes, there’s more to daliya than light/diet food.

Vegetable Biryani 

For the mains we sampled sookhi Urad dal, both black and yellow; the recipes of which come from the kitchen of the Nawab of Rampur. These were very simple preparations that were fluffy and flavourful. A robust Mughlai paneer preparation made in a yoghurt gravy had Skeeter hooked onto the curry. An earthy and dense preparation of Chana dal bharta (mashed lentils) was rich in texture and chopped green chillies complemented it well. Osama calls it desi hummus and well, why not?!

Sookhi Urad Dal 

Chana dal bharta 

The Jalalis 

All these were served with a rustic Khamiri Roti or yeasted flatbread and a mildly sweet Sheermal which is saffron-flavoured, leavened bread. Both are usually paired with greasy non-vegetarian curries in the bylanes of Old Delhi. There was Vegetarian Biryani too! It looked simple but was a pot of myriad flavours. The rice were aromatic as they soaked flavour from the whole spices and each vegetable lent a layer of its flavour to the dish.

After being overwhelmed by the appetizers and the mains, it was time to be besotted by dessert. Aloo ka Zarda, made with shredded potatoes, saffron and sugar was sampled for the first time. It was sprinkled with chironji. Skeeter was looking forward to this one but was underwhelmed by the taste. Maybe she needs to get used to the idea of having spuds for dessert? The Shahi Tukda, which was not liked by some on the table, made Skeeter quite happy. Those who didn’t like this version prefer crispy bread against the soft one which was served. The Gulathi, which was somewhat like a phirni, was the best dessert of the three. It is made by reducing milk in dry fruits and made a fitting end to a sumptuous feast.

Gulathi 
Aloo ka Zarda 
Shahi Tukda 

Chor Bizarre- Pop-up

Kashmiri spread reminds Skeeter of Haak/Haaq that she makes at home, of Rajma that the relatives generously share on their trips back from Jammu, of Kehwa (Kahwa) that she loves brewing at home. Chor Bizarre reminds Skeeter of all these and more. When CP was the hub of all good restaurants and malls hadn’t made a debut, Chor Bizarre at Daryaganj was buzzing with activity, enthralling expats and Indians alike. Skeeter still gets nostalgic about their salad cart set amidst a vintage car. At Chor Bizarre (literally meaning thieves’ market), no cutlery is alike and the decor is a mismatch. Yet, it all comes so beautifully together. There may be restaurants serving better Kashmiri fare, but Chor Bizarre stands tall. It has stood for 25 years to tell its tale and even gone international (they are now in London). As they celebrate 25 years of serving Delhi, a selection of Chor Bizarre signature dishes can be sampled at Drift, Epicentre, Gurgaon where they have appeared in a pop-up format. Chor Bizarre serves dishes from other parts of the country too, but on the day Skeeter was invited they were showcasing Kashmiri fare apart from few starters.

We started with the Kurkuri Makkai and Dahi ke Kebab. Both reiterated that Indian food isn’t all about lots of spices. The Kurkuri Makkai was extra crunchy on the outside and soft inside, making a perfect match. Dahi ke Kebab were subtle and flavourful. Nadru or lotus stem chips coated with a little spice and served with muj chatin that were a showstopper. Muj Chatin is a condiment made with grated radishes tossed in greek yoghurt, chopped green chillies, salt and sprinkled with walnuts. The two make an awesome pair.

Nadru chips with mooli-akhrot chutney
This was followed by a lavish Wazwan (multi-course meal served during Kashmiri weddings) served in a Tarami (an embossed Kashmiri Thali). Of course the non-veg Wazwan is what people make a beeline for, the vegetarian one that Skeeter sampled was equally good. Tamatar Chaaman, Dum Aloo, Khatte Baingan, Nadru Yakhni, Haaq, Rajmah, Mooli Akhrot Ki Chutney & Laal Pyaaz were served on a bed of rice. The highlights for Skeeter were the Dum Aloo pricked a 100 times, deep fried and then, cooked in a spicy gravy. The Rajmah were unputdownable and the Haaq was flavourful with a bite, just the way it should be. 

The meal ended with Shufta and Phirni followed by Kehwa. Phirni is the Kashmiri take on kheer. Kehwa is a warming brew made with green tea leaves, sliced almonds and some spices. It is traditionally brewed in a Samovar. 
Kehwa served from a traditional Samovar

The Shufta is something Skeeter tasted for the first time. Shufta is a dessert made with nuts tossed in a sugary saffron syrup and has a hint of cardamom. It provides much needed heat to the body in the cold climes of Kashmir. Delhi could borrow it too, for its harsh winters or whatever is left of them.


Shufta
At: Drift, Epicentre, Gurgaon from August 16 – September 30, 12noon – 3:00pm / 7:00pm – 11:00pm