In with the old, out with the new! (It’s an intentional play with words so don’t rush off to pen an angry letter to the editor, just yet). Everywhere around us, restaurants, home chefs, self-proclaimed gourmands and their aunts included are finally seeing the light and borrowing a page from ‘the-good-old-days’ to do things right in the kitchen.
While we might argue that the credit for our up-to-date palates is owed to modern-day cuisiners who have toiled relentlessly at inventing countless dishes that make you sigh or scream, nothing compares to the finesse of flavour so prevalent in cookery styles that stem from civilisations as ancient as those that traded along the fêted spice route. At the heart of this trade lay an undying alliance between two of the most creatively driven empires—India and Persia. Now without sounding like a historian walking around beating a kadai, let’s get to the point.
On a recent visit to Jaipur, we learned of an interesting entrant to the city’s already bustling epicurean profile– an Indo-Persian restaurant called Zarin, located at Fairmont Hotel. After watching Ramsey rant through just about everything, diving into food that was celebrated by poets such as Hafiz and Khayyam sounded like a promising ‘must-try’.
Walking under grand wooden doorways, through pebbled courtyards and past-gilded halls one had enough reason to build, both, an appetite and expectations.
The interiors of Zarin, a 120-cover restaurant, would be best described as a setting inspired by tasteful renditions of royal courts from the years of the Delhi sultanate. While most of us are content hanging our wooly lineage on our respective walls we often mistakenly refer to just about everything from this bygone era as Mughal or Mughlai. An erroneous comment owing to the lack of credit given to the Persians who had a predominant influence on whatever we see around us, right from our revered butter chicken to the countless ruins being foster-parented by the Archeological Survey of India. As we stood corrected, post a quick history lesson from Executive Chef Manpreet Singh, it wasn’t long before an indulgent hand soaking in a large silver bowl, filled to brim with rose petals, mollified us. As we went through the elaborate menu, with our very clean and now scented hands it was clear, that a sampling of just about everything was in order.
Silence is golden, as is the meaning of Zarin, and it came to pass from the moment we ate our first bite. Carefully crafted culinary offerings form the basis of Indo-Persian dishes at Zarin, each an applaud-worthy combination of flavour, technique and tradition. In a steady stream steaming dishes such as Iranian Biryanis served along with matzoon (yogurt refreshment) and salad, Atta Raan (leg of lamb wrapped in sour dough), Iranian Haleem (wheat porridge with flavorful meat proteins or vegetables), and Mahi Zameen doz (fresh-off-the-net fish marinated in aromatic Persian spices and gently grilled and then baked), came and went without much finding its way back to the kitchen.
From Sheermal and Bakarkhani—traditional breads to the live tandoor and succulent preparations of Aab Gosht (succulent morsel of lamb cooked with chick peas), Mastava (a hearty lamb soup—an Uzbek specialty) and Tabriz Koftey (juicy chicken dumplings with mixed nuts), we ate it all.
Vegetarian diners will find no reason to bay for blood as they certainly have enough to choose from. And since we see no reason to discriminate against our herbivore cousins we tucked into the Subz Irani (Persian style vegetable stew) and the Nadru ki Gullar (stuffed lotus stem pods), and, of course the definite standout, the evergreen Daal Makhani (yes, it too has a fancy name but we chose to stick to our guns despite the wrath the Persian food gods decided to rain down upon us).
To round off this ambitious culinary undertaking the Badshahi Faluda (vermicelli combined with milk and rose flavoring) was our choice to sweeten the deal, however it failed to impress.
And while most of you must be worrying about your waistlines, let us assure you, the dancers performing throughout the meal, out on the dreamy al fresco area, definitely burn enough calories for all of us combined.