Utsav at Hamsa



Many, many moons ago, during the season of Lent, my dad took us to a vegetarian Chinese restaurant run by Buddhists. There were predictable groans from us kids (!!), a completely vegetarian meal was not something we would have chosen but there was no negotiating with Dad once he decided on something. To cut a long story short, we staggered out of the restaurant after that meal - it was about the best meal that we had ever had. Even now, I remember what I liked about it - each dish was composed of several vegetables, the integrity of each vegetable was maintained and there was a cohesiveness in the whole.

The charming young lady who invited me to Utsav at Hamsa asked me why I was not too confident of reviewing a vrat meal. The Buddhist meal came to mind, so, on the appointed day, I found myself at the Gandhinagar restaurant.

Navaratri, or Durga Puja, is an auspicious Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil. It also marks the approach of winter; people observe a nine day fast to prepare for the change in climate, sattvik food is the norm as it helps to detoxify the body.

Utsav is Hamsa's way of celebrating Navaratri. It's a time of vrat (fasting) and it tests the cook's ingenuity in coming up with dishes that are vegetarian (of course), and with no onion, ginger or garlic. Sattvik food is naturally grown food and absolutely no processed ingredients are used. Fresh and seasonal ingredients come into play which include millets, water chestnut, both as vegetable and flour, buckwheat, sago and nuts.

Celebrity chef, Rakesh Raghunathan has curated a menu that incorporates these ingredients. It would be gluten-free, nutritionally balanced, rich in antioxidants and light on the stomach, he promised. The dishes are based on recipes from Maharashtra, UP, Bengal, Jharkhand and Gujarat.

 

But first, Hamsa's little filigree bell has to be opened. Inside, there is a little gulab jamun that has become the restaurant's signature amuse-bouche. A traditional Indian meal starts with a sweet.

Sabudhana moongphalli thalipeeth; kuttu aur paneer ki kachori; shakarkandi tuk chaat; singhare aloo tikki

The sago was chewy, the peanuts were... well... nutty. The size of a small pancake, sabudana moongphalli thalipeeth is an interesting combination of textures. Green chilli thecha added a measure of spiciness. Singhare and aloo tikki was a little patty made with water chestnut flour and potato. Both the mint chutney and tomato, date and raisin chutneys were perfect for these little tikkis. The buckwheat pastry crust of kuttu aur paneer ki kachori, was short, crisp and light. Deep fried slices of sweet potato formed the base of Shakarkandi tuk chaat which was then layered with paneer, yogurt and sweet chutney. Chaat masala brought about balance of sweet and savoury.

Mathura aloo

Paneer shahi gulabi; dahiwale singhare ki subzi; annanas ki subzi

Mathura aloo, one of the curries in the main course, is a very homely dish; dry mango powder adding a slight tang to the mashed potato gravy. Pineapples help in digestion and annanas ki subzi was my favourite. Cubes of it were cooked in a thick coconut gravy and the tempering was sufficient to not overpower neither the fruit nor the gravy. Sliced water chestnuts rather than whole ones in dahiwale singhare ki sabzi might have worked better in the spiced yoghurt gravy. For a touch of the exotic, there's paneer shahi gulabi. Dried rose petals and almonds had been stuffed into cottage cheese slices and cooked in a cashewnut gravy. What appealed was the crunch of nuts.

Kuttu aloo paratha; singhare & kuttu puri

Both breads were very good. Kuttu aloo paratha, stuffed with mashed potato, was crisp yet soft though the filling was barely perceptible. Dark brown and puffed up beautifully, singhare and kuttu puri, made with a mix of water chestnut and buckwheat flours, were served hot. Being gluten free, it did not have the slight elasticity that wheat-based puris have. It was slightly greasy but was the perfect accompaniment to the gravies.
     
Vrat ka pulao

Vrat ka pulao, made with saamai (little millet) did look like it had been made with rice. It has loads of fiber and does taste a little nutty. Peppercorns, cumin seeds and nuts added to the flavours. Ghee gave it richness and it was good enough to eat it by itself. 

Mewa ki kheer; sitaphal basundi

Sitaphal basundi had the pulp of custard apples cooked along with milk into a porridge-like consistency. I found it rather sweet and thick. Mewa ki kheer, on the other hand was much lighter in consistency, not too sweet  and had a good amount of nuts for texture. Fox nuts were a welcome addition.

As promised, the meal was  gluten-free, nutritionally balanced, rich in antioxidants and light on the stomach. And enjoyable!

Utsav by Hamsa is on till October 29th and all the vrat dishes can be ordered from the à la carte menu, both for lunch and dinner.

Hamsa
40, B. Ramachandra Adithanar Road
Gandhinagar, Adyar 600020.
044 24459999

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