Shevla or dragon stalk yam, a junglee suran, is crusted with peanuts and served with caramelised kakad murabba as a crispy shevla tikki.
Gharbandi bhakri taquito and shevla tikki with caramelised kakad murabba at The Bombay Canteen may sound like some exotic Maharashtrian dishes given chef Thomas Zacharias’ characteristic inventive streak, but in reality these are a first for diners in any restaurant in India.
Edible produce from the Western Ghats comes together in a menu titled Taste of the Wild, and includes seasonal forest finds like kantola or spiny gourd, phodshi or mulshi, pendhra or pendari, moras bhaji or sea purslane. New textures, tastes and colours from the forests is what diners can experience as they sample unique dishes like pendhra kanji, kantola chips, fatangadi vadi. Flavours and innovation apart, this produce is a powerhouse of minerals, vitamins and natural oxidants. Explains chef Thomas Zacharias, partner and executive chef, The Bombay Canteen, “Native to the Western Ghats, Sahyadari tribals have been foraging the forests for decades but the wild produce they consume and their extensive knowledge remains largely unrecognised. We celebrate this incredible history not only to help create greater awareness of the rich and diverse culinary heritage of our forests but also provide our guests with a one-of-its-kind experience. The seasonal availability of produce will inspire changes to the menu every two to three weeks.”
A lot of experimentation and research went into creating this menu as Zacharias too was unfamiliar with these dishes and was unsure of how to cook them. He elaborates, “Shevla is painfully itchy and stingy when eaten by itself. However, if cooked with this round green fruit called kakad the toxins get dissipated and the sting is nullified. The resultant mixture is earthy, meaty and tastes good either by itself or with keema or prawns.”
Phodshi, a green leafy vegetable available for barely two weeks after the first monsoon showers, has been integrated into salads. Try the phodshi and peanut salad peppered with toasted sesame and red chili-kasundi dressing and a soft shell crab and phodshi preparation tossed in dried shrimp masala with cherry tomatoes. The succulent moras bhaji or sea purslane from the marshy mangroves known for its juicy crunch and spicy flavour has been rolled into falafels with palak chutney dip and creamy rajma hummus. Shevla or dragon stalk yam, a junglee suran, is crusted with peanuts and served with caramelised kakad murabba as a crispy shevla tikki.
Sparing no efforts to be creative, Jharkhand’s litti chokha gets a makeover here as Zacharias uses kantola as the main ingredient for the bharta instead of the usual potatoes and serves it with the baked dough balls—litti. After the small plates, expect a portion of ambemohar rice, kulith or horsegram dal, gharbandi saag, khurasni or niger seeds chutney as part of the complete food experience on a platter. For dessert, a warm mahua toffee pudding with brown butter ice cream is served where the mahua or Indian butter tree has been used creatively. Even bartenders have created a few cocktails using the wild produce.
These ingredients are available for guests to purchase at the Sunday wild food market as well. “We have created fun recipe cards detailing the health benefits and how one can cook the produce at home,” says Zacharias.
The writer is a freelancer