Gaurav Anand is on a mission to expose New Yorkers to regional Indian cuisine. With Moti Mahal Delux, he’s shown the finesse of authentic Mughal cuisine. At Bhatti Indian Grill and his newest eatery, Awadh (2588 Broadway, 646-861-3604), he highlights the fare of northern city Lucknow. But next week, the restaurateur is heading south: At Awadh, he’s hosting a food festival celebrating the flavors of the royal courts of Hyderabad.
Throughout the year the restaurant offers specialties from the Awadh region; it’s characterized by the dum pukht slow-cooking technique popularized by the area’s royal family in the eighteenth century. Ingredients are roasted in a traditional sealed handi for hours on end. The cooking method eventually made its way south to the royal court of Hyderabad. Anand’s goal with the festival is to highlight the migration.
Although the preparation is similar, the regional differences are very distinct. In Awadh, powdered spices are used to flavor the dishes; in Hyderabad, whole spices take their place — whole mustard, whole pepper, whole cloves — which results in spicier (not hot, though), more flavorful fare. Turkish, Arabic, and Mughal influences are present in the southern area, so you’ll also find ingredients like coconut, rose, tailed pepper, peanuts, and tamarind. “I like to play and experiment to see how people respond to flavor and food,” says Anand. “In India, flavors change every fifteen miles.”
Both areas feature kebabs, and both are cooked in a similar manner (traditionally, over a hot stone), but the end results couldn’t be more disparate. Where Awadh’s famous version melts in your mouth (it is said that a toothless ruler is responsible for the soft texture), the Hyderabadi marag features slices of lamb leg. It’s seasoned with yogurt, tailed pepper, rose petals, black stone flower, and salt. A refreshing chutney with mint cilantro, onion, tomato, and pepper comes on the side. Closer to the Awadhi variation, the vegetable and dried fruit kebab (navrattan kebab) is on the supple side, filled with cashew, carrot, veggies, yogurt, ginger, and garlic. The mango-pineapple sauce that comes with is unique to the restaurant. “This cuisine was eaten by kings and moguls,” says Anand. “They were very particular about food; they wouldn’t eat just anything. They came up with the idea of cooking on a stone to keep the temperature balanced.”
Same goes for the biryani. Where Awadh’s rendition blends the already cooked ingredients, the Hyderabadi incarnation layers raw meat (chicken or lamb) and partially cooked rice, then tops it off with a layer of naan dough to let everything steam together. Saffron, rose, and cashew are used for aromatics.
For the festival, guests can chose à la carte or prix fixe four-course for $55 per person. Two soups are available ($6 to $7), including Hyderabadi marag (spicy lamb soup with almonds, onion, green chiles, and lamb chop) and daal ka shorba (a traditional brothy yet rich lentil and mint soup). Appetizers ($13 to $17) include lamb kebabs, murg shikanja (chicken thighs marinated with green chiles, ginger, garlic, lemon, and pepper), and vegetable kebabs. For entrees ($15 to $18), there’s dum ka murgh (dum pukht cooked chicken legs with almonds, cashews, dry coconut, and mint leaves), Haleem (minced lamb dum pukht cooked with butter, ground wheat, and freshly ground spices), bagara baingan (baby eggplant with coconut, peanuts, sesame seeds, and tamarind), and mirchi ka salan (green chiles cooked in lightly spiced creamy and tangy curry). Two rice dishes ($17 to $18) are being offered: chicken and lamb biryani. It concludes with choice of dessert. Khubani ka meetha ($8) is a traditional apricot dessert from Hyderabad. Sheer khurma ($8), a sweet rice dish with pineapple-mango syrup and saffron, is a traditional celebratory dessert prepared during festivals.
This festival is not a one-off event. It is the first Anand has offered at Awadh; however, he’d like to explore the different regional cuisines throughout the year. Still, if you’d like to get a taste of the Hyderabadi fare, you’ll need to go this week. “I always like to bring life to the restaurant,” he says. “I plan to do a couple every year, but it’ll be at least three years until I can repeat.”
The Hyderabad Food Festival is taking place nightly, from Tuesday, February 24, through Sunday, March 1, for dinner.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.