‘Bhog’. Simply put, Bhog is an offering for the Gods, also known as prasad or naivedya in India. The folks at Four Points by Sheraton Pune take Bhog very seriously. Executive Chef Sanjay Mitra and his team realized that none of the local restaurants did anything special for Navratri, the nine day Durga Pooja festival that is celebrated across India. And he turned this opportunity into something that will win any foodie’s heart.
The temples of India are legendary. Many of them are parts of a pilgrimage and people aspire to visit these at least once in their lifetime. Vaishno Devi, BrajBhoomi, Jagannath Puri, Kashi Vishwanath, Gurudwaras like the Golden Temple, Udupi are just some of these. Every temple has their own distinctive food which is cooked as an offering to the diety and offered to the people who visit. The hallmark of this food is that it is simple and wholesome, uses no onion or garlic, and very few spices. In short, it uses very little tamasic ingredients – ingredients that are stimulants or that evoke baser emotions in man.
Chef Sanjay Mitra traveled to many temples across India and experienced their special food. He came back with recipes and memories of the food. Some were recreated, some were given his own twist, and thus emerged a revolutionary menu called Bhog.
Bhog will be held at Four Points from 13 to 22 Oct in the evenings for dinner. There are four different menus which will repeat after the first four days. And they will knock your socks off. There are about 50 items every day, and something different every day.
Don’t be surprised if you go back day after day to taste the different delicacies. So let’s get down to serious stuff and talk about the food itself – what you are all eager to hear about.
The Eatery at Four Points Sheraton had a traditional brass lamp or diya at the entrance to welcome the guests. Orange/ yellow flowers created a festive atmosphere and candles in earthen containers adorned the tables.
There was a central display highlighting the different spices used and I think this is a nice and subtle way to educate people about Indian food, especially considering that a lot of the crowd consisted of international guests.
We were welcomed with the two signature drinks of the day, nonalcoholic of course! Phoolon ki Thandai is milk based and mildly flavored with fennel seeds and thickened with ground nuts or dry fruits. The Kharbooz ka Panna was a cantaloupe or musk melon based drink flavored with cardamom. I loved the Kharbooz ka Panna for its refreshing taste.
Dahi ka Shorba surprised me pleasantly. I thought it looked like Kadhi but was anything but. Smooth and just thick enough, bay leaves made it different. There was a very tiny hint of nutmeg in the background and it was sour. The Chef said it is made with 2-3 day old curd which gives it an inherent sourness. It gets my vote because it was not sweet.
An array of appetizers were served at the table, and then there was another big spread of snacks and salads on the buffet.
The Dahi Ke Kabab made with Greek Yogurt or hung curd melted in the mouth. Rajma and kacche Kele ki Tikki – small patties made with kidney beans and raw plantain were spicy. Pakora Rassa inspired by Govindev temple was a unique dish of daal fritters served with a sauce.
Adrak ki Bati was my favorite, with fresh ginger stuffed inside tiny flour parcels and deep fried.
Snacks and salads had Khaman Dhokla, Khandvi, Patra, Brajbhoomi inspired Mathri, Green Peas Kachori and assorted papads. The Patra was perfect – simple and not oily or spicy at all and you could really taste the Colocassia leaves. The Green Peas Kachori had a puff pastry style layered cover which made it just yum. The Khandvi, another favorite of mine was tart. All of these items were seasoned just right, and very fresh. Although you might think you get these at any halwai shop, the preparation here was better.
Among the salads, I really liked the Udupi Koshimbir made with soaked moong daal. It seemed to be a bit like Tabbouoleh in its texture and freshness. Plenty of fresh chopped coriander and finely chopped cucumber gave it that fresh aspect. I would love to recreate this salad at home, especially because it is made with ingredients we have in the pantry.
The Singju Salad was made with ratalu or sweet potato and it was another simple but tasty dish.
Time to move on to the vegetables. The bread was served at the table and the bedmi poori was a marvel. It had a very light stuffing and green chili and was a bit like the Bong Radha Ballavi. The jowar roti is a must try too, especially for folks who don’t generally make it at home.
Most of the dishes were very simply spiced, letting one or two spices shine. As you know, I just love this kind of food. Point to note is that everything tasted different, and this was because of different techniques used even though many spices like cumin, turmeric or Hing were similar.
The Paneer Curry was a big and pleasant surprise. Seasoned with rock salt or sendha namak and cumin, it had a yogurt base. This dish was another example of how simple is the best. And that Indian food can be simple too.
The Udupi Avial and Guruji Ke Kaale Chane from Vaishno Devi were good. Radha Ashtami Arbi from Brajbhoomi was once again my favorite – Arbi or Colocassia root with a thick spice paste of coconut and poppy seeds strong in turmeric was another example of the variety and taste of vegetarian fare.
The Stuffed matti Gula or stuffed eggplant also had a rich peanut and sesame paste as a stuffing. Among the rice preparations, the Bhoger Khichdi again stood out. With just enough turmeric and Hing to give it a kick, this thick lentil and rice stew comes from the state of Bengal. Krishna Wardhi Kadhi from the temples of North India and Ghee rice were also tried.
Desserts – Bhog very often consists of a lot of sweets, and the dessert spread was noteworthy. There were a lot of dry sweets like revri made with sesame seeds, Churmura laddu, Rajgira laddu, Modaks, Gurudwara style Atte ka Halwa, Radha Krishna Rasgullas, Mathura Pedha and so on.
While it was not possible to eat or taste everything, I think I made quite an effort :).
A lot of thought and hard work has gone into making Bhog with Navratri a reality. Kudos to the Chef and his kitchen team for coming up with something on this massive scale for vegetarians. The buffet seems reasonably priced for a luxury hotel at 675+taxes.
And now a contest you will all love – click a picture of your favorite dish at #NavratriwithBhog at The Eatery. Check the contest rules below and start clicking.
Well, the clock is ticking, and if you are lucky enough to be in Pune during Navratri, you simply have to head over to the Four Points by Sheraton to experience this divine culinary miracle that is Bhog.