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THE MASALA TRAIL BY OSAMA JALALI

Osama Jalali. A respected food critic and master chef, he was born and brought up in Purani Dilli though he hails from Rampur which is celebrated for its rich cuisine. Specialising in Awadhi, Rampuri, Shahjahani and Nizami-based menus, he is deeply passionate about researching and reviving dying regional cuisine, and has traveled the length and breadth of the nation for his research… which culminated in the launch of The Masala Trail By Osama Jalali — a vegetarian restaurant in the hearth of Janpath that serves absolutely authentic street-style cuisine from all the states in the nation. No, it's not your run-of-the-mill North Indian streetfood: dishes on the menu include Bihari Lithi Chokha, Rajasthani Dal Baati Choorma, Gujrati Panki and Dabeli Pav, Banarasi Tamatar Chaat, Mysore Banana Poori and much more!

 

Admittedly, when you've eaten the variety of foods that I have had the good fortune to do, you learn to perceive the skill set of the chef. In Osama Jalali's case it's his deep passion for reviving regional cuisine and his thorough research while travelling to all the states and learning from the best, so that he can whip up a confluence of legendary Indian heritage and local craftsmanship — so it's no wonder then that the descriptions on the menu don't even come close to describing the intensity of flavour! Coming to my lunch with Osama this afternoon, as we waited for the order to be served, I couldn't help admire the ambience with its block printed walls, 'welcome' written across a wall in different languages and handcrafted murals of auto rickshaws. First up was 'Banarasi Tamatar Chaat' — the chefs had tossed succulent tomatoes with roasted spices, topped with sev! It was served warm, and trust me I never ask for second helpings and here I was salivating for more!! Up next, I relished 'Bihari Litti Chokha'. The baked wheat dumplings with brinjal and tomato mash, both tinged with mustard, was sumptuous. And, then, what was for me, the star of the meal — 'Tower Chaat'. Osama rightly described it as 'a chaat sundae!' It sure looked like one — layer after sumptuous layer of assorted chaat flavoured with tamarind chutney!!

 

And then came regional refreshments that was totally unique to my tastebuds — 'Bihari Namkeen Sattu'. The sattu blended with green chilli, onions, tomatoes and salt could well be described as an energy booster; apparently labourers in Bihar had two glasses during the day, they were good! Hmm. Though I was stuffed, Chef advised that since I was reviewing the menu, how could I leave without sampling the hot-seller, Panki? I had never tried this Gujarati dish and relented. Made with rice flour batter cooked between banana leaves, Osama showed me how to scrape the rice evenly off the banana leaves, dip it in the accompanying mint chutney, and savour the unusual flavours! I didn't have a lot of room for dessert but the selection was impressive and ultimately I settled for 'Moong Ka Halwa’, perfect for the winters! He wanted the meal to end on a sweet note… and this was it!

 

In retrospect, it's not just fabulous food; there’s a reason why The Masala Trail By Osama Jalali is poised to be a game-changer. He knows what he's doing — whipping up regional street-style food which is in danger of becoming extinct due to the evolution of modern Indian cuisine. The growing number of guests at the restaurant proves it. Hey, for a Monday noon, it was packed! 

— JASMEEN DUGAL

 
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52, Janpath, New Delhi

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