Khana 2015
Dr. Nestor Alonso ll (The Freeman) - November 23, 2015 - 9:00am

CEBU, Philippines – The year 2015 must be the Year of Feasting on Indian Cuisine because I have been invited to four events so far: two Indian weddings, in January and in July; Khana this month; and a fellowship dinner of the La Chaine des Rotisseurs coming up next month.

The latest culinary journey at the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu was called "Khana: A Celebration of Indian Cuisine." On the opening of the celebration, the Embassy of India's 1st Secretary of Commerce and Education Mr. Narayanan Ramakrishnan gave a speech extolling the cuisine of the Republic of India's 1.2 billion people living across 29 states and 7 union territories. A few more millions reside in countries like Singapore, Malaysia, United Kingdom and many more, where significant migrant Indian populations have settled.

To cook authentic Indian cuisine, Marco Polo Plaza Cebu GM Julie Najar hired Ms. Judeline Murjani as consultant. Ms. Murjani actually oversaw the entire event - including the setup of the hotel lobby with its beautiful Rangoli décor and the performance of the San Diego Dance Company to the tune of characteristic Indian music. There was no mistaking of it as an Indian festival.

Four salads were prepared for the dinner: Chana Masala or Spicy Chickpea Salad, Indian Potato Salad, Lentil Salad with Paneer and the Bamgan Bharta or Roasted Eggplant Salad.

Studying Indian cuisine is really like learning a new language. Many new words have to be learned like "masala," the Hindi for spice, and "paneer," fresh cheese made with food acids like vinegar.

Soup was Sambar, a lentil-based vegetable stew with a tangy tamarind taste. The main dishes were: Aloo, Gobi, Matar Masala (potato, cauliflower and green peas curry), Prawn Biryani (prawn with rice), Dal Makhani (black lentil and kidney beans), Palak Paneer (spinach and cheese), Shahi Paneer (with tomato, onion and cashew nuts paste), Lamb Rogan Josh (slow-cooked lamb curry) and the Vegetable Samosa.

A Filipino dish with a similar taste to the Lamb Rogan Josh would be our "Calderetang Kambing," but with an enhanced taste because of the cooking oil used (roughan or clarified butter) and the mixture of 10 spices added in the preparation of the gravy. Our "empanada" is similar to the Samosa which uses only veggies (peas, carrots, potatoes with curry); Chef Judeline Murjani prepared a version that was truly exceptional and my food-blogger friends agreed that this was the best dish that night.

Talking about curries, ten years ago I sat beside a woman who had traveled the length of India. She told me that in southern India, coconut milk or coconut cream, legume purée (called "dal") or stock are added to the sauce or gravy; while in the north yoghurt or cream was used. But it was in the palace of the Kingdom of Bhutan, where she was a guest, that she tasted the best curry of all. The Royal Chef was first hesitant to reveal the secret ingredients. But her persistence paid - and, excuse me, she shared the royal secret with me! Shhhh…

A CELEBRATION OF INDIAN CUISINE A FILIPINO ATILDE CALDERETANG KAMBING CHANA MASALA CHEF JUDELINE MURJANI DAL MAKHANI INDIAN LAMB ROGAN JOSH MARCO POLO PLAZA CEBU QUOT
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