“After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations”
– Oscar Wilde
I find it difficult to write about food and generally avoid doing it. For me, enjoying a hearty meal is a very primaeval indulgence, involving only the sensory perceptions of taste and smell, and both the nose and the tongue do not give a great account of themselves when it comes to documenting that experience.
When it comes to Narendra Bhawan Bikaner, I face a dilemma, for this house set such high standards of culinary excellence that I feel compelled to talk about the experience, going beyond just remembering fondly how good the food was and how I awesome it would have tasted this boring Saturday morning.
For the folks out there, fine dining is more than just a professional hazard of hospitality; in fact, they take pleasure in conjuring some of the finest dishes that leave the guests dazed, delighted, and generally left at a loss for words. This may be why they have these sessions aptly named ‘Food Mediation’, a set of unique experiences, based on Narendra Singh Ji’s thoughts on gastronomy, that help us transcend the realm of ‘just eating’, into something else.
Narendra Singh Ji was a connoisseur of fine things and fine dining was no exception. He had thoughts on what is considered as ‘the philosophy of food’, a belief the one’s memory recalls the food that flattered its taste buds as much as all the other sensory pleasures, its departure leaving us always wanting more…
“Let the number of guests never exceed twelve, so that the conversation may be wide-ranging. Let them be so chosen that their occupation may be varied, their tastes corresponding, and that they may have such points of contact so that introduction may be rendered useless.”
The first of our food meditation sessions were held at the luxurious Gold Room in the Laxmi Niwas Palace, a venue so grand that its walls are said to carry over 45 kgs of gold in decorations! This King’s lunch has a menu that is based on the menu from 1927, of a buffet for the royal guests of Bikaner at the Gajner Palace. The multi-course meal lasted for about two hours and had some very exquisite French cuisine with really exotic names (consider Croquettes de Canard Sauvages for instance). I was really enjoying my moments of royalty in high spirits (both red and white) and just when we thought the lunch was getting over, there came the main course! Complementing the finery of the Continent was a sharp departure from the plate of Bikaneri royalty, serving the best of what a king would eat; only if we could eat that much!
It was overwhelming…
“Let the dining room be furnished with luxury, the table impeccable, and the temperature of the room comfortable. Let the men be intelligent, but not pedantic – and the women pretty, but not coquettes.”
For a moment, imagine yourself sitting in a small shack on a sandy beach, looking at a lighthouse, and Virginia Woolf speaking to you, talking about the things that inspired her…
The Literary Lunch was held at P&C on a long table, overlooking the warm sunshine of a winter afternoon, while one among us would stand on the far edge of the table, reading one of the most precious paragraphs from the English Literature. The menu of this seven-course meal was in the form of a small booklet with each page drawing a paragraph from a literary classic, describing the book, its author, and the dish that it inspired.
Consider this extract from ‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf –
“… an exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice rose from the great brown dish as Marthe, with a little flourish, took the cover off. The cook had spent three days over that dish. And she must take great care, Mrs. Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass, to choose a specially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats and its bay leaves and its wine… ‘It is a triumph,’ said Mr. Banks, laying his knife down for a moment. He had eaten attentively. It was rich; it was tender. It was perfectly cooked.”
Lamb Doube, the dish that this paragraph inspired, was brown and juicy, rich, tender, and perfectly cooked with a scent of olives and herbs. Ever heard of anything like this?
For me, the Literary Lunch was a personal feat, for I overcame the fear of public speaking and reservations about my accent and manage to read in front of an audience. This is what good company (and wine) does to you…
Le Diner en Blanc
“Let the guests be retained by the pleasures of the society, and by the hope that the evening will not pass without some ulterior enjoyment. Let there be room for little coteries of conversation.”
We were requested to dress in whites at the Darbari, a dinner under the stars by the side of a lake on the outskirts of the city. It was pitch dark by the time we reached there, and the slow noise of crickets was drowned by the music from a flute of an artist who was sitting nearby. A white canopy was set up by the banks and fabulous food in the tradition of ‘shikar’ made on the spot was served during the various courses. The quiet surrounding and relative anonymity boosted by a generous flow of wine helped conversations flow and we have a great time discussing everything under the sun (or stars) well into the night.
My only sorrow- too dark to take many photographs…
Le Diner Dans Le Noir
“Let the dishes be of exquisite taste but few in number at the first course, and those of the second be as pleasant and as highly perfumed as possible. Let the master select his own wines, and none should retreat before eleven o’clock and at midnight, all should have retired to bed.”
I have always had a fear of the dark, have never been very comfortable with keeping my eyes closed in an unfamiliar place. Therefore, the idea of dining blindfolded made me quite apprehensive, another barrier that had to be crossed.
Le Diner Dans Le Noir at the Night Room in P&C is a feast where you are denied the luxury of sight, and sound to a great extent and the only senses that you can rely on are that of touch, smell and taste.
This unique ‘sensory journey’ was an experience where I was totally isolated from rest of the world; it was just me and my food, left for me to explore with my hands, realise that it had a texture, appreciate its aroma and finally experience its taste without anything to cause a distraction. This was when I was able to truly savour and experience the nuances of each bite and feed both my body and soul.
Who said food cannot be therapeutic?
At the end of this mediation, though I was left with an embarrassingly messy plate (and fingers), I felt really good. This was the defining point of my trip to Narendra Bhawan, my best experience from this journey.
So this was my account of the food meditation sessions that we experienced in Bikaner. Our trip was hosted by the awesome folks at Narendra Bhawan Bikaner as part of the #ExperienceBikaner campaign and we just loved our stay there. Except for the quotes, all thoughts/ opinions are mine.