Let me be honest here. I forgot, when was the last time, I got seriously blown away by food at a restaurant. No offence, but I am talking about restaurants here- not homechef, not cloud kitchen- pure restaurant. And then on my one-day trip to Delhi, luckily, I asked Yummraj for his suggestion for a lunch. They’re old friends and know my taste. Matamaal was suggested. Hence, this story is on Matamaal Restaurant Gurgaon- probably India’s first and only restaurant serving Kashmiri Pandit food.
About the location of Matamaal
Well, this is a challenge. Finding Matamaal is slightly tricky. It’s inside a shopping mall and at the 3rd Floor. there is a lift, but still finding the location on that same floor is slightly challenging. A few more boards (with direction) can be real helpful. But once you get inside, it’s a different world. The interior is done tastefully with Kashmiri theme and it looks like a typical Kashmiri household. In fact, there is a cute Shikara, inside which, you can actually sit and enjoy your meal. There is a floor sitting (traditionally…) and regular chairs and tables. Apart from your meal, you can actually order your Kashmiri spices and items from their superb bakery.
The place is run by the cute elderly couple Nalini Moti Sadhu and Surinder Sadhu. Matamaal literally means the grandmother’s house and you feel exactly the same, once they are around. Now, this is another good part. The Sadhu couple is quite hands on with this place. They visit it daily and spend a amount of time here. So, a chat with them and suggestions can actually help one in understanding Kashmiri Pandit food.
About Kashmiri Pandit food
It’s a quite well known fact, that Kashmiris understand their meat. There are very specific cuts of a goat for different dishes and they religiously follow it. In her book ‘Multiple Flavours of Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine’, Annapurna Chak writes, “Kashmiri cuisine has evolved over years. The first major influence was the food of the Kashmiri Pandits, the Hindus of the Valley. The cuisine was then influenced by the culture which arrived with the invasion of Kashmir by Timur from the region of modern Uzbekistan. Subsequently, Kashmir and its food have been strongly influenced by the cuisines of Central Asia, Persia, Middle East and Afghanistan”… (ref here) In fact, the difference between Kashmiri Muslim food and Pandit food is quite evident.
Though same dishes are prepared, the taste and gravy texture is different. The reason is quite simple. Pandits don’t use onion and ginger in their food. And the dishes that we have regularly, are function food. The everyday regular food is neither such rich, nor elaborate. Mutton always takes the lead and chicken (as usual) is considered pretty ordinary. There are a plethora of interesting veg dishes. Asafoetida is used in abundance and that’s where the magic lies. Curd is used to create the body of the gravy and as I was told, no cashew or other pastes are used.
Do check my experience of Kashmiri muslim food here…
About the food at Matamaal Restaurant in Gurgaon
Well till the time food was getting prepared, we were served with Kawah. It’s not the regular sweet tea with some sliced almond floating helplessly. This one actually had an aroma. Was it of saffron? I am not sure- but it tasted superb. Mutton sheekh kebab was the first dish. And unlike the awadhi soft one made for toothless nawabs, this one had quite a texture. I actually felt the meat. And the inside is hollow. The thin layer of meat held its forte and it was delicious. A large sheekh kebab was prepared and cut in half. The entire dish is quite juicy.
The Kabargah, on the other hand, was awesome. It was different from it’s muslim cousin. In both the dishes, ribs of a young goat is cooked in milk and spices and then deep fried. where the muslim variant Tabak Maaz has more fat and is slightly chewy, this one is more of lean meat and is soft. A definite must try at Matamaal.
Main course at Matamaal
Rice is the staple diet for Kashmir- be it Pandits, or muslims and bread somehow takes a backstage. Though they have a fantastic variety of breads, it’s primarily used for breakfasts- with tea and omelette. We were served the fine layered Baqarkhani and were instructed to have it with meat. Meanwhile, rice was served with Haaq. Kashmiri greens are simmered in water, with Asafoetida, whole fat red chilly and some mustard oil. It’s very light in taste and sets the mood right for the meat. the rice used, is boiled rice- short grained ones.
And finally, the meat dishes arrived. The rogun josh was fiery red in colour and very very different in taste from the usual stuff. The gravy is not very smooth and is slightly coarse. Now, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it situation. I loved it, but my family in Kolkata was okay-ish. It’s not spicy, but quite hot- if you know what I mean. The mutton yakhni, on the other hand, was quite aromatic and subtle. It’s cooked on a curd based gravy and was excellent with rice. Rishta is pounded mutton ball, cooked in tomato based gravy. And hands down, this is one of the best rishta I have tasted in my entire life. It’s super spongy and taste-wise brilliant. Let me warn you, the reddish colour of Ratanjot will stay on your fingers for quite some time.
Desserts at Matamaal
We had two very distinct desserts at Matamaal- phirni and Shufta. Now, Kashmiri phirni is quite different from the awadhi stuff. It uses a lot of saffron and is sprinked with white til. A variety of Kashmiri phirni is made with semolina, instead of rice powder, but this one was of the latter variety. Very different, and tasty. But it couldn’t stand a chance once the next dessert came. Shufta is a desserts for the cold terrain. Assorted nuts (and god knows why, sliced coconut) are simmered in honey and saffron and is very very tasty. Here, it’s served with icecream, but even without it, the taste is brilliant.
Overall, matamaal is an experience in Gurgaon, which should definitely not be missed. Do come and try the food for a true and rare Kashmiri hospitality. I do hope they come for a pop-up sometime soon at Kolkata, so that my city gets to taste the exquisite taste of Kashmiri Pandit cuisine.
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