Aloo Parantha, Dahi aur Achaar
Striking the right balance between tradition and innovation can be tricky indeed, especially when you’re trying to revamp a classic. You need to be able to apply your vision to the dish so that it becomes undeniably yours, yet stay within a certain limit so that it is still recognizable as an homage to a classic dish.
We’ve already had a similar discussion in our article on sarson da saag, which takes a humble trucker’s lunch and metamorphoses it into a Kandinsky masterpiece which still tastes like the real thing. This week, we will explore a dish based on yet another North Indian classic, which does the exact opposite.
Ever since I’ve moved to Rohtak, aloo parantha with dahi and achaar has been an almost regular breakfast of mine. Served with a generous knob of butter, it is a filling, hearty meal. It takes sheer genius to take something as simple as this and flip it on its head, and the chefs at Rooh, Mehrauli manage to do just that.
When the dish reaches the table, it feels familiar: a small piece of flatbread, cut into quarters, served with an adorable quenelle of creamy yoghurt, with a fiery-red pickle on the side. The plating might be a bit more polished, but it still looks like the original.
Unlike a traditional aloo ka parantha where the dough is stuffed with a potato filling and rolled out into a disc, this parantha incorporates potato in the dough itself, mixing flour, potato and water together, the potatoes left a little chunky for texture.
And then comes the masterstroke. The flour-potato mix is fermented for three days, which causes it to become airy and develop and intense flavour. This fermented dough is then made into paranthas, which are beautifully fluffy and soft on the inside. The long fermentation leaves an unmistakable mark on the final product, which smells a little bit like wine. Their aloo parantha is essentially a sourdough.
The server describes the dainty little quenelle of yoghurt, garnished with bits of green, as Mehrauli goat curd, made using fresh local produce, the hallmark of any good restaurant. But an expression of terroir is not what makes this yoghurt outstanding.
Anyone who has had goat cheese is aware of its distinctive sharp tang. And this yoghurt tastes exactly the same. Creamy and fatty, with that unmistakable goat milk flavour, it is so unlike the usual cow milk yoghurt that the unfamiliarity is almost an assault to the senses.
Pairing the parantha with the dahi creates an interesting parallel. With the parantha tasting so much like wine and the dahi tasting like a really good goat cheese, eating the two together feels like a wine and cheese pairing. Take too much of the curd and the subtle fermented notes of the parantha may be masked, so tread lightly.
The third component of the dish is the “achaar”, only this pickle is made with pork cheek. The vegetarian version swaps the pork with cherry tomatoes. This is by far my most favourite part of the dish. Rich and incredibly complex, I swear I could finish a whole jar of it just on its own.
The pork pickle adds a sharp spice to balance the smooth tang of the yoghurt. Eat the two together and you’ve got the intensity of the pork pickle mellowed out slightly by the yoghurt. Add to that the fermented flatbread and you create an explosion of flavours in your mouth. With such an intensity of flavours, the small portion size makes perfect sense.
This dish, in a way, is the antithesis to the deconstructed sarson da saag of Farzi café. While that dish played around with the textures and plating while keeping the flavours more or less intact, this one plays havoc with the flavour profile while staying conveniently within the confines of convention, plating it as humbly as possible.
Dishes like these, however, are way riskier than the deconstructed versions. Since the proof of the pudding is, after all, in the eating, diners tend to be slightly less tolerant of unfamiliar flavours than they are of unfamiliar textures. They are likely to prefer a dish that looks alien but tastes like home, to one that looks inviting but tastes unfamiliar. In my opinion, it’s their loss.
Dishes like these push boundaries, and that is the purpose after all. There is no denying the dish’s roots. It takes some thinking to make a dish look familiar but taste completely different, and not in a playful, illusionary way.
It’s not a shortbread masquerading as a parantha or a dollop of vanilla mascarpone pretending to be yoghurt. The dish is exactly as advertised; parantha, curd and pickle. Yet everything tastes different, from the wonderful yeasty notes of the parantha to the sharpness of the curd and the meaty complexity of the pickle.
It’s dishes like this which represent modern Indian food at its very best, a clever and delicious example of just how far you can push the boundaries while staying rooted in tradition. Few dishes strike the balance between tradition and innovation this effortlessly.
And yes, do join me next week as we start a two-part exploration of the amazing tasting menu at Rooh, a balance of tradition and innovation like you’ve never seen before.