Chef Parvinder Bali forages for ingredients, recipes and family histories on his mission to showcase the depth and richness of food emerging from Amritsar to Ropar
To step into the world of Chef Parvinder Bali, is a lot like leaning over a buffet where each preparation is an indissoluble chunk of history. Bali has authored several books on culinary theory like Food Productions and Operations, Theory on Bakery and Patisserie which are taught in culinary schools across India. Associated with Oberoi Group’s Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development, New Delhi, he was looking to connect with historians to collate a book on the langar (the communal meal served in a gurdwara) cuisines of India.
His plans took an interesting turn when he was introduced to former chief minister of Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh, who hails from the erstwhile royal family of Patiala. Instead of langar, the Captain advisedthe chef to write about the 450-year-old recipes handwritten in Gurmukhi, emerging from his own gharana in Patiala. .
A work in progress, the book comprises Raja Bhalindra Singh‘s (Amarinder’s uncle) collection of preparations from Patiala. At The Trident in Chennai recently, Chef Bali laid before us the pages from India’s rich culinary history lost in the crevices of time. Originally from Baramulla in Kashmir, a plethora of recipes emerging from the kitchens of different maharajas punctuated his stories, starting from Maharaj Raj Rajinder Singh’s (1892) Martabaan Wali Bateyr or quails cooked in pickling spices in an earthen pot, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh’s (1910) Mirchi Ka Halwa or green capsicum pudding to Raja Baba Ala Singh Sidhu‘s (1764) Moongphalli Waley Meat Kebab or Lamb kebabs with crushed peanuts, Maharaja Bhalendra Singh’s (1932) Shalgam Wala Gosht or lamb braised with turnip, and Maharaja Bhupinder Singh’s (1905) Khaam Khatai or green gram lentil kebabs.
Curiously, the book does not contain any paneer or potato recipes. Bali explains, “Potatoes were introduced in India only in the 1500s by the Portuguese, and paneer was a result of Turkish influences. It was called peynir and was consumed as raw slices for breakfast.”
Each time Chef Bali , enters a kitchen, he brings to the table his cultural frontiers, the battering of Partition and an acute culinary dexterity. All of this is embodied in cooking techniques, traditional recipes and unique menus.
“If you go to an 85-year-old grandmother in Punjab and talk to her about Dal Makhni and Butter Chicken, she will look at you in amazement,” he proclaims.
“There’s nothing called Punjabi food. There’s food emerging from the riyasats of Punjab like Amritsar, Jalandhar and certain villages like Malwa, Doaba, and Ropar,” affirms the chef whoseculinary theory books are taught across India, Kenya, Nepal, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.