Mumbai Food: The khichdi finds a place at Mumbai's bars

By  Kusumita Das and Anju Masker | Posted  07-May-2017

Among the first solid foods to be fed to infants, this dal-rice comfort eat now finds place at Mumbai bars. And, let's just say, we like the adult version

Jhinga Khichdi. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
Jhinga Khichdi. Pic/Sneha Kharabe

This one's for those who want the best of both worlds - the good old comfort of home on their plates while relishing it in a restaurant ambience. The new and improved version of the khichdi appears to have struck that fine balance, thanks to a handful of chefs that like to get playful. From being braised with red wine, to being baked and laced with a variety of meat, herbs, spices one wouldn't commonly associate with the khichdi, the experiments have paid off. Some of these concoctions were results of fortunate accidents, a few others a labour of multiple trials. Now, these gourmet rice dishes even work as bar food, with tipplers merrily drowning their bowl of khichdi with their drinks. Here's why you should look at the khichdi with new eyes.

Chef Munawar Peerzade has added six khichdi variants to  the menu. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
Chef Munawar Peerzade has added six khichdi variants to  the menu. Pic/Sneha Kharabe

Jhinga Khichdi at BKC Dive. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
Jhinga Khichdi at BKC Dive. Pic/Sneha Kharabe 

Jhinga Khichdi
Head chef Munawar Peerzade, at a previous work place, had once got an order for dal khichdi, and while preparing it he was struck by the idea of trying something different. "There were some prawns lying around. I sautéed them with the khichdi masala and it became a whole new dish — as simple as that. At that time though, I did not send it to the customer," he smiles. His little experiment opened gates to more. "Luckily, I got it right the first time. I later got experimental with mutton, paneer, eggs, and whatever else I could get my hands out."

The result is five variants on the menu, besides the usual dal khichdi staple. There's mutton keema khichdi, palak khichdi, vegetable khichdi, egg khichdi, chicken khichdi and of course the bestseller jhinga khichdi. "We are only about a month old but the orders are flowing in," says the 37-year-old who has 17 years of industry experience. And what makes this a bar bite, we ask. "People usually like to dig into finger foods while drinking, but later, they feel hungry and order biryanis or pulavs, even though they are not looking for something that heavy. A khichdi strikes the right balance — it is filling but not overpowering. And if you can make it interesting, you have a winning dish." Interestingly, this dish is served in a pressure cooker. "I wanted to give it a homey feel, so the pressure cooker in which the khichdi is cooked, is brought directly to the table. Our patrons find it amusing," Peerzade says.

Chipotle paneer with Mexican Khichdi. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Chipotle paneer with Mexican Khichdi. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Chipotle paneer with Mexican Khichdi
During one of his trips to Europe, Chef Rakesh Talwar recalls craving some home cooked comfort food. "I was feeling a bit low and hungry, but didn't want to eat too much.

Chipotle paneer and Mexican khichdi at The Spare Kitchen. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Chipotle paneer and Mexican khichdi at The Spare Kitchen. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

The only dish that came to my mind was khichdi. Since I was not in India, I had to work with the ingredients that were available and that's where my mind started ticking," he says. Getting his hands on some roasted peppers, olives, corn and grilled chicken, the chef tried his little experiment. "And, there it was the best khichdi I had ever made," he says.

Chef Rakesh Talwar Talwar introduced the dish over three years ago. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Chef Rakesh Talwar Talwar introduced the dish over three years ago. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

The chipotle paneer with Mexican khichdi was introduced at the restaurant three-and-a half-years ago at the first Juhu outlet. "I think I was the first one to put this kind of khichdi on the menu," he says, adding that patrons were initially a reluctant to order it. "When we told them that it was for a tasting session, they were very willing to try. That's how the word spread around."

Gratin Khichdi. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Gratin Khichdi. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Au Gratin Khichdi at Hitchki. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
Au Gratin Khichdi at Hitchki. Pic/Sneha Kharabe

Au Gratin Khichdi
At Kalaghoda's newest entrant, Hitchki, the menu is crafted in a way that harks back to your childhood. "The dishes that we usually associate with what our grandmothers used to make, like khichdi, pancakes and vada pav, are served with a twist. So, we thought why not merge the au gratin with dal khichdi served with dollops of ghee," says Chef Ajay Thakur. The dal khichdi is tempered with mustard seeds, curry leaves, chilli, served in a skillet and topped with au gratin made with bread, butter, puréed pickle and parmesan cheese.

Chef Ajay Thakur at the Kalaghoda restaurant. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Chef Ajay Thakur at the Kalaghoda restaurant. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

The idea, he adds, was to keep the originality of the khichdi while adding a Western touch to it. It took the chef a couple of trials to nail the fusion. "We first tried mixing the cheese, bread and pickle together in the khichdi, but it did not work. Making a crunchy layer of those ingredients by baking them like an au gratin and topping it on the khichdi served the purpose and gave us exactly what we aspired for," he says. It's one of his best-sellers now. "During lunch hour, most patrons order it as it is the perfect mid-day meal. It is light and comforting, just what you need in the middle of a work day," he says.

Pudina Chicken Khichdi. Pic/Datta KumbharPudina Chicken Khichdi. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Pudina Chicken Khichdi
At the newly opened dhaba style Powai haunt, the pudina chicken khichdi is gaining steam. This is the brainchild of chef Rameshwar Prasad, an industry veteran with over three decades of experience. "I see people going for heavy rice-based dishes, with or without meat. Between risottos and biryanis, the humble khichdi somewhere got forgotten.

Chef Rameshwar Prasad. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Chef Rameshwar Prasad. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

I thought we could make it relevant as a fancy dish. That's how the idea was born. But, it took me four tries to perfect it." While the base of onion, garlic, tomatoes and green chillies remain standard, he cooks it all with chunks of grilled chicken. "They come straight from the tandoor and retain a smoky flavour, adding texture to the dish. And I make sure to cook it light, keeping the spices mild, so it serves as a filling and interesting meal with a round of drinks. The key flavour of the dish comes from the pure desi ghee it is cooked in," says the 56-year-old.

Red wine braised mushroom baked. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Red wine braised mushroom baked. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Red wine braised mushroom baked
At BKC's Dishkiyaoon, the Red Wine Braised Mushroom Baked Khichdi is a popular dish, and, according to consulting chef Prasad Parab, a lot of it has to do with the name. "The name instantly catches your attention while browsing through the menu. And once people taste it, they love it for the essence of red wine that enhances the flavour of the khichdi," he says. While the restaurant always had the dahlia khichdi on the menu, the red wine variety was introduced only a month ago. Here, the rice is sautéed in olive oil and leeks and then deglazed with red wine. "We add vegetable stock, cook the rice and finish it with parmesan cheese, butter and top it with wild rocket lettuce." If you happen to order it next time you're there, the chef has a suggestion. "Pair it with white, red or Rosé wine. It tastes great."

Jaee Ki Khichdi. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Jaee Ki Khichdi. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Jaee Ki Khichdi
Staying true to the theme of bringing in delicacies from the 29 states of the country, this dish is an offering from Uttarakhand, we are told. It's an herbs-oatmeal-spinach khichdi from the valleys of Uttarakhand, the Kumaoni region, to be precise. Speaking of the recipe, chef Sharique, says, "It's cooked in ghee, to which cumin seeds and whole spices are added. We add shredded spinach, boiled moong dal and oats to it, which makes it a dish packed with proteins, vitamin and iron. It's a cool dish to beat the heat." He stumbled upon the recipe during one of his trips to Kumaon. "It's a common dish there. We teamed it with a generous serving of 'chonk wala dahi' (a technique and garnish of whole spices fried in oil to enhance the flavour and poured into the dahi) along with crunchies. Despite the initial psychological hold-up about eating khichdi at a restaurant, it is one of our highest selling main-courses. The herbs render it a palate-pleasing flavour."

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