Food for Thought
The day at Wild Mahseer typically begins in the dining pavilion with a planters’ breakfast of eggs, grilled fresh tomatoes, baked beans, chana masala (a north Indian spicy chickpea curry) accompanied by puris (deep fried light, puffy breads) and freshly squeezed seasonal juices such as orange or pomegranate and of course, a pot of tea.
Both lunch and dinner could include a mix of Indian and British dishes. Over the years some traditional British dishes have become tailored to the planters’ maturing, assimilated palates as Assamese and Indian cooking fused with the Scottish and English fare which was introduced when India was a British colony. As a result a complete repertoire of dishes has evolved into the Anglo-Indian cuisine we know today. Shepherds Pie cooked on a tea estate in Assam is an experience that should not be missed.
Desserts were compulsory at colonial dinners – another culinary tradition lovingly preserved at Wild Mahseer – where sweets include forgotten British treats like bread and butter pudding, voluptuous trifles and wobbly caramel custards as well as Indian delights such as gulab jamun (balls of dough deep fried and served in a syrupy sugar sauce flavoured with cardamom seeds, rosewater and saffron).
As far as possible all the food prepared on the estate is organically homegrown or organically grown on local farms while remaining true to traditional ingredients and planters’ fare. Our chefs cook a range of North Indian, Assamese and Anglo-Indian cuisine.
Food is a central component of the Wild Mahseer experience, just as it was a focal point of the tea planters’ lifestyle. The work was tough and long – both physically and mentally demanding – not just for the men of the bungalows, but for their wives too. Back in the day they were totally self-sufficient and the Burra Memsahib and her staff did everything from making potato crisps by finely slicing peeled potatoes and deep-frying them to serve as a tidbit with drinks when the big boss, the estate’s Visiting Agent, stopped over while making his inspection, to milking the cows kept on the property... not to mention protecting the vegetable garden from tribes of marauding macaque monkeys! There was no electricity back then so everyone had to depend on paraffin fridges and oil lamps. In the rainy season the bamboo bridges over the rivers would get washed away isolating the plantations and necessities had to be air dropped by light planes.
Since British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay included fish tenga among one of his 100 favourite recipes in the world and aired it on the BBC TV Channel 4 show Gordon’s Great Escape, it has gone global. And so has interest in Assamese cuisine.
A formal Assamese dinner is served on kahi (plates) and bati (bowls) made by local artisans out of bell-metal – a mixture of brass and iron – the second largest and one of the oldest traditional cottage industries for which Assam is famous all over India.
Let our staff know in advance if you would like them to prepare you a traditional Assamese banquet.
Authentic Assamese cuisine uses few spices however strong flavours, a product of the selection of exotic local herbs, fruits and vegetables available in the region, predominate. For example mustard oil, a key ingredient in Assamese cooking, is used for frying. It grows abundantly and when venturing down a little deserted track with the distant snow-capped Himalayas outlined against a brilliant blue sky, nothing can be more uplifting than turning a corner only to be blinded by a brilliant blooming field of mustard.
A typical Assamese meal will combine a number of different tastes and flavours. It will always start with khar, usually made with vegetables (Amita Khar is creamy papaya) and cooked with a liquid resulting from burning the dry trunk of a banana tree and mixing the ashes with water. As this process is rather tedious these days bicarbonate of soda is used instead. Khar is alkaline and is the perfect starter since it aids digestion and keeps the stomach light throughout and after the meal.
Next several complimentary tasting dishes will be served: like Gordon Ramsay’s favourite the tart, light and tasty fish dish (Machor Tenga Jhol) its tanginess resulting from not-too-sweet tomatoes and the juice of kagzi lemons; a richer pigeon curry (Parah Anja) cooked in a dark gravy; the tempering taste of mashed aubergine butter (Begena-Pitika); the sharpness of Assamese mashed potatoes cooked with green chillies and mustard oil (Aloo Pitika); the simplicity of baked freshwater fish served on banana leaves (Patot-Diya-Saru-Mach); a salad of chopped cucumber and tomato; a tomato sweet and sour chutney (Bilahi-Ambal), large green olives (Jolphai) and a bowl of boiled fragrant Assamese Joha rice.
Dessert could include sesame seeds fried with molasses and stuffed into a flaky rice powder pancake mix roll (Til Pitha), grated coconut and sugar stuffed into a flaky rice powder pancake mix roll (Nariyal Pitha), rice powder mixed with milk, molasses and raisins (Payas), sesame seed balls (Til Laddu) and fried shredded coconut and sugar balls (Nariyal Laddu).
Given sufficient notice our staff is happy to prepare a traditional Assamese meal.
Viticulture has a long history in India dating back to the civilisation of the Indus valley when it is believed Persian traders introduced grapevines in the 4th millennia BC. Vineyards range from the more temperate climate of the northwestern state of the Punjab down to the tropical climate belt where, because of the heat and humidity, grapes need to be planted at higher altitudes.
India has some indigenous table grapes as well as popular non-native grapes. The Turkish Sultana is the most widely planted and covers more than half the 148,000 total acreage under wine in India.
The top 5 Indian Wineries are:
1 Indage or Chateau Indage
2 Grover Vineyards
4 Sankalp Wines
5 Renaissance Wines
However, as Indians traditionally prefer tippling on branded whiskys and rum, wine drinking as an industry is still in its infancy so even local wines are expensive and not available in all parts of India.
Sula’s wines, however, can usually be made available to guests (especially if interest is expressed in advance). Their flagship red wine, the Dindori Reserve Shiraz, is rated very highly and leads a rich and satisfying range of reds that includes the very palatable Sula Red Zinfandel. Sula also boasts India’s first Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc.
Dindori Reserve Shiraz
Grown on the red hills of Sula’s Dindori estate and aged for a year in new oak, their Reserve Shiraz is full-bodied, fragrant, elegant and smooth, with lush berry flavours and silky tannins.
Sula Red Zinfandel
A luscious, jammy, red Zinfandel redolent with blackberry aromas and cinnamon and plum flavours.
Sula Sauvignon Blanc
Herbaceous, crisp and dry, with hints of green pepper and a touch of spice at the finish, this wine is well balanced with good acidity.
Sula Chenin Blanc
A semi-dry, refreshingly light wine that bursts with pineapple and stone fruit.