Loya, launched at the Taj Palace in Delhi, features forgotten recipes from across North India

A waiter holds a Kulfi Pop at the Taj Palace in Delhi. | Photo credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

A few days ago a friend asked me to recommend a restaurant that served good North Indian food in the city. What do you mean by North India, I asked him. Punjab or Delhi? Or maybe Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh?

For most of us, North Indian cuisine has long translated into dal makhni and tandoori chicken – or maybe biryani and Korma. But that’s a tiny sliver of the north, stretching from Punjab and Delhi to Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kashmir and beyond. The region has a culinary treasure that unfortunately few know. And many of the region’s much-loved dishes (often slow-cooked) are slowly disappearing from our lives.

I still remember the taste of dal cooked over low heat in our village house. The dal simmered for hours in an earthenware pot, and we had it the next day with ghee-coated rotis. It was happiness.

I sampled some little-known Nordic dishes at a new restaurant called Loya at the Taj Palace. The restaurant offers several forgotten or very popular dishes on its menu, mostly picked from the north. Many of them are slow-cooked, a common culinary style in the region. Dum, for example, is a form of slow cooking that lets food cook on its own steam, locking in all the flavors.

A 'Dumba Kadhai' dish at the Taj Palace in Delhi.

A ‘Dumba Kadhai’ dish at the Taj Palace in Delhi. | Photo credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

I tried Loya dumba kadhai, a delicious dish of goat meat flavored with chopped peppers, ginger and black pepper and cooked over low heat. Another memorable dish was the kunna murgh from Punjab. It reminded me of my favorite Champaran meat, because like the specialty of Bihar, the kunna meat had been cooked in mustard oil in an earthen pot, and flavored with a large bulb of garlic. It had the added zest of stone flowers or patthar ke phool (also known as dagar phool).

A northern region that is now finding culinary fame is Moradabad. The meal began with a dal ki chaat – which was like Moradabadi dal, tempered with tomatoes and garlic. The dal came with crispy besan fries, and I found myself digging in with pleasure. The timbri jhinga hills of northern India, however, did not impress me much. The prawns had been marinated with pahadi bhang jeera chutney, but the flavors were a bit too mild I thought.

A 'Timbri Jhinga' dish at the Taj Palace in Delhi.

A ‘Timbri Jhinga’ dish at the Taj Palace in Delhi. | Photo credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

I have a long knowledge of Himachal Pradesh food, having spent several months there on several occasions, living on katti dal and oued sepu. The dish of urad dal dumplings is on the menu, as is that of Kangra khodiya gosht. The meat dish gets its smoky taste and intriguing black appearance from the shells of walnuts that have been roasted, powdered and added to the sauce.

Kangra Kodiya Gosht at the Taj Palace in Delhi.

Kangra Kodiya Gosht at the Taj Palace in Delhi. | Photo credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Chef Gagan Sikka from Loya tells me that another historic dish is gobi multani – who comes from an area that was once in Punjab and is now in Pakistan. In this dish, cauliflower is flavored with mustard seeds, wrapped and cooked in clay, then served with a cilantro emulsion.

Loya seeks to showcase northern dishes (with a few meanders here and there). The north, indeed, has so much to offer. I particularly remember a dish from Punjab called kot kapura chicken or chicken atta. For this, a whole chicken is wrapped in wheat flour and semolina, then coated in clay and roasted. Once done, the clay is broken open and the chicken is eaten with the crispy atta and suji crust.

And did I hear someone say Punjab is all about tandoor chicken?

(North Indian meal for two ₹6,400 (average) at Taj Palace Hotel; 2, Sardar Patel Marg; Tel: 011-26110202)

Kulfi Pop at the Taj Palace.

Kulfi Pop at the Taj Palace. | Photo credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

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Rozella J. Cook