Shopping with the chef

One bright morning, J.P. Singh, the executive chef of the world-famous Bukhara, went to the market. MORE tagged along.

Bibek Bhattacharya | Print Edition: April 5, 2009

Chef J.P. Singh has seen it all. He’s worked up the ranks of a pinnacle restaurant for—count ’em—18 years. And in that time he has fed the finest North West Frontier Province cuisine to celebrities and world leaders, from Vladimir Putin to Bill Clinton. And with distinction, too. Clinton told him that Bukhara’s food was the best that he’s had in his eight years as President. One thing Chef Singh learned early on is that great meals begin with great ingredients. So when he invited us to go to the market with him one day, we jumped at the chance.

The Man
Chef Singh comes from a family of architects in Patna, Bihar, and as a kid, he wanted to be a doctor. But he loved looking over his mother’s shoulder when she cooked. He was fascinated by the versatility of food. “It is amazing how a single humble vegetable can provide an entire meal, from the starter to the dessert,” he says.

Jumbo Prawns
INA Market is best-known for its fresh seafood, usually from the Gujarat coast. One of the highlights are the jumbo prawns, like these at the Bombay Fish Shop. At a whopping Rs 400/ kg, these 400 gm monsters are a big draw. So the next time that you bite into a succulent tandoori jhingha—one of Bukhara’s signature dishes—these are the very crustaceans.

Red Handed
A restaurant of Bukhara’s stature doesn’t actually buy its ingredients from the market. A dedicated network of vendors do that for them. But Chef Singh says it helps him figure out the going price for meats and spices, two things for which Bukhara is famous. Here, a young boy carries skinned and cured meat from the butcher to the INA Market in South Delhi, one of the biggest and oldest fresh produce markets in Delhi.

A Quick Tutorial

Chef Singh gives us a crash course in mutton. Choosing the right kind of mutton is essential, he says. The easiest way to spot the fresh stuff is by its soft, pink colour. Incidentally, the Chef’s family is vegetarian.

Meat of the Matter
On the left is Mohammad Salim, who has been working at the Indian Mutton Centre for 15 years, wielding the cleaver to clinical effect. He and Chef Singh discuss the difference between a leg of lamb and a leg of mutton. Evidently, a leg of lamb is longer than a leg of mutton, which makes the latter perfect for making a ran, another of Bukhara’s signature dishes.

Shimla Mirch
That’s what the humble capsicum is called in Hindi, a way more grand name for the vegetable. If you think there’s nothing in Bukhara for vegetarians, don’t worry. Try the excellent Bharwan Shimla Mirch, a veritable delicacy.

All about the Daal

A popular meal at the restaurant is the kebab platter, and choice of paranthas with its vegetarian delicacy—the daal bukhara. Made from black daal, you get some of the best at INA Market.

Master of Ceremonies
Back at the restaurant, it’s time for lunch. The Chef dons his hat and checks a row of marinated kebabs. While the delicious daal bukhara simmers in a massive pot, and the pudina paranthas come thick and fast, it’s inspection time for the meat and fish which will go into the famous Bukhara meat platter. Tip: Try it while sipping nimbu paani. And end your meal with a sweet paan. Burp.

Note: To maintain quality and taste, Bukhara’s provisions come from a number of special vendors, and all the ingredients used are carefully selected and tested before being cooked. The provisions are not bought at markets.

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