When the Embassy of India Manila and the India Business Forum Association of the Philippines Inc. joined the recent Mindanao Food Congress as a “Partner Country”, it marked the first time that the Oro Chamber as the congress organizer ever had a partner country.
However, the Embassy and the IBF wanted to bring to Cagayan de Oro not only their business networks but also a glimpse of their culture as well.
Thus, on the first night of the congress on 26 October 2022, the two organizations joined forces for the India Cultural Night highlighted for the first time ever in the city by a glimpse into India’s celebrated Diwali Festival, famous the world over as India’s “Festival of Lights.”
Besides the lighting of all participants’ tea lights to evoke the spiritual ambience of Diwali, the night’s festivities were also highlighted by the performance of the famous Bhangra dance, and most especially, by the food tasting of Indian dishes by three of India’s most famous Manila-based restaurants.
The highlight of the evening came with the serving of a traditional meal of chicken biryani, murgh makhana (butter chicken) and laddu, a dessert that’s often served during festive or religious occasions.
H.E. Shambhu S. Kumaran, India Ambassador to the Philippines, said the first two dishes were prepared by Messrs. Happy Singh and Tumkesh Khera of Flavours by Vana’s Authentic Indian Cuisine in Makati City, while the laddu was prepared by the staff of Mr. Rameash TK’s Annappoorna Restaurant in Mandaluyong City. He lauded the owners and staff of the two restaurants for being up to the challenge of preparing the dishes at short notice in a far-off location.
Chicken biryani is a popular Indian dish served on special occasions which is made with long-grained rice (like basmati) flavored with fragrant spices such as saffron and vegetables and a thick gravy.
As remarked by a local chef, there are several main types of biryani specific to certain communities which are named after the place where it was created like Sindhi biryani, Hyderabadi biryani, Malabar biryani (from H.E. Kumaran’s home province of Kerala), Calcutta/Kolata biryani, Ambur biryani, Lucknowi biryani, Mughlai biryani, and Kalyani biryani, to name a few.
Murgh Makhani (better known as butter chicken) is a type of curry made from chicken with a spiced tomato and butter (makhan) sauce known for its rich texture. Chicken is marinated for several hours in a mixture of lemon juice, dahi (yogurt), Kashmiri red chili, salt, garam masala, ginger paste, and garlic paste then cooked in a tandoor (traditional clay oven), but may also be grilled, over-roasted, or pan-fried.
The sauce is a tomato, garlic, and ginger-based sauce that is simmered until smooth and much of the water has evaporated. There are many variations on the composition and spicing of the sauce, which is strained to make it velvety smooth.
Not the least, Laddu (or laddoo) is a spherical sweet primarily made from flour, fat (ghee/butter/oil) and sugar or jaggery. They are often made of gram flour but can also be made with semolina. Sometimes ingredients such as chopped nuts and/or dried raisins are added, but vary with each recipe.
In a recent correspondence with this author, Mr. Tumkesh Khera of Flavours by Vana’s Authentic Indian Cuisine in Makati City shared his experience in bringing in the flavors of India to Cagayan de Oro.
It is said “If you have good intentions to do something, the entire forces of the universe will support you to achieve,” Mr. Khera said.
“This is exactly what happened when we were invited by the first secretary Mr. Nishikant Singh – (Economic & Commerce) and the team of India Business Forum (IBF) to support the Mindanao Food Congress held in Cagayan de Oro.”
Initially, the management and staff were a bit apprehensive to commit themselves for the said event as there was an expected heavy work load during the congress days which were in conflicting with the Diwali- the Festival of Lights of the Hindus,
The cause seemed to be perfect, with ‘India’ being highlighted as the ‘Partner Country’ in the ‘Mindanao Food Congress’ with an India Pavilion set up by the Embassy of India to showcase the success stories of Indian businesses, and most important, celebrate the Diwali Festival with Filipino friends in Cagayan de Oro.
“This was motivating and very aspiring for Flavours to say yes,” Mr. Khera admitted. “We did not only have an opportunity not only to showcase the Festival of Lights , but also to bring the Flavours of India at the door step of Cagayan de Oro as well.”
However, preparing Chicken Biryani and Butter Chicken for 600-700 people presented quite a bit of hurdles. Among them was moving raw materials like Special Basmati rice (Long Grain rice that is the only rice used for Biryani, a popular Indian dish served on special occasions which is made with long-grained rice (like basmati) flavored with fragrant spices such as saffron, herbs and vegetables, with meat and a thick gravy cooked and smeared for hours to bring those Flavours); special spices and herbs which had to be moved from Manila to CDO, as well as the special cooking utensils to be used in preparing the dishes.
“The next big challenge was the chef and the assistant cooks who are specialized in cooking these two Flavourful dishes,” Mr. Khera related. “Our head chef Balbir Singh started training the local cooks to handle the workload. So while he is out for those two days in Cagayan de Oro, we still had to ensure that our operations back in Manila did not suffer during that most important Diwali Festival week.”
D – day finally came on October 25th when the party reached Cagayan de Oro. They approached a few fellow Indians who wholeheartedly agreed to open their humble homes set up their kitchen. They were also supported by the organizers and everyone who was a part of the event.
“During the evening of October 26th , we witnessed the crowd enjoying various cultural presentations of India, the lighting of the lamps by Filipino friends marking a close bond of friendship between the two countries, was surely a sight not to be missed,” Mr. Khera noted.
Everyone was served with Chicken Biryani and Butter chicken to the satisfaction of the very tired but satisfied cooks who enjoyed the sight of everyone enjoying the Flavours of India.
“Truly we made the right choice bringing Flavours – Indian and Mediterranean restaurant from Manila to the door step of Cagayan de Oro,” Mr. Khera noted. “We are looking forward to celebrating more such occasions with Filipino friends again.”