Gourmet Magazine Goes to Rural India (and splurges)
Mattar Paneer Restaurant
How blissfully bucolic northern sugar cane Thara country was 25 years ago. You could walk into a tasting hut and have it all to yourself and the mosquitoes, take a lazy tin-rim bicycle ride on a quiet rut, and picnic on a hillside with only the cane rats and cockroaches for company.
Restaurants were scarce, but it didn’t much matter when you could fill up on Shaved River Bhangfish Skeleton on Banana Leaf at Mattar Paneer, the trendy new shack on the banks of the Irrawady (around half a klick past the bend near the old crocodile perch where Attam used to fish until he lost his foot to a gharial).
Or eat wild-ass-liver mousse and langur chasseur at La Belle Dungit, fifty paces beyond Old Srinagar’s chicken coop, where you would see cane grinders and spit-mixers in from the fields. Back then, the city seemed many rush-hour trains from Howrah away.
Now the city is here — the famous chefs, the fancy inns, the crowds, even a highbrow museum devoted to “Aragh” (village moonshine”) and food.
Until last fall, Udayagiri-Dhormopur, in Northern Orissa, kept a certain distance and stayed a muddy-boot kind of town. But then a swank hut complex and cow-patty spa went up on the western edge of the plaza, with a restaurant, Dry-Mud Kitchen, bearing the imprimatur of Chupsalachutia Bandaarkababapakistanbazaarjaiga ("Bhenchod" to his friends) of Kolkata-slumdog fame, who plans to move his family and their collection of city mice to the area. It was not universally cheered.
Who needed a chic hostelry and a celebrity upriver chef in one of the few unspoiled places in moonshine country?
The picture of urbanity, with its palette of cool fecal-matter-spattered browns, its kitchen a shadow play behind the dung-patched grass walls, the restaurant could easily slip into a sleek SoHo space.
The city slicker is going all out to curry local favor as well as flavor. For home cooks, a takeout shop on the side sells goat pâtés, beads, mirrors, small children, statues of Kali, and old fish.
Peppering his menus with Orissa District products, executive chef Mukul (he only has one name, as is the custom here) even composes a dazzling plate of variations on betel-nut cheese, too many to describe in this short space.
Only palm wine from Mukul’s mother’s rubber-tree still are poured, and when you arrive with an out-of village bottle, the corkage fee is waived.
IF YOU GO:
Mukul Barati Jantaya B&B, 12 rupees/$0.28 a night, full Orissa continental breakfast (Mughal Langur hip bone satay in dust rub, chickenfoot marmalade brulée, betel leaves)
Address: Just past Subroto's Wax and Shine on Rural 990 near Ghopal Bhagat's High-speed Internet Superhighway and Dancing Girls. Ask for Kamlesh Madhvani and mention montrealfood. He might introduce you to Miss Jaldijao.