Now you may be wondering who is ‘koko’? I’ll come to that a bit later. Let’s get back a few days when I was having a chat with a friend who is stuck in Bangalore for a few years. We were chatting about the food scene in Kolkata. He was wondering whether we’ve gotten over the Peter cat / mocambo hangover yet. That’s when I casually mentioned the name of Hakuna Matata.
“A veg restaurant in the heart of Park Street?”
“A veg restaurant serving alcohol? How does that even add up?”
Not only him, it was my exact reaction when I had first come to know of the place. & contrary to what one may think, this restaurant has been doing quite well since it’s inception. As a hard core non veg Bengali who claims to “eat anything & everything if it’s tasty”, I practically wrote off Hakuna when it started its operation last year. Exactly a year down the lane, the restaurant has steadily gained popularity & shines amidst the culinary giants in the foodie heaven of the city. Surely it’s not your average boozing joint. Though the drinks are competitively priced (they gave out beer for Re. 1 on their birthday, & have 99rs a cocktail offer if ordered along with food during the pujas), you better head over to Olypub across the street if you have the word ‘boozing’ in mind. Hakuna Matata is in a different league altogether when you talk about the food. It’s fusion, it’s presented beautifully, it tastes delicious & it’s something that has the capability of giving non veg foods a run for the money.
Coming back to ‘Koko’, heis their mascot who was chosen from a no. of entries from a designing competition (he’s got himself a girlfriend even, kiki, this valentine’s day). Now Koko & Kiki are currently on a culinary journey through the world map. Simply put, Hakuna Matata is organising a Fusion Food Fest, featuring a specific country for the whole month, for the next couple of months. They’ve started with South East Asia, which is in stark contrast to their western (if I ignore the desi styled) foods served until now. Our group PanchPhoron was invited over to try out the dishes from the special menu by the owner Mr. Prabhas & Mrs Pallavi themselve. We tasted a variety of dishes, from starters to mains, from beverages to desserts. Here’s a brief review of the whole experience.
We tried two versions of tea, one hot & one cold. I have to say both were poles apart & drastically different from what we usually call tea.
It’s a cold tea with some Thailand style flavours. The black tea is strong brewed & then cooled down, eventually sweetened using condensed milk. Furthermore coloured tapioca pearls are added to the mix. The overall drink is pretty sweet & creamy (of a milkshake consistency), & munching on the soft tapioca pearls was an added bonus even after the tea was finished.
Brewing Flower Tea:
Note the use of word ‘brewing’ & not ‘brewed’. It’s prepared at the table itself by dropping a ‘blooming/flowering tea ball’ into a clear pot of boiling water. With time, the ball unwraps into a beautiful floral garland, which is an awesome inspiring sight! It’s pretty, it’s fragrant, it’s tasty. In our case the tea was litchi flavoured, the top of the garland even had a red clover blossom resembling a litchee fruit, with some dried fruit in the middle & a bunch of tea leaves at the bottom. The flavour was subtle yet mesmerising. Didn’t even know these beauties are available in Kolkata. If not for anything else, I’m going back for this tea.
Looks something like this video.
Asian Spiced Broth:
When this one arrived, I was pretty sure it was going to be a cocktail. I mean a tender coconut shell! Some restaurants do serve shrimps in this way, but Hakuna isn’t a non veg joint! However, it turned out to be a soup, inspired by the Vietnamese Pho soup. Now Vietnamese cuisine & vegetarian food don’t really go together that well. However the chef has done a wonderful job here. Preparing the noodles soup with loads of thick noodles, chopped onion & garlic, not to mention lime, lemongrass & coriander.
The soup is served along with crisp fried rice noodles, which I immediately dipped into the soup & finished in less than a minute. The soup was delicious. Both the cooked & fried noodles imparted a unique texture to it. Even after the soup was finished, I was all the more excited & happy to find the inside of the coconut shell lined with soft flesh. Dug in with the spoon, & had a gala time.
Enough with the amazing soup, we moved on the next segment.
Gn Tso’s Cauliflower:
Now I didn’t know the ingredients let alone the name of the dish as it arrived at the table. After clicking loads of pictures when I took a closer look I was half expecting it to be some form of meat. I had almost forgotten that I was in a veg restaurant. There were small cubes of ‘something’ sautéed in a dark sauce & toasted sesame seeds. On top of it was a crispy fried thick noodles. Now the sauce itself is derived from ‘General Tso’s Chicken recipe’, a hot favourite in American Chinese recipe. It’s Predominantly sweet & sour & the crispy fried batter coating had imbibed it well. Only after chewing through the cubes did I find out it isn’t chicken, rather just diced cauliflower. Was I missing the meat? Hell no! It was a beautiful dish, cooked perfectly & a welcome change to the regular crispy fried babycorn!
Katori is the common Hindi word used for small bowls and baskets. What this dish essentially is , a mix of items served in a fried wanton sheet shaped like a mini bowl. When I say mix, I mean a no. of things sourced from different cuisines. It had some noodles tossed with thinly julienned bell pepper, beetroot quenelles & baked apple wedges wrapped in more sheets (the same seaweed paper used to wrap sushi).
The katoris are accompanied by a sweet & spicy Chinese sauce. The wanton Katori itself was fried to crispness while the contents had varied textures. A dollop of goat cheese was placed on the top. With some of the Chinese sauce sprinkled on top, the katoris were again a delight to have.
Soup & starters down, I was now awaiting what surprise the main course had to offer.
Mushroom Sticky Rice:
Don’t be fooled by the name. It’s a all in one meal accompanied by a bowl of soup & some fritters. The rice itself came wrapped in a plantain leaf. Now sticky rice is a fairly common South East Asian delicacy, here if I’m not wrong fragrant ‘atap chaal’ (commonly used for preparing latest or rice kheer) was cooked along with finely chopped mushrooms & ginger. Somehow I found the rice a bit letdown. However the steaming soup served alongside was amply delicious with veg dumplings in it. The fritters were actually pumpkin flowers batter fried ( commonly called kumro ful er bora in Bengali). May be I was supposed to have the rice & soup together, but the rice by itself didn’t seem that great. The fritter & the broth on the other hand tasted amazing.
Veggie Banh Xèo:
Or as they call it Vietnamese vegetable crepes. A batter made from rice flower, coconut milk & turmeric (which imparts the yellow colour & makes you mistake it for gram flour) is fried into thin crepes. The crepes had a thick filling of salad prepared with tomatoes, onions & some toasted nuts, not to forget some grated cottage cheese & ample amount of lemon juice. The crepes come with a dip, ‘ tomato coulis’, a spicy red one, which would help to combat the sourness of the dish. The slightly dry yet soft crepes, along with juicy salad & crunchy peanuts & cashews make for an inimitable texture & taste which I’m going to relish for a very long time.
Highly full by the time we finished the crepes, we had hardly any space for deserts, but the item was looking beautiful, & noway could we refuse it.
Green Tea & Lemon Pannacotta:
A predominantly Italian dish gets a South Asian makeover through the use of green tea & infused Kaffir lime. The gelatin based dessert was soft, creamy with great flavours to the tastebuds. The Pannacotta was served along with pieces of sugarcane jellies to sweeten things a bit more. Again the item was highly enjoyable & we ended the meal on a perfect note.
Needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed this culinary adventure through the South Eastern part of Asia. I’ve had various dishes from Thai, Malay & even Japanese cuisines in the past. But most if not all had been non veg items. From beef skewers to roasted pork or even raw fish, those dishes have had always inspired awe in me with their spices & tastes. Hakuna Matata’s vegetarian offerings have opened up a different side of these cultures to me. It was an absolute pleasure to have tasted these along with Koko. I wish him all the best as he continues his world tour in the coming months!
What: South East Asian Fusion Food Festival
Where: Hakuna Matata, Park Street
When: 7th to 13th September ’16