It’s raining mangoes at The Spice Route

‘Mumma’s Mango Collection’ at The Spice Route at The Imperial, New Delhi is a food festival like no other, with Chef Veena Arora, the big mama of all chefs, presiding over a special summer menu which has mango in everything, including in some very surprising places.
Chef veena arora has nurtured the spice route since its inception.
Chef Veena Arora has nurtured The Spice Route since its inception.

Chef Veena Arora is one of the most genial chefs around, and wears her stature lightly, given the years of experience she has and the formidable reputation of The Spice Route at The Imperial, New Delhi, a restaurant she has nurtured from the ground up.

Designed by Rajeev Sethi (he is the same guy who is behind the innovative art programme at Mumbai’s T2 terminal), it’s a stunning restaurant, and was seven years in the making, with mural painters from a temple in Guruvayur hand painting the entire restaurant with vegetable and flower-based dyes.

Raw mango salad (left); and crisy, wok-fried lamb with mango. Images: traveldine/amit dixit.
Raw mango salad (left); and crispy, wok-fried lamb with mango at The Spice Route. Images: Traveldine/Amit Dixit.

Chef Veena Arora brings the same attention to detail to her menu, inspired by the spices and flavours of the Spice Route. “I have been doing summer collection menus for years as a celebration of the season,” she says, “This year the menu features most of my new creations and is dedicated to me — Mumma of The Spice Route! However, this year I seek to bring in curries from Kerala and craft my own version of the recipes, with raw and ripe mango. They are complemented by meats, veggies and exotic spices. I have tried to blend Thai cuisine with mangoes, the favourite summer fruit, in my earlier menus. But since I am deeply fond of Kerala spices and the exquisite southern flavours its cuisine has, my menu this year brings in delish curries keeping mango central to the palate, layered and balanced with other flavours.”

The mango festival at the imperial has a stupendous array of dishes. Image: traveldine/amit dixit.
The mango festival at The Imperial has a stupendous array of dishes. Image: Traveldine/Amit Dixit.

It’s impressive just how many dishes can be made with mango, a fruit that seems to pair as successfully with prawns as with lamb. This was borne out by the dishes I sampled from Chef Veena’s special mango menu. But first came a drink, made with raw and ripe mango, garnished with chia seeds. Think aam panna, but only better, with the perfect balance of sweet and tang.

The first dish I tried was one of the most successful, with some of my fellow diners requesting repeat portions. This was the Yum Mamuang, a salad of fresh grated green mango tossed in a spicy and tangy Thai dressing. Think Som Tam, but with mango. There’s an option to add dry shrimp and battered fried prawns, in which case it becomes a Yum Mamuang Kung Krob.

Chef veena arora demonstrating how to make a raw mango salad.
Chef Veena Arora demonstrating how to make a raw mango salad.

Another dish that proved to be a revelation was the Pacha Mangai Rassam. What a difference the addition of green mango can do to a rassam, that light, spicy broth of lentils from, in this case, Kerala.

Adding mangoes to curry in summer is, of course, a time-honoured tradition in southern India. The Spice Route has followed suit, with the Alleppey Mangai Curry which I tried and loved. Mango also works surprisingly well with mutton, as was evidenced in the Attirachi Pacha Mangai Curry and the Pacha Mangai Irachi, the latter a starter of crispy lamb slices, wok fried with ripe and raw mangoes.

The pacha mangai rassam (left); and the amba curry, at the imperial's mango festival.
The Pacha Mangai Rassam (left); and the Amba Curry, at The Imperial’s mango festival.

Chef Veena elaborated further on the menu: “We also have Pacha Mangai Katrikai Curry, eggplant and raw mango simmered in a Kerala curry, among the dishes presented for the first time at The Spice Route. I have also included some of the popular favourites in the menu like Amba Curry, my special Sri Lankan raw mango and assorted vegetable curry; Ga Xao Hot Dieu, stir-fried chicken with fresh mangoes & cashew nuts Vietnamese style; and Pla-E-Saan, crispy fillets of sole served with spicy palm sugar & shredded raw mango sauce, garnished with fresh green mint.

You cannot visit The Spice Route and not end your meal with Khao Neow Mamuang, Thailand’s favourite dessert which you might know as mango sticky rice. The Imperial’s version is truly regal, with the mango cut beautifully into a fan. I sampled it with safeda, one of the first mangoes to hit the markets. As the season moves on, different mangoes will be used in the dessert, as well as in the other dishes. Those with a sweet tooth should note that, in the interests of authenticity, this is not a very sweet dessert. You will do well to additionally order one of their homemade ice creams, available in four flavours: coconut, fig, coffee and mango.

Mango with sticky rice is one of the highlights of the festival and a silk route fixture.
Mango with sticky rice is one of the highlights of the festival and a Silk Route fixture.

The mango lovers feast is available at The Spice Route at The Imperial till 30th June, 2022.
Timings: Lunch 12:30 pm to 2:45 pm and Dinner 7 pm to 11:45 pm
Price: Rs 6,000 + taxes for two people without alcohol
For table reservations, call +91-11-41116605/34

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