Celebrating indigenous ingredients at The Tangra Project

Radha Tilak, an heirloom rice variety from Bengal, is at the heart of Rice Heist, a food festival at The Tangra Project, Chef Vikramjit Roy’s latest venture that is pushing the culinary envelope — one dish at a time. 
The eclectic interiors of the tangra project are by studio pomegranate
The eclectic interiors of The Tangra Project are by Studio Pomegranate

Within a few months of opening, The Tangra Project in Commons at DLF Avenue, Delhi is the toast of the town. This just goes to show that if you serve good food, even if it’s unfamiliar, diners will embrace it. Delhi’s belly is getting adventurous and the flavour of the season seems to be Kolkata. 

True to name, many of the dishes are inspired by Kolkata’s Chinese restaurants and China Town. Chef Vikramjit’s speciality is Asian — in the past, he has been associated with brands like Wasabi by Morimoto and Tian — and it probably made sense to build a menu around that. However, the food at The Tangra Project ventures well beyond Tangra. It is a homage to the food of Kolkata, a city that lives only to eat. Expectations are therefore high especially for those who have roots in Bengal. In the event, Chef Vikramjit does not disappoint. In fact, he flies with the menu. Perhaps literally as well considering how he flits from table to table when The Tangra Project is packed. Pity I couldn’t meet the chef; the restaurant was just too busy (and that’s a good thing these days, right?). But no matter — I was there for the food. 

The excuse was Rice Heist, a food festival at the restaurant celebrating an heirloom variety of rice from Nadia and neighbouring districts of Bengal. The fragrant, long-grained rice in question, Radha Tilak, is entwined with the folklore of the Vaishnav sect and is believed to be a favourite of Radha, Krishna’s consort. 

The beauty of rice is its adaptability. It can be used as is. The starch can be a base for soups and broths. As a flour the possibilities are endless. And rice lends itself effortlessly to both Chinese and Bengali dishes. The festival menu too is a mix, ranging from congee to khichuri, and it wasn’t long before I was digging in. 

Co-founders of the tangra project (left to right): anurodh samal, chef vikramjit roy and vir kotak
Co-founders of The Tangra Project
(left to right): Anurodh Samal, Chef Vikramjit Roy and Vir Kotak

The chicken broth made with rice starch and tempered with chilli oil was just what one needed on a nippy winter afternoon. The Prawn Cheung Fun (a Cantonese steamed rice noodle roll) was stunning. Other cheung fun stuffing options include crispy poi saag, mushroom and chicken. Perhaps congee after the broth was overkill but one cannot say no to this ultimate comfort food of the East.The most stunning debut were the soft tacos. I’m guessing they are inspired by soru chakli, a rice-flour crepe popular across eastern India. I tried two fillings: sticky pork belly, which you can never go wrong with, and the aam murabba chhena. 

Spinach in sesame sauce (left) and mochar chop (banana blossom croquettes) are not to be missed at the tangra project
Spinach in sesame sauce (left) and mochar chop (banana blossom croquettes) are not to be missed at The Tangra Project
Some highlights from the rice heist food festival at the tangra project (left to right): chicken broth, prawn cheung fan and soft tacos.
Some highlights from the Rice Heist food festival at The Tangra Project (left to right): chicken broth, Prawn Cheung Fan and soft tacos

Based on the response of diners, some of the dishes may be incorporated into the main menu going forward, Anurodh Samal, Chef Vikramjit’s business partner (the third partner is Vir Kotak), told us. I’m certainly gunning for the inclusion of the tacos. 

If there is one dish Chef Vikramjit is synonymous with it is his Japanese-inspired spinach in sesame sauce, a dish intense and perfectly flavoured which has featured on all his menus. The chef would not have to create another stellar dish to seal his reputation. But, as they say, khel abhi baaki hai. So he continues to conjure up stunning dish after stunning dish. If you ask me, the aam murabba chhena, with its prefect balance of flavours, has the makings of a classic which could unseat the spinach in sesame sauce as his signature creation.

Paturi, the banana-leaf wrapped delicacy, at the tangra project
Paturi, the banana-leaf wrapped delicacy, at The Tangra Project

Even if it’s the food festival that has drawn you there, you cannot come all the way and not try some of the best-selling stuff from the main menu or request personal favourites. Indeed, the festival menu works best interspersed with some of the popular offerings from the main menu. I mean, there was no way I was going to let a food festival get in between me and my mochar chop (banana blossom croquette). The iteration at The Tangra Project is possibly the best I’ve had. Chef Vikramjit’s inventive tweaks also breathe new life into old dishes like paturi, which at The Tangra Project replaces the fish that is typically steamed in banana leaf with prawns.  

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Black and white photographs on the walls evoke nostalgia at the tangra project
Black and white photographs on the walls evoke nostalgia at The Tangra Project

The restaurant is set at a corner of the Commons, an oddly shaped space. But the designers— Studio Pomegranate—rose to the challenge and used the space to their advantage. The quirky fish mural, spread across several walls, is a key highlight. 

I have it on good authority that if Chef Vikramjit had had his way, the menu would be double in size. Nevertheless, it’s extensive enough and you’ll need several visits even to graze the surface. 

As for Rice Heist, most of the dishes work beautifully, and some are stellar. The Dhakai Pulao may need more tweaking though. I had the chicken version and, although it was redolent with garam masala, it lacked flavour. The yoghurt-based ghol it was served with, and which one was supposed to pour on to the pulao, did not help matters. It was way too sweet. On the other hand, the payesh (rice pudding) could have been a tad sweeter. Going low on sugar is all very well but a dessert should still taste a bit sweet.

No bengali meal is complete without a sweet finish, in this case payesh or rice pudding
No Bengali meal is complete without a sweet finish, in this case payesh or rice pudding

It’s a pity I could not try the Pishpash, an Anglo-Indian comfort dish and one of my favourite foods, but I was really too stuffed by then.

Just remember to have a couch handy to indulge in some post-prandial bhaat ghoom, the food coma that only rice can induce. And, as the Bengalis say, “Baro maashe, tero parbon” (“13 festivals in 12 months”). May the festivals keep coming at The Tangra Project and the celebrations of food continue for a long time to come. 

The Tangra Project, Unit No. 154-159 Commons, DLF Avenue, Saket, New Delhi, Delhi 110017; +91-8929925253

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