Ahead of the most wonderful time of the year, five of the city’s top chefs and mixologists invite us behind their culinary curtains and open up about some of their favourite holiday memories—plus serve up a treasured recipe or two. Ahead of Diwali, we speak to Manav Tuli, executive chef at Chaat at the Rosewood Hong Kong about the festive flavours of India.
Manav Tuli’s love affair with food started at home in central India, sparked by visits to the bustling bazaars with his mother and his father’s words “Most people eat to live, but there are a few who live to eat” that etched themselves in the young Tuli’s heart. As executive chef at Chaat, the Rosewood Hong Kong restaurant that reimagines and elevates Indian street food favourites, it’s Tuli’s mission to evoke that same delectable riot of aromas, flavours, grit, and personality that underscores not only the soul of Indian cuisine, but also the culture’s penchant for revelry and entertaining.
What’s your favourite celebration?
Diwali or Deepavali is my favourite festival. It’s one of the main festivals celebrated all over India. During childhood, the main excitement of Diwali used to be the whole atmosphere—mum making different sweets in-house one week prior to the festive day, getting new clothes, going with dad to the market to buy various things for the elaborate pooja, and the firecrackers that are traditionally set off for three days. It’s a feeling that cannot be replicated. You long for those five to ten days the whole year and once they pass by, you eagerly look forward to the next one to come fast.
What are some ingredients that instantly remind you of festivities back in India?
The aromas and flavours from the visits to the local spice market with my mum. She would often take me to these shops where she would meticulously choose the best spices from the lot and negotiate the best possible price—and then get him to combine the spices in her own proportions to make different spice mixes for her recipes. She had everything in her head, like a super-computer!
I didn’t think much of it at that time, but I think that’s where she was putting in the foundations for me to understand the spices in the way she used them. She would often tell me the basic principles she would follow for various recipes—for example, for chickpeas she would always use spices like black cardamom, cumin, and carom seeds. All those journeys have played a major role in my understanding of the spices and have honed the way I look at them to understand the end result even before the dish is made.
In the Tuli household, what are the elements that make a fabulous celebration?
I really like welcoming guests at home and treating them well. I firmly believe in the old Indian philosophy of “Atithi Devo Bhava”, which means revering guests with the same respect as a god—as they believe that a god can come to anyone’s house in any form, thus you should respect everyone who comes to your house.
The most important aspect of a festive party is the food. When I go to India, my family and friends often ask me to make dishes like nihari, egg biryani, mutton korma and paratha. These are good for sharing, and they bring back lots of fond memories of my childhood and the good times spent together.
For the uninitiated chef, what's a go-to dish that is simple and easy to make?
One of the dishes that is a staple to any Indian meal is the vegetable preparation—Gobi Aloo (Cauliflower and Potato). Different variations are done all over India.
I would like to share my own simple version of it:
Chaat, 5/F Rosewood Hong Kong, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, 5239 9220