A Few of Our Favorite Things: A Jewel in Its Own Right

The following is a guest post by Shangri La guide Susan Killeen.

While showing guests through the Syrian Room at Shangri La, one of my joys is lighting up the low tea table (65.9) under the nineteenth-century Moroccan embroidered and appliqued textile in the smaller room. It’s as if the table waits patiently in the dimly lit space to perform for visitors when the light shines, and it never fails to elicit a chorus of oooos.

Table (khwan) (65.9). Iran, late nineteenth-early twentieth century. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)
Table (khwan) (65.9). Iran, late nineteenth-early twentieth century. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)

The table, or khwan, is a beauty from late nineteenth–early twentieth-century Iran, probably the Qajar period. When created, it very likely did not have the same legs, and may have had short ones to elevate it just slightly. Rather than a table, this ornate piece was most likely an elaborate tray or “trencher” as it might be called. One might imagine that it once carried an array of sweet and savory dishes to be shared with guests.

Detail of table (65.9). Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)
Detail of table (65.9). Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)

An excellent example of the artistic genius found in Islamic art, the table asserts the details of geometry, calligraphy, floral, and figurative imagery—a visual delight. The surface is a painted, gilded, and lacquered wood graced with scenes of princely life. Exquisitely featured medallions or cartouches depict several figures in a forest landscape with a variety of birds and wild animals. A number of leisurely figures interact while two youths demonstrate their prowess on horseback. The overall dimensions of the piece are 11 3/8 x 32 5/8 x 62 inches.

A narrow, floral border frames the central panel. Inscriptions of Persian poetry surround the edges of the table, beginning in the upper right hand corner and continuing around to the left. True to the artistic culture and custom of the period, the poetry (translated by former scholar-in-residence Wheeler Thackston) praises the table for its beauty and service:

habbaza khwane ki naqshash bas khwash u zebasti
O what a marvelous table, the design of which is so pleasing! How beautiful you are!

hamchu chihr-i dilbaran janbakhsh u ruhafzasti
Like the countenances of charmers, you are life-giving and spirit-increasing.

rashk-i naqsh-i Azar u Mani ki naqshash chun nigar
A design so beautiful it would make Azer and Mani jealous.

dilsitan u naghz u khwash u zebasti
Ravishing, comely, beautiful, good, and charming you are.

inchunin alhaq qarin-i khanda khwan u naqsh band
Thus truly a table and design coupled with laughter.

diljo-i bazm-i shahanshah-i jahan-arasti
You are a comfort at the banquet of a world-adorning king of kings.

For me, the fact that an otherwise utilitarian object would be so charmingly embellished speaks to the fact that the arts have the power to lift us up and enrich the function and beauty of the everyday items we use. The artisans of Islamic culture certainly appreciated this concept as a way of life.

susanAbout the Guest Author: Susan Killeen is a writer and producer, having worked in television and on educational documentaries. She served as executive director of the Hawaii Consortium for the Arts and as President of the Honolulu Pen Women. She has taught creative writing and has worked as an interpretive guide at Shangri La since 2011.

Chefs from Taj Palace Hotel Prepare the Best of Mughal Cuisine in Honolulu

Hemant Oberoi, Grand Executive Chef at the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, and his colleagues, Chefs Shanty Prasad Nautiyal and Ashok Sangale, traveled to Honolulu for a week in October to help kick off a year of public programming in celebration of the opening of the Mughal Suite at Shangri La. On October 6, the chefs shared secret recipes and preparation techniques for contemporary Mughal-themed dishes with students enrolled in the University of Hawai‘i’s Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapi‘olani Community College. Following that, a second demonstration and tasting session was presented to 120 members of the general public.

Chef Oberoi teaches Kapi‘olani Community College culinary arts students how to make murg khatta pyaz. Shangri La, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Chef Oberoi teaches Kapi‘olani Community College culinary arts students how to make murg khatta pyaz. Shangri La, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Hemant Oberoi is a master storyteller as well as a highly innovative award-winning chef, who is credited with bringing Indian cuisine into a world-class arena. As he deftly sautéed chicken, a variety of select Indian spices, tomatoes, and pickled onions to demonstrate the preparation of murg khatta pyaz (naga chilli chicken—see recipe below), he talked about the importance of understanding traditional cooking techniques. “You should never forget your roots, or your roots will forget you,” he cautioned. He also imparted some sage advice to his audience of fledgling chefs from the culinary institute. “Be sure to learn the basics before you attempt fusion, or you will cause confusion,” he advised. The audience laughed when he told them, “You know, India had the original Iron Chefs! In the past, the chefs used real irons to press and flatten ingredients used in cooking.” He also had a bone to pick with the export of Indian cuisine. “For many years, London was our worst enemy,” he said. “There were bad Indian restaurants on every block, and people thought that was the real Indian cuisine. Fortunately, the situation is slowly improving.”

On October 9, members of the Honolulu chapter of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs were treated to an unforgettable meal prepared by Halekulani Executive Chef Vikram Garg, Chef Oberoi, and the Taj chefs. This event was organized to help raise awareness and funds for the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapi‘olani Community College. According to staff at the Halekulani, chefs Vikram and Hemant spent an entire week in the Halekulani kitchens cooking, comparing recipes, and experimenting with new dishes.

Mughal Suite opening dinner, prepared by Taj chefs and master chefs and students from the Culinary Institute of the Pacific, October 11, 2014. Shangri La, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Mughal Suite opening dinner, prepared by Taj chefs and master chefs and students from the Culinary Institute of the Pacific, October 11, 2014. Shangri La, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Hemant Oberoi and his colleagues topped off their week in Honolulu on October 11 by preparing a memorable Mughal feast for the opening celebration for Shangri La’s Mughal Suite. The Taj chefs worked with master chefs and students from the Culinary Institute of the Pacific to prepare and serve a truly outstanding selection of Indian dishes, including papadi chaat (chickpea dumplings with potato, yogurt, and tamarind chutney); dum ki nalli (aromatic slow-cooked lamb curry); and roasted-almond kulfi (Indian almond ice cream).

The legacy of the Taj chefs’ visit to Honolulu can be found in the events that brought master chefs, culinary experts, hotel professionals, students, and members of the general public together to celebrate their shared interest in one of the world’s great cuisines. This series of presentations by Hemant Oberoi and his colleagues was made possible by three-way co-sponsorship between Shangri La, the University of Hawai‘i’s Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapi‘olani Community College, and the Halekulani.

Hemant Oberoi, Grand Executive Chef at The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Hemant Oberoi, Grand Executive Chef at The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

 

Chef Hemant Oberoi’s Murg Khatta Pyaz Chicken (PDF)

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For the marinade
400g boneless, skinless chicken, cut into cubes
2 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
the juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp red chilli paste (made by soaking dried, deseeded Kashmiri chillies in water and pulverising them into a fine paste in a blender) or paprika powder
1 tbsp mustard oil or any vegetable oil
1 tsp garam masala
50g Greek yogurt

For the gravy
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin
150g chopped onion
1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
60g chopped tomatoes
2 tsp red chilli paste (as above) or paprika powder

For tossing
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp chopped ginger and garlic (1cm piece of ginger and 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped)
1 chopped green chilli
8 pickled onions
1 tsp chaat masala
a pinch of dry fenugreek powder
2 cup of fresh chopped coriander

Directions
Rub the chicken pieces in a mix of salt, ginger and garlic paste and lemon juice, and set aside to marinate for 20 minutes. Next apply the red chilli paste, mustard oil, garam masala and yogurt, and marinate for a further four hours. Preheat the oven to 230C/gas mark 8. Place the pieces of chicken across a deep baking tray and cook for 8-10 minutes, turning them occasionally. Remove from the oven and set aside.

To make the gravy, heat the oil in a pan, add the cumin seeds and cook until they crackle. Add the onion and sauté over a low flame until transparent and a light golden colour. Add the ginger and garlic paste, tomatoes and red chilli paste and cook for 20 minutes. Put the gravy to one side.

In a frying-pan, heat the oil and sauté the chopped garlic and ginger and green chilli. Add the gravy, cooked chicken and pickled onions and mix together. Season with salt. Garnish with the chaat masala, dry fenugreek powder and chopped coriander leaves.