Week in the Life Jiggs Kalra, Aphrodisiac Guru: Kama Sutra served with a lot of sauce Food to tickle more than the tastebuds

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The Independent Online
JIGGS KALRA loves food - especially love food. After 10 years of research into the classical aphrodisiacs of the north Indian city of Old Lucknow, the turbanned epicure has set up an experimental food festival in a Delhi hotel restaurant at the height of party season.

Friday is hectic. There are 11th-hour consultations about garnishes with Hakim Safdar Nawab, whose family has been producing Islamic love potions for eight generations. Would a pinch of fired pearl powder be just as effective after a squeeze of lime?

Finding enough "shilajit", the fluid ore that eventually hardens into rock in the Himalayas and is a vital ingredient for "steel-hard" men, was a challenge. A light touch is essential. Hindu healers called vaidyas advise Mr Kalra to include plenty of shellfish, aphrodisiacs as revealed in Hindu sacred hymns.

At noon on Saturday, Mr Kalra opens the doors to diners daring to try his refined but decadent cuisine. Their expectation is palpable and their appetites whetted. "We think of these meals as foreplay. It's arousal through anticipation," says 50-year-old Mr Kalra. "Their appeal is olfactory, voyeuristic or simply sensuous - say the feel of oyster mushrooms against soft banana. But some ingredients can prolong climax. What you eat can counter a lack of semen, or a lack of lubrication," he adds. "Fresh squeezed pomegranate juice is the ideal beverage for this. Have some."

A Sunday newspaper that runs a front-page story about the sophisticated fare boosts bookings for the restaurant in spite of muddling up the sperm whale (the source for the fragrant stimulant ambergris) with whale sperm.

Other additives that are ground up to spark ardour from the larder include stone flowers (a soporific), hibiscus (a stimulant), charaila (a lubricant) and fired mica (a rejuvenator).

The following day, word is out about the love feast. Groups of giggling young couples sit clustered knee-to-knee around the tables, pondering whether to order "a pastry quiver full of Cupid's arrows: asparagus tips tossed in a seductive spices", or "boned kid simmered in musky mushqdanna gravy and gilded with gold leaf". Sweethearts choose for dessert an exotic confection of "wheat germinated under the night sky".

Mr Kalra, who pens all these coy menu entries, is astonished when he has to turn away 40 diners on Tuesday evening.

Happily, the raised platform pushed against the restaurant wall turns out not to be a bed, but a low stage where musicians play pulsing background sounds.

Some middle-aged men dine with youthful Asian babes, but there is a profusion of businessmen eating alone, presumably before seeking some night life.

"Potency enhancement is not immediate," Mr Kalra advises them. Just as well, for couples overcome with sudden desire would be stymied because all the hotel rooms are fully booked.

By Thursday, repeat customers are coming back in droves, sometimes with new dining partners. "Lunch or dinner, they just keep coming," Mr Kalra observes.

Eschewing his own exotic menus to munch on plain fruit and sandwiches in a corner, Mr Kalra brainstorms about possible improvements. He can feel the pulses of each customer and tell them exactly what they should eat. "Like an individual prescription. I am sure that Americans would pay $1,000 a plate for such a service. Most are very health-conscious and won't hesitate to gratify themselves."

While Mr Kalra surveys his diners all week, dozens of professional foodies come courting at his table. Idly, I wondered how a sub-continental food scholar flogging seafood in Delhi could succeed with a name that sounds so similar in local language to "cholera". Raising a quizzical brow, Mr Kalra corrects my pronunciation and goes on to dispense professional tips. For example, the guru once counselled a Londoner who was about to launch a chain of Indian restaurants that only certain drinks complement spicy meals. Meanwhile, a Coca-Cola executive fetches a Diet Coke out of his own briefcase to wash down the erotic entrees. One irate luncher storms over to demand why his favourite butter chicken is off the menu and has been replaced with "over-perfumed baby food".

Delhi's most eligible bachelor is discreet about any post- prandial experiences he has had after all the aphrodisiacs, though he hinted that the menus might be a trifle over-hyped.

One of his sultry dinner partners complains after consuming her five- course sampler of racy recipes. "I really don't feel sexy at all," she groans. "I'm so full I probably won't even be able to turn over." Unflustered, Guru Jiggs suggests consulting the Kama Sutra while he fine-tunes the aphrodisacs.