Tag Archive for 'Cuisine'

Mumbai’s Parsi cafe culture

Rosie Birkett in The Guardian:

I eat the best creme caramel of my life in 26C heat, with life-sized cutouts of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge smiling down at me from the dining room’s slightly slanting balcony. A pigeon snoozes on the lone chandelier, dusty beneath peeling turquoise paintwork, and ceiling fans whirr above crowded, chattering tables. I’m sitting in Britannia and Co Restaurant (Wakefield House, 11 Sprott Road), one of the last remaining Parsi cafes in south Mumbai (or south Bombay as the locals so protectively still call it), and I’m full of food.

Opened in the 19th-century by Parsi settlers – Zoroastrians from Iran – these cafes, with their magnificently faded, time-capsule dining rooms and speciality dishes, are a gloriously eccentric part of the fabric of Mumbai. They are also democratic and inclusive places, where people of all backgrounds, classes and sexes meet, so you may find a Sikh next to a Hindu or Zoroastrian or a group of young female students dining alone.

They are also a dying breed. In 1950 there were about 550 of them, many of which grew from humble tea stalls; now only 15 to 20 are still open. More:

Hyderabad’s haleem has trouble stewing

Samanth Subramanian in The National:

Hyderabad: It’s late afternoon during Ramadan and the courtyard of Pista House, a restaurant in old Hyderabad, has been taken over by 20 staff members. In a smooth assembly line, they pour haleem into bright red takeaway containers, mop their edges, put lids on and stack them into pyramids.

There are still two hours to go until the day’s fast is broken but the street outside the restaurant is already filling up with people buying haleem – and only haleem – to take home for their evening meal.

“The crowd gets pretty crazy in the evenings,” says a harried clerk who is taking a break from handing out tokens to streamline customers’ orders.

Haleem – a stew of mutton, lentils and wheat that originated in Persia – has been a Hyderabad staple for decades, its flavours indigenised by the addition of Indian spices.

But over the last decade, its role as part of iftar has boomed. More:

Love Bites With Joey

Is Joey Matthew India’s answer to TV celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. Or Julia Child? Read here, here and hereLove Bites With Joey airs every Monday and Tuesday at 10pm on NDTV Good Times.


The aromas of India

From Outlook‘s special issue on Indian food:

The State Highway To Aoshi by Pushpesh Pant: In happier times, Kashmir used to attract a large number of tourists, and one recalls a row of crowded food stalls in the vicinity of Shalimar and Nagin Bag that used to cater to this clientele an array of delicacies—from idli-dosa to tandoori tikka. What was intriguing was, to sample local fare—gushtaba or tabak maaz—one had to scout really hard. Not so long ago, we had a similar experience down south. Small eateries in Kanyakumari advertised their mouth-watering Gujarati and Rajasthani thalis. This is what we feel reflects the ltc syndrome. Wherever you go, the tyranny of the tandoor follows and most often, the regional cuisine that is dished out is mostly inedible, under the general impression that Indians aren’t adventurous and like to stick to their own food. What has happened in the past few decades isn’t really the evolution of a pan-Indian taste; the pseudo-national menu needs scrutiny and deeper sociological analysis.

Between Korma And Karma by Namrata Joshi: Entering Lucknow nawab Jafar Mir Abdullah’s living room is like stepping into a culinary museum of sorts. A host of ornate utensils, traditional pots and pans and priceless paandaans occupy pride of place alongside dusty furniture and fading upholstery. Their glory days may well be over, but the nawabs still take their food seriously. My casual query—“Kabab kaise banate hain” (how does one make kababs)—is met with gentle admonition: “Bewakoof banaya jaata hai, hajamat banayi jaati hai, classroom mein murga banaya jaata hai. Kabab to seke aur tale jaate hain.” (That’s impossible to translate without skewering the wit, so please consult the initiated.) There is an exact word for the ‘way’ each dish is cooked, I am told, a distinct grammar and vocabulary to each stage of cooking, right down to the kind of coal and intensity of flame. There is a protocol even in the dastarkhaan chun’na (the laying of the table). In Awadhi cuisine, cooking and eating are not just about filling the stomach. “Adaab-e-dastarkhaan (the fine art of dining),” Nawab Abdullah informs me, “is all about tehzeeb, saleeka (etiquette), nafasat (artistry) and itminaan (satisfaction).”

Konkan Da Costa! by Vivek Menezes: Even while sunset flares spectacular above the horizon, the superb arc of Malvan’s beachfront bears an abandoned aspect. No shacks line these impressively broad sands. No restaurants, beach umbrellas, touts or massagewalis. No deck chairs either. And if you feel like a cold drink, there had better be one tucked into your pocket.

The Immigrant’s Table: The river culture of Bangladesh

Tim Carman in The Washington Post:

If I were to reduce the cuisine of Bangladesh to a single word — and isn’t a bottom-line reduction what you’re after when discussing the tangled colonial and cross-cultural influences of another nation’scooking? — it would have to be “rivers.”

Bangladesh is drowning in rivers and tributaries, not to mention lakes and floodplains, a country seemingly in danger of being washed into the Bay of Bengal. It is the fish from these fresh waters that have fed the East Bengali people of this nation — and the state before that (East Pakistan) and the nation before that (the British Indian Empire). No matter where the people of Bangladesh roam, Old World or New World, they never seem to lose their taste for those river fish. Small wonder: Fish constitutes more than 60 percent of the protein eaten in Bangladesh. There’s even an adage, “machte bhate Bangali,” that roughly translates to “fish and rice make a Bengali.” More:

Some notes on the grammar of the curry

From 3quarksdaily:

To someone from the subcontinent, it is hard to believe that Indian restaurant owners in the United States are not malicious, reactionary, or in thrall to an obscure formal ideology. How else to explain what seems to be a concerted effort to trivialize a noble family of cuisines, both by reducing them all to a monotonous handful of sauces, and by violating the general structural principles that make these meals meaningful? It is well known that Indian restaurant owners are at the forefront of the right-wing movement to construct a homogenous dehistoricized South Asian identity[1], and the tragedy of Bangladeshis cooking bad Punjabi food is lost on no one. But, for the moment, let us forget that this iteration of Indian food is a particular, abstracted and displaced version of the cuisine of the Punjab and its surroundings, and that it ignores most of the other cuisines of the subcontinent. And let us forget that “Indian” food really should mean South Asian food.

But how to explain this fetishism of particular signifiers, this combinatorial generation of a menu from {chicken, lamb, shrimp} and some handful of sauces, these ungrammatical and unpoetic culinary utterances? How to explain the same sauce applied, with minor variations, to produce aborted versions of the same dish under many different names. What drives such promiscuous corruption of the understanding? Whence such systemic violence? More:

Fire in the belly

Suketu Mehta in Saveur [via 3quarksdaily]:

Image: Todd Coleman / SaveurOne night last summer, I made a chile-spiked chili for my family: my parents, my sons, my partner, and her parents. We are all Indian, but while some of us have been steeped in chiles since our births in India, others—like my Chicago-born partner and my Manhattan-born, 15-year-old son—approach the genus capsicum with trepidation. Still others just have a God-given affinity for heat. My 12-year-old son, for example, also a native New Yorker, has been enjoying chiles with his breakfast cereal since infancy. It makes me realize that the world is divided not between rich and poor, or male and female, or East and West, but between those who like spicy food and those who do not.

This was an important meal, the first time I was meeting my partner’s parents. Her father likes his food spicy, her mother, less so. I decided to make two versions of the chili: hot and hotter. I prepared it carefully, soaking the beans overnight, chopping the onions and garlic, roasting and grinding the spices. I laid the table with soft linen and fresh lilies and bathed it all in candlelight, to lull everyone into a false sense of security, as if they were going to get something European, flavored with nothing stronger than tarragon. It was a warm evening in Manhattan, and I left the windows open to the breeze from the Hudson River.

When the two pots of chili appeared on the table, my younger son smiled, my older son groaned.

“They’re very spicy, be careful,” my parents warned my partner’s parents.

“How spicy can they be?” my partner’s father scoffed.

Forewarned, my guests commenced to eat. They began with a taste of the lower-voltage version and then, unable to help themselves, switched to the maximum version. Shouting ensued. Then they took some more and started getting all ruddy and sweaty, laughing excessively and speaking louder than necessary—until they went all quiet and sat back in their chairs, lost in some private reverie, going back to a time of contentment, before the beginning of tragedy, beyond the imagining of loss. A preternatural calm overtook them as the pain-fighting endorphins kicked in, and they lay on the sofa blissed out in an entirely legal high. More:

Why do we eat chilli?

In The Guardian, Jason Goldman looks at a peculiarly human form of masochism:

Dave’s Red Hot. Mother Puckers. Green Bandit. Scorned Woman. Pain is Good. Blair’s Death. No, they’re not rock bands. These names represent just a small selection of the brands of hot sauce available at my local supermarket.

Humans, apparently, enjoy torturing themselves. Spiciness, after all, is not a flavour, not like sweet or salty or sour. Spicy means pain. The sensation of spiciness is the result of the activation of pain receptors in the tongue. According to psychologist Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania, about a third of the people around the world eat hot peppers every single day. Why? Because they “love the burn”. At a symposium on gastro-psychology during this year’s Association for Psychological Science convention, Rozin pointed out that humans are the only species – we know about – that specifically seek out what would otherwise be considered negative events.

Healthy, sane humans do not stab themselves in the thighs, or bathe their eyes in lemon juice. So why do we so love to assault one of the most sensitive organs in the human body, the tongue, with what amounts to chemical warfare? Chillies are unique among foods that we should otherwise not enjoy. More:

Pakistan’s veggie cuisine

Go green. In red-blooded Pakistan, kafir vegetarian food is making inroads. Mariana Baabar in Outlook:

Five years ago, a story was doing the rounds of the Quetta cantonment, where the rich and powerful live. The cantonment was abuzz with rumours about the financial woes of one of its residents, Kamal Ahmad. They said his business had crashed and the news couldn’t be wrong for it came from the family retainer himself. Worried friends immediately enquired from Ahmad’s wife, who confronted the retainer as he sat eating his vegetables and dal—dishes that had lately become a staple of the Ahmads as well. Glancing at the plate and dejectedly looking up, he asked, “Why else would you have become vegetarian overnight?” Ahmad’s wife burst out laughing and replied, “Because Sahib had to stop eating meat for medical reasons.” Indeed, vegetables in Pakistan have been synonymous with the poor and the ill.

The tale is just one of many which Pakistanis used to illustrate their disdain for anything green. Now, though, a silent culinary revolution seems to be transforming the perception and palate of the ordinary Pakistani. Veggies are no longer infra dig, languishing on the margins or remembered from a trip to India. Vegetarian has become trendy, a cuisine of choice for those dining out. It’s like the “new Chinese in town”—dramatically different from what mamas can cook at home. And delicious as well. More:

Dalit food: The poor man’s palate

Vikram Doctor in The Economic Times:

Mary was a little diffident, wondering if I would really like it. She brought out a small bowl of what looked like chopped long beans, but whitish, and in a rich brown gravy. They were goats’ intestines she said, waiting for me to refuse them. But, of course, I didn’t and it was delicious — the slight chewiness was more than made up by the rich, savoury gravy, which had a slight jelly-like thickness. I knew from much eating in Mumbai’s Muslim areas that some organ meats like liver and brain are eaten for their own unique texture, but others are more valued for the rich savour of their juices, and these intestines were like that.

Once she knew I was interested in her food, Mary would happily serve me some, always the really cheap meats she bought. Another time she cooked salt fish curry, and again it was delicious, with a tang that you never get with fresh fish. It was the sort of dish you would never find in a restaurant, partly from genuine constraints — the Taj Group’s Chef Ananda Solomon told me wistfully he would love to serve the Mangalorean salt fish dishes of his childhood at his Konkan Cafe, but doesn’t dare for fear of the smell penetrating and lingering through his hotel kitchen — but also because most customers would not order what they saw as poor people’s food.

I thought of Mary’s food when I read that the Dalit poet and activist Namdeo Dhasal has started a restaurant. Dhasal has done this due to the financial problems he’s been facing, and it sounds like a regular place serving North Indian style kebabs and curries, but apparently he also plans to serve lesser known dishes like a curry of harandodi flowers and vazri, which is intestines and tripe (the stomachs of ruminants). These are dishes typically associated with Dalits, or more generally, the poor who could not afford other foods, and I think there is a real niche here if Dhasal wants to develop it. More:

India’s food historians

Anindita Ghose and Parizaad Khan on people who document recipes and the grammar of Indian cuisines that could soon be extinct. From Mint-Lounge:

Take restaurateur and food researcher Jacob Aruni, for instance. His repeated cajoling of a septuagenarian woman, Sigappi, in a small coastal town of Tamil Nadu, led her to share rare recipes with him—such as rice cooked with betel leaves. A few months later, she died, taking with her several other recipes that may well be lost forever.

Pushpesh Pant, a professor of diplomacy at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, believes that food, like monuments, performing arts, language and costume, is an integral part of any civilization, which is why it should be conserved for future generations.

Pant is a food scholar himself. His book, Hindu Soul Recipes (Roli Books-Lustre Press, 2007), takes up the humble khichdi, among other dishes. The Ayurvedic kshirika, he writes, has mutated in several different directions. In the Mughal emperor Akbar’s time, in the 16th century, it was slow-cooked with aromatic spices and lamb, and befittingly came to be called laziza, which means tasty. In Bengal, it transformed into a spicy delicacy known as khichudi—strictly vegetarian—cooked during religious feasts. And centuries later, in its avatar as the Anglo-Indian kedgeree in the mid-18th century, it reintegrated its meat element as a breakfast dish that couldn’t do without fish. More:

The many menus of Mumbai

From the Wall Street Journal:

The New Martin Hotel Eating House here is off limits to many Hindus because it serves beef. It’s off limits to many Muslims because it serves pork. Yet at 2:30 on a weekday afternoon, the sidewalk is still crowded with people waiting to get a table for lunch.

Any trip to India should include some of its great restaurants. For visitors, it’s a chance to sample a wide variety of regional cuisines that, though often little known abroad, have a place on any gourmet’s map of the world.

New Martin Hotel (the hotel part is long gone), for example, offers the distinctive and delicious food of Goa, the Indian coastal state that was once a Portuguese colony. Outside of New York and London, finding a restaurant serving Goan cuisine can be a challenge. Bengali, Gujarati, Malvani and a couple of dozen others, all are easily found in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital formerly known as Bombay. More:

The Andhra Bhawan Canteen of Delhi


Missanabeem at The India Tube. Photograph by Hitesh Malaviya:

The first rule of the Andhra Bhawan is be fast. Order fast. Eat fast. Leave fast.

The second rule is: no sharing. Get your own thali, no poking in your friend’s tray. Not that hungry? Bad call. You should be very, very hungry when you step in the canteen.

The third rule: no menu options. Actually, there is an option: vegetarian thali (100 Rs) or non-vegetarian (70 Rs extra). No offense to the vegetarian crowd, but if you don’t get the mutton (everyday in the menu of the day), well, you’re missing out. More:

How to be a culinary show-off

Posted by Shekhar Bhatia:

I had the privilege of working with Tushita Patel, whose book of recipes, “Flash in the Pan,” will be published this month by Westland Books. I also had the privilege of working with her husband Aakar, now an eminent columnist. (You can find links to some at Asian Window).

After many happy and successful years in journalism Tushita joined Vijay Mallya, billionaire owner of Kingfisher Airlines and many breweries in India and abroad, and also a politician, as his political secretary. Mallya is said to be a workaholic. Some years back, in a profile of Mallya, The Telegraph of London quoted Tushita: “Even before his aircraft can touch down, his core team is summoned over the satellite phone to the airport. Half the office shifts to the runway – with papers, phones, laptops. We work in the plane, then in the car, then in the office, continue at home, pool, disco, back to the car, back to the plane…”

And yet she managed to write a book!

Below, her recipe for what she calls Mustard Fish 101 excerpted in Mint Lounge.

This is such an exotic dish with so many variations that I had to, absolutely, include it.

Ingredients (serves 6)

1 cup mustard seeds

1 tsp + 1/2 tsp salt

2 + 2 + 1 green or red chillies

1kg fish (ideally river fish)

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tbsp + 1 tsp + extra to taste mustard oil


Soak the mustard seeds in 1K cups of water, with 1 tsp salt and 2 chillies for 20-30 minutes. Drain and pulse grind. If the fish is large, cut it into pieces about K-inch thick and 2-inches long. If the fish are to be kept whole, and are about 3-4 inches long, just trim them. Wash the fish and pat dry. Coat fish with K tsp of salt and the turmeric and let it marinate for 15 minutes. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a pan. When hot, fry the fish in batches, on each side for a minute. The idea is not to make crisp fries, just remove the rawness. Remove the fish from the pan and set aside. Add 1 tsp of oil to the pan and heat. Slit 2 chillies and add them to the pan. Dilute the mustard paste in water, and holding a strainer over the pan, filter it through. This I do to keep the rough mustard skin out and make the gravy smoother. Once it starts bubbling, lower the heat and put in the fish. Cook for 2 minutes and turn off the heat.

To serve, pour the fish and the gravy into a dish. Swirl a little oil on it for a sharp kick. Split the remaining chilli and place it in the dish. This should not be runny like a curry, but just the fish coated in the mustard.

There are some more recipes in Mint Lounge

Curry for a crowd

In an attempt to standardise food served on trains across the country, the Indian Railway has introduced a common recipe book for all private caterers. Prepared in collaboration with the Institute of Hotel Management, the recipe book has been issued to the 100-odd base kitchens across the country. The Telegraph, UK, has reproduced four recipes:


Egg curry

For 200 gm portions

eggs 210, onions 5kg, tomatoes 6kg, ginger 8.3g, garlic 8.3g, ground chilli 10g, oil 3l, salt 15g, red chilli powder 20g, turmeric powder 10g, coriander powder 30g, garam masala 7g, ground coriander 50g

1. Hard boil eggs, de shell and deep fry until golden.

2. Fry sliced onions in hot oil until golden brown.

3. Add ginger garlic and ground chilli paste until oil separates.

4. Add salt, red chilli powder, turmeric powder and fry until oil separates.

5. Add egg pieces and garam masala powder.

6. Garnish with ground coriander leaves.

7. Serve hot.

Click here for Murg Jhalfrezi (cream chicken) and Murg Saagwala (saag chicken)

[Image: Gene / CC]

Udaipur Chronicles

Manish Verma at 3quarksdaily

udaipurDuring my recent trip to Udaipur this winter, I became avidly keen on trying out the local Daal Baati Churma, a much savored and popular dish of Rajasthan,and fairly uncommon in most other parts of India. Upon interrogating the locals of the whereabouts of the most authentic version of the aforementioned dish, my husband and I landed in Natraj Restaurant, unbenowst to the world at large, but a rage amongst the locals, and a name that makes even the most nondescript autorickshaw driver glint in seeming recognition of the sublime treatment meted to a salivating palate. We alighted on the auto and it putterred and sputtered off on a bumpy ride towards our destination, meanwhile our driver giving us the low-down on the details of what to expect, amidst other casual converstaion.

“Aapko Udaipur kaisa lag raha hai?” (How are you liking Udaipur?)

“Accha hai, kaafi sundar aur aithihaasik hai” (We like it, its beautiful and historically intriguing).

“Ji, Isko hum Venice of the East kehte hain. Door door se log aate hain. Bahut pyaara shehar hai.” (We call it the Venice of the East. People come from all over here.)

I couldn’t help but smirk at the inherent allegience of the auto driver to his town, something that I recall having missed from most of the autowalahs in Delhi. More:

In true Nizam style

In Mint Lounge, celebrity chef Karen Anand on Hyderabadi tradition and cuisine — and a recipe for the famous Shikampur Kebabs [Minced Mutton Kebabs]:

 Several years ago, I had the fortune of being invited to the ancestral home of ad film-maker Zafar Hai in Hyderabad. I hadn’t been in India long and I remember being impressed by everything. The detailing was perfect, from the silver slippers in the bathroom to the intricacy of the table and the rich, painstakingly prepared food. Zafar’s mother never went into the kitchen herself but clearly knew how to cook and lay a superb meal. All the dishes came out together, the biryani or the safed pulao, coming out last. You were advised what to have with what-the lukhmi first, then kebabs and sheermal or kulcha, the vegetables and “kut” meats and lastly the biryani. There was a raita and two desserts at the end. This elaborate menu and laying out everything together is also done at a traditional dastarkhan dinner and a wedding. The crockery was bone china and the serving dishes were silver. It made me realize that Hyderabadi food was both complex and difficult to replicate without a serious amount of help.


In praise of Bengali cuisine

In Mint Lounge, celebrity chef Karen Anand on Bengali cuisine — and a recipe for Bekti Gonduraj (steamed fish with lemon):

Bengali cuisine is considered elaborate and refined, and the state is the only place in India where food is served in separate courses, the chronology based on ancient beliefs, to aid the digestive process. Bitter leaves and gourd are always served first, followed by rice, dal, chutney and fish.

Bengali food is one of the few Indian cuisines I can eat at any time of the day, even in restaurants. This simply isn’t so of other Indian cuisines, where the restaurant versions tend to be too spiced, laced with unnecessary amounts of oil, and generally overcooked.

There are also ingredients particular to this region, which are very special. The Hilsa fish, a type of shad which is a member of the herring family, has numerous small bones. But deboned and smoked, it is superior to even the best smoked salmon.


A moveable feast

In The Sunday Express, Amulya Gopalakrishnan reviews Chitrita Banerji’s Eating India: Exploring a Nation’s Cuisine:

For proust, it was the taste of a madeleine that triggered the rich remembrance of things past. For Chitrita Banerji, marooned in snowy Boston, it is a wedding feast on a banana leaf that brings on a nostalgia attack, as she impulsively sets off to India to explore her culinary patrimony and write Eating India.

On her way back, she bristles at the British Airways’ offering of chicken tikka masala, blaming it for everything ersatz and corrupt about Indian food in the West. Even as she accepts the inevitability of mobile, shifting cultures, Banerji is preoccupied with the phantom of “authenticity” awaiting her in India.