Real Indian

I have often bemoaned in these columns (ok I haven't ever bemoaned and this isn't even a column but I think it makes me sound like I'm getting paid for this - lets not get distracted here) that Indian food abroad is a bit like Chinese food in India. Every restaurant sells the same menu, and most of those dishes dont even exist in traditional Indian cooking. Chicken Tikka Masala is firmly a British invention, almost certainly the fortuituous combination of Bangladeshi cook and tomato sauce. It is, in fact, so British that the British Council uses its history in an English lesson - I kid you not! It was with considerable admiration, therefore, that I stared at the menu of Babu. A vast expanse of nicely expensive paper made no mention of either tikka or tandoor, and vindaloo was mysteriously invisible. At first I though it was a trick of the dim lights (entirely candles) but no amount of blinking made any of the familiars appear. I was instead marooned with names like doi mach, kosha mangsho and vegetable chop - all thoughtfully labelled with the cultural influence that created it in the orginal eastern megacity - Calcutta. Chinese, Anglo-Indian, Bengali and Muslim were the four strains that ran through the menu, covering many of the best known delicacies of a Bengali kitchen. I had the doi mach - where king fish replaced rohu came simmering in yoghurt, whole garam masala and raisins just like real bong likes it. There was banana leaf below the rice, tomato chutney and jhuribhaja on the side, and the star of the show itself wasn't merely "authentic" (which to my mind sounds like the recipe was right but hey no big deal taste-wise) but quite good. Maybe even very good - I'll decide that on a soon to be executed visit number two. There was also phirni, that inspite of a generous sprinkling of pistachio has alas to remain satisfied with "authentic". And of course I must go back - Sushmit has promised me real khasi (tender goat) and genuine bekti. I also went a few weeks ago to the much reviewed Angon, this time firmly Bangladeshi and right in the middle of the dreaded sitar players of 6th street. However, daring flourishes everywhere - the menu does indeed mention the staples but has generous helpings of truly Bengali muslim dishes cooked by an original Bangladeshi matriarch. The bhuna, though very well executed, suffered from quality of meat. The haleem, however, was excellent. There are many limitations to making something like haleem (which should ideally simmer all day) in a fine dining context but Begum Mina Azad (Mina Appa to the cognoscenti) has somehow managed to work it. She awas actually in the kitchen in aprons. She also had a superlative pomfret masala fry - a study in simplcity with tomato ginger garlic onions and a touch of magic - that nearly stuck my tongue to the plate forever.

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