Foaming in the Mouth

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Ferran Adria made foams famous, but Indians may have beaten him to it by a few hundred years.

Many years ago, my cousin was posted in Agra, and she used to buy something called Makhan from a sweet shop nearby. It was one of the most wonderful things I'd ever had - essentially an almost weightless saffron-flavoured foam. We used to have it with pooris, and it was the airiest, most fantastic dessert ever. Its also a dessert of romance; morning dew and moonlight are supposed to play important parts.

I've tried a few times over to find Makhan elsewhere, but only UP and Delhi have even heard of it. I stumbled upon this article in the Hindu that talks about the Delhi version, Daulat Ka Chaat, and a few more references, including blog posts in Cooking with Simi and EOiD (who even had a map of where it is available in Delhi). Lucknow apparently calls it Nimish. Pushpesh Pant, the ever-obliging chronicler of all foods Avadhi, has published a recipe for it. Simple, but tedious, even without the moonlight dew business.

I, however, made an accidental discovery to change all that. One day, I took a family pack of Naturals' Kesar Pista ice cream and left it out to soften a little before being able to dig my spoon in. Of course, I forgot to put it back in the freezer. When I did remember a couple of hours later, I opened the container to see that the entire thing had melted. There was liquid at the bottom and a nice foamy layer of cream floating on top, which looked like (and a a quick taste assured me tasted like) the fabled Makhan!! It was a matter of minutes to skim all that foam off and I had my very own, no-effort version (what is left behind makes very good Kesar Milk or Rasmalai but that's just a bonus). In hindsight its rather obvious. Ice cream is churned to incorporate air into it; that's what makes it creamy. If there's enough fat in the ice cream, the fat floats up to the top along with the millions of air bubbles inside as the ice-cream slowly melts while the liquid settles below.

Of course, its a shade less airy than the real thing but still definitely a foam and still incredibly tasty. And think of how easy it is - buy, forget, serve. I've tried it only with Naturals, but it should work with any ice cream (and any flavour) that has sufficient fat.

Rolling in Maps

about 40.756054, -73.986951 1 comment:

I've already written about my search for Kolkata-style Kati Rolls in Mumbai; here's the map to help you find them.

And lets not forget New York. The Kati Roll Company fuelled many of my parties, while Roomali was a lunch staple. Indian Bread Company served excellent tea along with decent rolls and a was a great place to read books in. Roti Roll's unusual curry fillings filled me out a couple of times while wandering near Columbia.

Steamy Stories

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I've been trying to eat healthy, as usual, so I go looking for steamed dishes on restaurant menus wherever I can find them. This entry is less about healthy or lightly cooked food as particularly about 'steamed' food.

The king of steamed in India is undoubtedly the idli. Mumbai is chock-a-block with udipis chrning out passable idlis with sweet sambhar, (not to forget the uniquely bambaiyya idli-on-a-cycle). Apparently even Madonna went idli on her visit to the city, giving some Shetty his fifteen minutes of fame. There's a lot of good idli in Mumbai, but Idli House on King's Circle (just at the end of the flyover) deserves a mention for focus. Its got just idlis, and lots of different kinds, with lots of different chatni, powder and other goodies.

Swati Snacks offers my favourite steamed snack - panki - in three varieties.

Steamed fish, or patra-ni-macchi, is a Parsi mainstay available at some (though not most) Parsi restaurants; ones that spring to mind are Jimmy Boy, Snack Shack and my favourite Ideal Corner. Whole Steamed fish - I was quite pleased to get an excellent one with ginger and wine at the Far East restaurant in Rodas Powai (though the fish came sliced). It was so good (and light) that I ordered a second, off-menu, with superior soya sauce. 5-Spice offers one too, but it isn't impressive. Lings Pavilion used to have a great steamed whole fish, (also a steamed chicken) but I haven't tried it in a while. Lings also makes an incredible clay-pot rice (definitely steamed). A few steps away, Busaba has a fantastic, tooth-tingling citrus steamed fish hidden in their menu. I hear that Oriental Blossom in the Marine Plaza Hotel offers Korean Steamboat, but I haven't tried it yet either.

Modak is another Mumbai food that's traditionally steamed (though there are many other kinds, many merely modak-shaped sweets). Its not easy to get modaks all year round, but the obviously named Modak Center next to Siddhi Vinayak temple offers the steamed sweet variety (coconut /jaggery filling) all the time. Diva Maharashtracha offers interesting savoury modak choices such as mutton or mushroom.

Roll over Beethoven II

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Ask anyone who's lived in Kolkata in his or her youth, and the one food they hanker for is the Kolkata Roll. Mustard fish, rossogolla. puchka, jhalmuri, all have undoubted appeal, but the most universal of the lot is the kati roll. Everyone except a dietician loves it.
I don't visit Kolkata that much anymore, but its been my fortune to find the Kolkata roll becoming Bengal's biggest food export. New York, in particular, developed rather nicely as a roll destination; there were none when I moved there, now there are at least six. The most famous one - Kati Roll Company - is so popular it employs bouncers to keep the queues orderly. Other good choices, in order of preference are Indian Bread Company and Roomali, but nowadays Yelp lists over a dozen!!
Mumbai had its own pretender - the Frankie invented by Tibb (whose son was briefly in college with me). However, the frankie is rolled in a naan rather than a paratha and filled with all manners of gooey curries (no barbecue here) basically a poor substitute for the Kolkata roll-seeker. My favourite roll place in Mumbai is Hangla's, at the edge of Lokhandwala Market. It churns out Kolkata rolls that would be a hit even in Kolkata - huge, greasy and utterly delicious. A little bit further away on JP Road, near the Gurudwara, is the much more unassuming Bhima's -its a true streetcart, also good but somewhat inferior to Hangla (avoid anything else but rolls there, though). Another roll vendor in Lokhandwala Market is better avoided altogether. A new kid on the block is Kolkata Konnection, just opened a couple of weeks ago across the road from Mega Mall - good filling, outstanding parathas.
Bandra has Calcutta Roll Centre (nearly impossible to find now behind a Marathi signboard) - across the road from Amarsons on Linking Road. They sell rolls filled with gravy chicken or mutton rather than kati kababs; good but more like parathas and gravy than real rolls. A new challenger in Bandra is Dee's Roll Center, sandwiched between two stalwarts of Hill Road - American Express Bakery and A1 Bakery. They make very good rolls - parathas filled with fat, spicy tangy kati kababs. They also have a long and very popular line of chinese dishes, and some very avoidable kassa (supposedly from the Nizams of Bengal, whoever they are) but their rolls are indeed quite good.
Versova has another roll seller, though more Lucknow in origin that Kolkata. Lazaat-e-Lucknow sells great paratha rolls, only they use gilawati kababs and Lucknow-style ulta-tawa parathas instead of lacchedar parathas. If you're willing to venture further, Kakori Hut in Bandra does a superior version of the same thing.
Then, there's the roomali roll. Bengalis don't really consider them real rolls, but they have their place. Most places make very poor roomali rolls (usually because they're peddling health food) but there are exceptions. My favourite roomali roll vendor is Bangalore's famous Fanoos, especially their five-seekh monster of a Mambo roll, with about two inches of beef to a millimetre of roti. Wraps & Rolls has outlets in major malls and makes fairly decent rolls in a huge number of filling options.

Chocolate

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Vir Sanghvi's Sunday column in the HT Cafe, about chocolates and chocolate snobbery, set me thinking.

I'm not as convinced about chocolate and terroir as Vir Sanghvi is, but his column triggered my thoughts about where I've had the best chocolates or chocolate confections. Here, then, is my top 5 chocolate list. I'm not claiming any particular chocolate expertise here, but I doubt you will be disappointed with any of the choices.

#1

My favourite chocolate experience has to be the city of Brugge. I know it is no longer fashionable to say that Belgian chocolates are great, but I cannot avoid putting this city at the top of the list nevertheless. Most people benchmark their idea of Belgian chocolate from the boxes of Godiva that grace every supermarket shelf, but that is doing the chocolatiers of Brugge grave injustice. Small, famous, historic Brugge is full of not chocolate stores that merely dish out mass-manufactured stuff, but chocolatiers that make the stuff in house, usually in front of you. Pick from many many kinds, in various shades of dark but remember - no one makes white like the Belgians. And if you're sated with chocolate, there are the world's best fruit pates too. I don't know which chocolatier in Brugge is the best, but I dont think you'll care.

#2

My favourite chocolate store is the Recchiuti Store in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Recchiuti is an artisan chocolate maker, and the store is simply and single-mindedly focused on chocolates. No pastry, no ice cream, no frills and fancies. The only non-chocolate things there are - what did you expect - fruit pates. I'm particularly fond of the Fleur-de-sel Caramels. Expensive bites, but that only stops you from excess.

#3

New York is full of chocolate stores, but my favourite is Vosges, which comes to NY from Chicago. Vosges makes some incredible chocolates with spices in them - thingies like dark chocolate with wasabi or ancho chili and mexican vanilla - that works far better in the tiny ultra-modern store in Soho than in any other hands. Vosges is also my favourite hot chocolate.

#4

In London, Harrods and Fortnum&Mason both have incredible chocolate counters. More importantly, they allow limited tastings so you can really take your time choosing the perfect chocolate. Fortnum's tea service, too, has the option of coming with an array of chocolates - really the best chocolate shopping experience I've had.

#5

India isn't really known for world-class chocolate experiences, but hidden away among the innumerable chikki shops in the tourist trap of Lonavala is an old world fudge store called Coopers. It is a tiny store near Lonavala station, offers no parking or even standing room, opens very restricted hours and runs out of everything very frequently - in short, you are very likely not to get any fudge even if you braved the potholed roads and crowds. All is forgiven, however, when you finally get your hands either on the basic fudge or a few variants (my favourite is the walnut chocolate fudge). A soft, gooey, nutty mess - chocolatey rather than sweet, wonderfully textured and utterly delicious. A word of warning here: the area is full of shops trying to push fudge on you - none is very good; only Coopers is world-class.

Whitewash

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Suburban shift or no, Goregaon is not a place you associate with fine dining; that does not prevent the odd eccentric from springing a surprise. White is one such, tucked away in a small lane near Goregaon station.

The most surprising part about White is the quality of ingredients used, and the execution of the kitchen. This is a place offering fresh mussels, romaine lettuce, baby fennel, imported parmesan, actual arborio, pink salmon and wonder of wonders even a whole trout - all the stuff that you usually have to look to five star dining or Indigo to find. Yet here it is, at very Indian prices and served by clueless waiters.

White's kitchen is what one should go there for. The service is as bad as your local multi-cuisine in Goregaon (not an exaggeration). Be prepared to signal wildly to get attention in a room with more waiters than diners. Be prepared to try and explain your order to servers who don't know what's on the menu and have trouble with Italian names. In short, your local multi-cuisine in Goregaon. The only reason you expect so much better is because of the kitchen.

And the kitchen is exceptional. I've already been fulsome about the quality of ingredients, but the execution is five star quality too. (which is why, really, you assume there will be five start service to go with it). The mussels came steamed in one of the best sauces I've had anywhere, the simple pannecotta was some of the most flawless I've seen, the steamed trout with fesh fennel was utterly heavenly. Most dishes are simple to the point of austerity - no nouvelle stuff here - but flawlessly executed. This kitchen could easily survive the heat in New York or London.

India is full of great food with negligible service. Think Kalbadevi's exceptional thali joints or the kabas of Bhendi Bazaar. Thats what they should do - look more like a dhaba than a five star restaurant. People will salivate over the food and ignore the ignorance of the waiters.

Bottom line, one place in Mumbai that will produce simple "heavenly" Italian food. Asparagus soup, Mushroom soup, Mussles, trout, pannecotta - so far that's my list of heavenly and I'm only on visit no. two.

The Ozone Club,
Rang Sabade Marg,
Siddharth Nagar, Goregaon (W),
Mumbai
Ph: (022) 28735645

 

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Mapping Madness

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I've finally discovered nearly the perfect mapping tool for my blogs. Map Channels lets me make these cool interactive maps using Google Maps that I can then embed into my blog. Really cool. I've started adding maps retrospectively - so far these posts have been mapchanneled.

The only downside seems to be that the javascript maps do not get imported into Facebook notes very smoothly. A bit of a pity, that...

More Suburban Crawl

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A few people called me with some names I had left out of yesterday's list.

Bhagat Tarachand no longer insists you brave the bylanes of Kalbadevi; they are now also at Vashi's APMC market. O Calcutta lived long as Only Fish in the bylanes of Tardeo, and has spread not just northwards but nationwide. Zafran has stretched its arms from Crawford Market all the way to Oshiwara. Tiwari Sweets added Juhu to Opera House a while ago, and my favorite place for south Indian - Cafe Madras - has a small, hard-to-find branch called Hotel Gopal just outside Malad station.

Suburban Crawl

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Mumbai, ever since the days when goras pottered about cobblestone streets, has been dominated by "town". Respectability was measured in direct proportion to distance from the Gateway of India, and for the longest time the Borivali national forest started just beyond Dadar. This was true of any kind of decent housing just as much as art or theatres or dining choices.

Things, however, insist on changing even when perfectly satisfactory in the first place. The city I returned to after a half-decade absence seems to have collectively heaved its arse and moved up and out. I have heated arguments with the townies who think the sun still shines where it always has, but the reality is that the heart of Mumbai is moving.

Dining is usually the first to move where diners are, and it is no different in Mumbai. Trishna, Kailash Parbat and Mahesh all smelled the coffee and got familiar with names like Andheri and Juhu. Even the venerable China Garden upped and opened in Khar. Rajdhani along with Cream Centre, Copper Chimney and Noor Mohammadi (as Hakim's) has wheedled itself into mall food courts even as far off as Thane and Vashi. 5-Spice, Royal China and Cafe Basilico already do Bandra, Kobe is sizzling everywhere, Gaylord lords it in Oshiwara, Tex-mex-gujju New Yorker co-habits with Natural's in Juhu while five-star dining choices are a dime a dozen north of the great divide. I would say that Colaba has surrendered the centre of the culinary world to Bandra, Versova and Oshiwara. Now I'm waiting for Leopold New Martin Cafe to look north.

The latest such move is Indigo Deli, now open in all its glory just off SAB TV lane in Andheri Lokhandwala. Given that its in a dead end in a small lane off another lane on the edge an industrial estate, its a wonder that it was packed to the gills on Sunday.

Gazalee, Natural's, Kareem's and most recently Olive are meanwhile heading the other way down the Bandra-Worli link ...

Dining with Saint Francis

about San Francisco, CA, USA 2 comments:

Vir Sanghvi has described in his column in yesterday's HT supplement his dining experiences in San Francisco, which got me to thinking. I know San Francisco quite well, having spent generous amounts of time there cycling up hills and running down reviews in the SF Chronicle. Indeed, this blog started four years ago in San Francisco, while I was wondering what to eat and no one had any good advice for me. I''ve just realised, however, that the two reviews written, "Salsa Time" and "Afternoon and tea" are my only two posts in so many years about that city. That put me to wondering...

What are my favourite places to eat in San Francisco?
Mr Sanghvi had a very different set of choices (some did not even exist when I was there), but below are my Fav Five, rated mostly on the wow factor of the food. This is not intended as a comprehensive list, just a personal list of favourite places to have a meal.

#1

Number one is easy - its the place I head to every time I'm in San Francisco. Hard to find and widely reviewed is an unusual combination, but Saigon Sandwich Shop's tiny storefront in the oddly-named Tenderloin district fits the bill. Something transcendentally soul-satisfying about biting into their roast pork and pate combination bahn-mi (or any of the others, really) makes it zoom straight on to the top of the list. Why it beat San Francisco's best culinary wizardry is difficult to explain but basically I use my infallible "island test" of greatness; if I were allowed to take along only one meal made in San Francisco to a deserted island, it would be a Saigon Sandwich Banh Mi. You could say the Beatles beat Mozart here.

#2

Having already chosen fast food over gourmet I debated briefly if value-for-money should be considered in selecting number two, finally deciding that sheer merit triumphs merit-cum-means. The finest overall meal I've had in San Francisco (and one of the best anywhere) is at the bar at Gary Danko. Fancy food with waiters dressed better than you are isn't the same, soul-satisfaction as Saigon Sandwich but one of the few high-dining meals that I actually remember for the food and not the lighting. Nothing is simple or unfussy - this is the temple of culinary complexity. High technique, complicated ingredients and wonderful execution all ends up worth the huge tab. Not what you would want to eat every day, but this is definitely on the memorial meals list.

#3

The merit-cum-means candidate that got edged out by Gary Danko is Delfina. Still moderately expensive and nearly as hard to get a table in but unlike Gary Danko, Delfina is all about unfussy cooking with wonderful ingredients. Every visit yielded a winner - the best simply-grilled fish I ever had (Copper River Salmon), wonderful salad (a simple bib lettuce), incredible ravioli (wild nettle) ... you get the idea. Unlike Gary Danko, I wouldn't mind going there every day.

#4

If rankings were measured by the length of the lines outside, Swan Oyster Depot would win hands down (they ply the queue with free wine to make the interminable wait bearable). Swan isn't really even a restaurant; actually a shop selling fresh seafood wholesale while a thin strip of customers gobble seafood along the side counter. Outstandingly fresh oysters and seafood (some outrageously good smoked salmon too - this from someone weaned on Jewish delis in the big apple) makes this my fourth pick. It is also the city's best place to taste its famous crab in basic fleshy sweet simplicity - huge lumps of the stuff piled onto lettuce is my preferred option. Open store hours only (8am-5:30pm), so be warned.

#5

This is the toughest one. I find here that I have trouble deciding on a fifth, because many interesting ones vie for attention. A crowded French bakery for breakfast (La Boulange on Polk), a desi restaurant that reminds me of the best Mumbai kabab joints (Shalimar), a sophisticated place where I had great lunches (Town Hall), wonderful ravioli at a tiny place in the Mission (Il Cantuccio), uplifting yuppie Vietnamese near the ferry (The Slanted Door), simple American and salads beside a nice used bookshop (Chow), great nuevo-latin small plates (Destino), satisfying neighbourhood Italian (Acquerello or Nob Hill Cafe) or a cute-as-button tea room (Lovejoy's) - all are in consideration for #5 and I can't pick a favourite. Plus, I also have run out of adjectives so, the few others that might have made the list have to be undescribed - Tartine, Zuni Cafe, Boulevard and Ti Couz among others.

Ok so I cheated and put not five but eighteen names. Go enjoy...


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Lucknow Again

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I finally went to the other place - Lazzat-e-Lucknow. It is now no longer on my list of must-tries. I have - it may be officially stated - tried it.

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I tried, in particular the gilawati (in both kabab and roll versions), the seekh (in the roll version, though I did extract and eat some of the kabab by itself too) and the mutton biriyani. The first thing to notice is that the menu is a lot smaller than Dhuan, no arabic pretensions here but some Punjabi has nevertheless crept in. A single laminated tablemat-size sheet with dogeared edges suffices for the menu. Seating is pleasant, and there's even an AC section for those who can climb the short but steep stairs that characterize Versova's mezanines.

Enough of the ambience - here's my view of the food. They don't have kakori. Gilawatis were great, and in particular the paratha (ulta-tawa lucknow style, the menu insisted) that made up the roll was very nice; thin, beautifully non-greasy and quite edible all on its own. I particularly recommend the gilawati roll - all those soft bursting kababs releasing flavour, ecstasy and mmmm sounds, etc etc; I thought the seekh roll had a poor meat-paratha ratio though my sneaked out piece of seekh was, by itself, quite nice. Mutton Biriyani was the dry kinds, not the usual Mumbai curry rice disguised under a nice name, but was about average. The mutton pieces were good (all nalli too) but the rice part was not going to drive Kolkata's Shiraj out of business. No potato too.

Verdict: Great gilawati (slightly better methinks, than Dhuan, though not quite Kakori House). Ok biriyani (better than most other places, but not great in absolute terms). Excellent parathas. Promising seekh. Totally VFM prices.

Lucknow and Smoke

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I must post an update on Avadhi food. Versova, that new mecca of eating options in Mumbai, has not one but two restaurants boasting of Lucknow connections. My cycle trips to one (that I discovered through an unexpected google search) led me to go past the other so two birds, one stone and all that.

The one I found through google was Dhuan - where a single blog post by the owner promised the best kakori in Mumbai. Who can ignore such a promise, so there I was, braving the rain a few days ago on my bicycle headed towards Yari Road. It turned out to be a lounge, very hard to find because the name (written in huge three-foot-high letters) is so fancily written that it is difficult to read. However, its conveniently next door to Rice Boat.

Dhuan is actually an Arabic sheesha lounge, but it also has a long and substantial food menu. I focused only on the Kabab list - in particular kakori and 'tundey' (named, obviously, after Lucknow-famous Tundey gilawati kabab) and here's the conclusion. The kababs came in generous portions, were as soft as you could ever want, and surprisingly fairly good - certainly worth the visit if you're this side of town. Kakori House, however, is hands down better, both kakori and gilawati.

Lazzat, a little before Dhuan on the same road, is still on my list of to-trys...

Dhuan 9 A/B, Aram Nagar II, Versova, JP Road, Andheri (W), Mumbai 400049 Phone: 26316350, 26332379, 9819266907

Lazzat-E-Lucknow 5, Beach Apartment, JP Road, Versova , Andheri (W), Mumbai 400049 Phone: 9322387119, 9833762759

Lucknow in Mumbai

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Everyone raves about food from Lucknow, but in Mumbai its really difficult to find any competent version of it outside the fivestar hotels. The Bandra Copper Chimney and Sun-N-Sand's Kabab Hut were both influenced by Ishtiyaque Qureshi into churning out impeccable nawabi khana, but one has closed and the other, though still serving good stuff, is hardly in the awesome league it once was. Apparently he's still the consultant there but while it has the recipes and techniques, the place lacks the magic.

Ishtiyaque Qureshi hasn't quite disappeared from Mumbai, though. He was always around for catering to celebrity weddings and the hallowed environs of CCI, but for the common man he was nearly invisible. Nearly, but not quite - he's been discovered hiding out in the bylanes of Bandra, running a catering and takeaway service called Kakori Hut on tiny Waroda Road. Luckily the food is as great as ever - oh those kakoris, ah that biriyani...

You wont find it unless I help you, so here it is. Go to American Express Bakery on Hill Road. Ask for directions to Waroda Road (but don't have one of their luscious lemon tarts; you will need your appetite). Or, look at the map - the marker on the left is American Express Bakery. Be warned, there's no place to sit. I'm usually on bicycle, I sit on the steps of the shop and eat off a plastic stool while chatting to the mechanics at the repair shop next door but that I suspect, is not for everyone. Much better to stand around and wait for the Kakori wraps that you can walk with, or do the whole takeaway thing. Or, buy a house in Bandra and call for delivery. I've gone at odd times, but at peak hours I hear the wait can be long.

Shop #5, Dunhill Apartments 26 Waroda Road, Bandra (W), Mumbai 400050 Call 9320090269 or (022) 6411 9211

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Ethnology

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Ethnic is always an interesting challenge. Dictionaries blithely define 'ethnic' as belonging to a shared cultural, linguistic or racial identity - which unfortunately means that the world is full of 'ethnic' restaurants. Nearly every restaurant in New York or Tokyo or London is, by that definition, ethinc - they just belong to the ethnic majority rather than some exotic minority. Italian, Sushi, New American, French...et al.

Here again, India saves the day. In a world full of ethnic restaurants, India is overloaded with that unique label - multicuisine. South Indian thali with paneer butter masala, chicken tandoori with chowmein, Russian salad with schezwan soup, its all here, only in India. Armed with the information that Indians when eating out order (that uniquely Indian version of) Chinese food more often than any other kind, eateries in India went about arming their menus with lots of words starting with chow. Then, as tandoori chicken and paneer butter masala spread its tentacles, restaurant owners quickly augmented their already long list of choices with generous helpings of all things out of clay ovens.

The amazing part of multi-cuisine is that it is not an uncontrolled jumble of foods and dishes. No, any self-respecting multi-cuisine must follow some very clear rules. The first rule: what is included in this whole multi business. There must be a smattering of soups, mostly of approximately Chinese origin but at least one cream of tomato and/or chicken for those with the Raj hangover. The rest of the menu must represent with reasonable flair three key cuisines - North Indian (including dals,curries and tandoori) South Indian (dosa, idli, and variants) and Chinese (of the Manchurian/Shezwan variety). Optionals are a section of chaats, a kids menu with pizza and burgers, and a half-hearted dessert section.

And here's the key; all the stuff must be cooked in the same kitchen with the same set of cooks. There's no place for specialists here. Versatility is the buzzword - the same cook must turn out dal tadka and chicken noodles with equal facility. The dosa guy may be a specialist, but merely because making dosas takes up all his time - the same for the tandoor guy.

One should not confuse multi-cuisine with that silly Western fad for fusion. In fact, every such restaurant tries for the opposite - each dish claims to be completely authentic. Dosa the way a Tamil amma does it, tandoori that could have been flown in from Amritsar, Chinese that everyone in Manchuria eats every day - thats the promise here. All the fusion here is accidental, probably because the cook making your Schezwan has eaten dal tadka all his life.

Multi-cuisine is, I would put it, the REAL Indian ethnic restaurant. This is restaurant food that we have all grown up with, before we started turning our noses up and heading to sings proclaiming South Italian or Chitpat Brahmin food. Distinct, hearty, universally popular and unhealthy enough to be our version of the pizza parlour - this should be the considered the true 'Indian' flagship.

Discover

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IMG_0101Mumbai isn't quite New York when it comes to writings about restaurants, but there's still a fair amount of discussion on where and what to eat, making it very unlikely that you'll discover something completely unknown to the food paparazzi. It was with some surprise, therefore, that I stumbled upon Farid Seekh Kabab center in a crowded Jogeshwari street. I went past the shop one day, noted the crowds waiting to get in and the smells, and decided to try it out. It turned out to be one of the best seekh kababs in IMG_0213-1 Mumbai - incredibly juicy (you can actually squeeze juice out of it), great taste and dirt cheap. Kabab is the only thing they  do (along with a cholestrol-spiking fried parathas), though they're willing to get you tea and pepsi from the hotel across the street. And people know they're on to a good thing; the place has an assembly line of kababs running continuously on a long charcoal sigdi, and a perpetual line of people waiting.

I discovered the secret on visit three - Farid is the unknown branch of the much-written-about Sayyad Seekh Kabab Center in Bachu Seth ki Wadi, deep in the heart of the red light district in Kamathipura (the signboard says there's a third branch - Nawab Seekh Kababs in Do Tanki). Its surprising that such a popular place with such utterly great kababs should be so un-written about - no mention in the Times Good Food guide (which mentions Sayyad), or Google or any Indian search engine.
IMG_0096
But more is to come.  

Right next door to Farid was an intriguing sign that promised Ramzan special sweets every day. The sign turned out to be JJ Jalebi Centre (I kid  you not! there's no "kk kiran" influence here). Now jalebis are pretty common in Mumbai, but I've never had anything like JJ's version. The standard jalebi is made of thin fried dough loops soaked in syrup; biting one gives a pleasant cruch and a quick sugar rush. JJ on the other hand, makes jalebis with nearly half-inch-thick strands. Bite one, and your teeth goes through the very crisp crust into a soft, runny yellow interior. Its great; probably the best jalebi I've had in a while. And they have decent gulab jamun too. Apparently the JJ comes from Jamshedji Jeejebhoy Hospital, next to which is the original shop (the Jogeshwari version is a mere five years old).

Getting there is easy - its on the road that connects Behram Baug to SV Road in Jogeshwari (W). Don't try too hard to look for the signage, though Hotel Metro on the other side of the road (where the tea and Pepsi come from) is much more visible. The map below might help.

IMG_0098-1  IMG_0097-1


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Playing Tag

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When I started this blog some years ago, one of the most frustrating things about blogger was the absence of tagging. They've finally caught up with it, and I too have finally caught up. I just finished tagging all my posts.

Luchi Mangsho

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There's whole rash of Bengali restaurants in Andheri Lokhandwala, where I stay, so I teamed up with a newly tattooed friend to test their mettle.

The restaurants we chose were Hooghli, Hangla's and Calcutta Club. Of these, two (Hoogli and Calcutta Club) are within shouting distance of each other at the end of Oshiwara's restaurant row, while Hanglas is some distance away near Lokhandwala market. (view map)

Now the question was how to test. Kosha Manghso, the seminal non-veg dish on a bong menu seemed like ideal to try the taste test. We decided to order a plate of Kosha Mangsho from each of the restaurants, and pair it with homemade luchis.

The three deliveries were very interesting in their differences. All looked distinctly different from each other, had different prices and came in different packages. Hangla's medium brown version came in a big foil box and cost Rs 99. Calcutta Club delivered an orange version for Rs 80 while Hooghli was the most expensive - a dark, rich gravy at Rs 130.

How did they stack up? The tastiest and the best was also the most expensive - Hooghli. It was the only truly kosha (braised) mutton of the lot. Second was Calcutta Club, though neither the colour nor the consistency of the gravy was what we expected. Hangla's had the softest and largest mutton pieces, but a complete lack of chillies left it tasting bland and funny. All three were quite reasonable, but none made it anywhere close to the hallowed levels of (say) Shyambazaar's Golbari.

Facing the Book

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I finally managed to discover how to integrate Blogger with Facebook - its in the Notes application. Now you can see my posts on Facebook.

Imitating Imtiaz

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Ok so I do a lot of cooking and I'd love to claim it all comes from taste memory and sheer genius. However, since no one seems to be swallowing the claim, here are some of my secrets. There's of course the whole business of eating, and trying out and asking my mother and google, but then there are cookbooks too. I'm a great reader of cookbooks to extract re-usable techniques and flavour combinations that I can then tweak. Most of my experiments with Avadhi food are inspired by the recipes found in Jiggs Kalra's book "Prashad - Cooking with the Indian Masters". The section on Avadh is written by Imtiaz Qureshi, whose food you can try at Dum Pukht in the ITC hotels. Another source of recipes is R.K. Saxena's website on Tripod (or at least, it seems like his website) that lists recipes from his book "Dastarkhwan-e-Awadh". Camellia Panjabi's book on the 50 Great Curries of India has also provided me some very reliable recipes. Minakshi Dasgupta, whose children run Kewpies in Kolkata has a cookbook that I find very useful - "Bangla Ranna".

Luchi

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The one thing that signals good food time in Kolkata is the luchi. Not to be confused with the non-bong poori, the luchi signals a special treat in this primarily rice-eating part of the world. The differences are subtle but important - a true luchi should be a feather-light, puffed roundel that retains its shape on the plate and doesn't flop about like the commonplace poori. Luchis come in two varieties - the regular atta version and the perfectly white, incredibly light maida luchi that only bongs make. Of course, they look unhealthy but that picture is a dinner plate full of luchi; it took half a cup of flour and a tablespoon of oil (I put 4 tablespoons of oil in the kadahi, and three remained after I finished) - that's about as much as salad dressing! That should have been enough luchis for two light diners, but I was hungry.

Everyone will tell you luchis are difficult to make, and it took me a long time to try making it. Frankly, the weight of culinary expectation discourages amateurs like me from trying, but its just fried dough and surprisingly simple once you get over the worries. Perfect luchis traditionally required skill and practice, but I have modern technology, as-seen-on-tv devices and tricks up my sleeve that my grandmother would never have forgiven me for, bless her soul.

Here are the basics - half a cup of whole wheat flour (or maida - refined flour - for the REAL thing), a bit of salt and few drops of ghee for something called moyan (don't ask me what it is, just do it). Mix the salt and drops of ghee into the dry flour with your hands for a few minutes. Add a tablespoon of water and knead to make a firm, pliant dough and let it rest for half an hour or so. Then divide into small smoothly rolled balls, smear with a little ghee and roll into round even discs with a rolling pin. Technically, that rolling's the hardest part - bong housewives practice for years before the luchis come out round, thin and even, but here's where non-grandma techniques make life so much easier. How thin is good? Well, even fat luchis (2mm or thicker) will puff; except that since the bottom will remain heavy they won't become round balls and won't look that great. Really thin luchis (1/2 mm or so) puff better and are that perfect light airiness, but then you have to make the size a little smaller - about 3" diameter or so - otherwise they'll become difficult to handle.

The most important trick-up-the-sleeve is a cookie cutter. No longer do you have to roll it perfect - even your amoeba-shaped mess can be turned into a great luchi by using a cookie cutter to cut a perfect circle from the dough (alternately, use thin-rimmed steel bowls or my favourite - the upper half of a cocktail shaker). Just roll the whole dough into a thin (1/2 mm), even sheet on a flat greased counter-top and cut multiple luchis out at one go (hey, chefs on television do it all the time). Roll the remaining dough back into a sheet and repeat. You can even use fancy shapes - circular ones puff the best, but square or other shapes look interesting and taste the same. While you should roll the dough as thin as possible, evenness is more important and be careful that it isn't so thin that it can't be handled. My mother tells me I should roll the pin only in one direction (towards my luchi-filled paunch) and put only light pressure.The best place to keep the unfried luchis are around the edges of a large bowl - that way they're easy to lift off.

Trick two - go forth and buy a cheap pastry scraper. It makes handling those thin cookie-cut discs of dough so much easier. If you don't have one of those, you'll have a problem lifting really thin luchis off the counter without screwing them up.

Trick three (though I haven't tried it yet) - use a pasta roller. Should cut the whole rolling business really short. Pasta rollers produce very even sheets of dough - half milimeter should be perfect. Don't use ready made pasta sheets, though - it has eggs and olive oil and would therefore approach heresy and ex-communcation. My grandmother might even come back from the dead.

Hold on, the story isn't over yet - what happened to frying? Enough hot oil for the luchi to be completely immersed is a must - any less and you can kiss perfect spheres goodbye. This means you must put enough oil so that the depth is least a couple of inches, and the with (of the oil, not the pan) at least a little bit more than the luchi being fried. Make sure its really really hot - just below smoking. If it's not hot, the luchis will not puff, and though they will eventually be edible they'll be fat and crisp rather than soft and fluffy. Ghee is great here, because it has a higher smoke point. Frying has three stages - release, immerse, flip. Slide a single luchi at a time into the hot oil, then use a perforated spoon to gently push the luchi down so that the whole thing is immersed in oil for a few seconds - till it starts puffing. Flip it over in a few seconds, wait for a count of three and take it out. A luchi should be light gold - if its brown it's too crisp to eat comfortably. The most common causes of non-puffing are - dough too thick (puffs very little), uneven dough (unevenly puffed rather than one glorious ball), insufficient oil, oil not hot enough (crisp biscuits take take time to brown) or dough too thin (starts to puff, then bursts).

Here are my three secrets to a luchi - (1) half mm thin and very even dough discs, (2) really hot oil and (3) enough oil depth to immerse the whole luchi. What to do if you're luchi doesn't puff? Nothing - its still going to be edible, just don't take any pictures and send them out.

And yes, I did make the ones in the picture. Three did not puff, and two got eaten before they even made it to the photo.

Desserted

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On Saturday, I made a dessert as part of my multi-course extravaganza. The Bengali sweet tooth is legendary, so dessert is simply unavoidable. I made shujir payesh - a version of the famed bong payesh that is considerably easier to make than the rice variety.

Shujir payesh, or polenta milk pudding, is actually one of the easiest and quickest desserts I know how to make, though I must admit it took me years of doing it wrong and failing to get it right. Its basically sooji (or rawa or polenta or grits) with milk, sugar and a little cardamom, optionally with raisins, cashews, pistachios, saffron and whatever else moves your cheese. Brown lots of cashews and raisins in a little ghee, then add a handful sooji and stir till the distinct aroma of frying sooji comes out (about 30 sec). Then add milk (at least twice the volume of sooji), a cardamom pod or two and sugar, thicken slightly and you're done. Stay low on the sugar; this is supposed to be only mildly sweet. Top it with saffron soaked previously in warm milk, chopped pistachios and some silver foil if you have any. Looks great, smells great, and of course tastes like you slaved on it all day - even without all the nuts and saffron.

The trick here is to fry (or dry roast) the sooji till the smell comes. Add the milk too soon and sooji acts as a thickener for the milk; you'll end up with a sticky gummy paste instead of a free-flowing payesh. There's no way to recover from that - throw it out and start again. The longest part of making this is browning the cashews; the rest is done in 90 seconds.

Sooji halwa is a very close cousin of this, using water instead of milk. Use enough water to get a thick paste, then let it set by cooling. For healthy eating, avoid the ghee and roast the sooji. Roasting takes a little longer - maybe 2-3 minutes.

Food of the Earth

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Prithvi Cafe has always been one of my favorite places to sit around and read books. In addition to uncomfortable seats and a steady supply of cheap tea, Prhtivi provided a continous stream of peoplewatching that was difficult to equal. It helped that the cafe, owned by Bengalis and kitchened by a chef who could speak and cook Bengali, was able to turn out Mumbai's best Shorshe Bata Maach. And then there was the Irish coffee... I went back to Prithvi after a fairly long time. Much had changed since then; the cafe is now operated by Mocha. There's no Bengali food in sight and there's not even the smallest scent of alchohol in the Irish Coffee. There's also a new menu with specialities from different landmark restaurants of Mumbai. The net result - I like the new, much warmer lighting. The seats are just as uncomfortable as ever in the old section but thats still the place for peoplewatching. The chai is definitely better, and the food even if lacking all shorshe is actually quite good - at least the sandwiches and chaat were. The service sucks though, which is all for the better since you don't feel guilty about all those people waiting in line for a seat. Lets face it, you're here to sit and read and peoplewatch and hopefully interest Makarand Deshpande into giving you a starring role in a movie; that takes time, patience, cheap tea and really slow waiters.

Feeding the Masses

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I finally got around to cooking a full, multi-course vegetarian meal for my friends. Here's what finally came out...
  1. Kumro bhate - Steamed pumpkin mash with coconut and raw mustard oil, and rice
  2. Posto bhate - poppyseed paste with raw mustard oil, and rice. This was actually the surplus poppyseed paste from the aloo posto, but it tastes great nevertheless
  3. Methi shaag - Fenugreek leaves stir fried with roasted peanuts
  4. Aloo posto - Potatoes in a poppyseed and nigella sauce
  5. Boti Chocchori - Cauliflower, peas and snow peas steamed with mustard. Snow peas, of course, are not traditional but substitute nicely for broad beans (sheem) which are.
  6. Mushur dal - Masoor dal with panch phoron and chopped cilantro
  7. Chhanar Dalna - Paneer in a ginger-cumin sauce with whole garam masala
  8. Shujir Payesh - Rawa milk pudding with saffron and cardamom.
(Its actually five courses, because 4,5 and 6 are meant to be had together) All this, of course, with steamed rice. I ran out of Gobindobhog, but there was the local Ambe Mohur. Nothing wrong with Basmati, but that's not what you would usually have it with at a Bengali home. Of course, we don't normally have rice at all for dinner - usually rotis or parathas or pooris, but that's outside my capabilities so rice it was.

Searching for Rezala

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When hunting for great food in the bylanes of Kolkata in my teenage years, one thing that we would often go looking for was the famed mutton rezala. Aminia, Nizam and many other places did good rezalas, but the most famous one was Shabir in Kolkata's Chandi Chowk area. I've been back to Shabir a few times over the years, but this time I went to the second-greatest rezala place in Kolkata - New Aaliya on Bentick street, very close to Statesman House - and came out licking my fingers for the next month.

Rizala originates from Lucknow (and is even listed in Dastarkhan-e-Avadh by RK Saxena) but seems to have survived in Kolkata in a unique variant (and its not just the spelling that changed); I've never seen quite the same thing in any other city. Though RK Saxena's authoritative Avadhi recipe describes it as a thick white gravy, Rezala - its Kolkata variety - is spicy, thin and just a little sweet. Awadhi Rezala is made with mutton but in Kolkata, the chicken variety is just as common.

Anyway, the reason for all this rezala rumination is that I was hankering for it last weekend and decided to reproduce it. Googling yielded a few recipes, but none of them looked like they would yield anything like the alsi Kolkata variety, so I decided to combine google with me and try things our from taste memory. The thing about taste memory is, of course, that the broad outlines of taste and look get reproduced, but the finer details can vary.

Basically, The Kolkata Rezala is a thin sweet-sour-spicy gravy with a onion-ginger-garlic sauce base, sour curd, whole garam masala, white pepper, a little coriader powder, onion paste and cashew paste - finished with kewra water or a drop of kewra essence. The sour curd and kewra finish are the key taste elements of the Rezala.

The net result was wonderful, though I did add a shade too much white pepper, and the curd wasn't very sour so I added a smidgen of lime juice. And it looks exactly like the New Aaliya variety white a perfectly white sauce base with a floating layer of nearly colourless oil (its actually an oil/water emulsion that contains most of the spice flavouring).

Treading Gingerly on Garlic

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In the last two years, I've really learned to make use of ginger-garlic paste.

Though books repeatedly tell you of the wonderful properties of ginger, specially the use of its thickening effects in Indian cooking, its only recently that I practically stumbled upon what exactly they mean. Ginger-garlic paste, added to hot oil or ghee and simmered on a low flame till it becomes vaguely gelatinous and releases oil. The trick is to make sure the paste is free-flowing and not very dry, and the simmer is slow and long. Keep simmering it undisturbed till the paste browns slightly at the bottom and you can smell it caramelizing.

How much ginger to garlic? I used to use roughly equal quantities, but my favoured mixture now is about 50% more garlic than ginger. Garlic, in particular, mellows with heat so more garlic makes sense, but I learned this from Jiggs Kalra's book of recipes. The other trick is to be generous in quantities of ginger-garlic paste - that's what makes your silky gravies.

This is not a general gyan blog entry. It seems simple and obvious, but getting it right has taken me years of experimentation and transformed my non-veg food from the good to sublime (sure, its me saying it about myself, but remember I eat enough of the best food and throw away enough of my own food to know what I'm talking about). The gravies come out silky and decadent, finally approaching the best Indian food I've ever had in the bylanes of Lucknow and Kolkata. Ginger garlic paste does not deaden the taste of spices the way onion paste does, hence the widespread use in Awadhi food with its prevalence of subtle spices that onion paste would have murdered. See, for instance, my post on the rezala.

The summary:

1. Use a free-flowing paste of ginger and garlic in a 1:2 ration. Excess water is ok, too little water will cause the paste to burn 2. Be very generous with the quantity - its possible to underuse but difficult to overuse 3. Simmer slow and long in adequate amounts of ghee till the paste has been reduced to a gelatinous mass, the water is gone and the oil shows on the surface.

The Prodigious Returns

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Ok, so I've ignored this blog for a long time. Just over two years since my last post. 1-Jan-2008 is probably a good time to restart. A lot happened in the two years. I changed jobs, came back to Mumbai, stayed in two different places and did lots more cooking and eating. Coming back to India, foodwise, has been a big change. Of course, I get to eat much more by way of Indian food (and its innumerable regional varieties), but I also get a lot less of New York's wonderful profusion of food from the rest of the world. I also get to cook a lot more, and observe how cooking and shopping has changed even in the few years that I was away with the advent of hypermarkets. Here's to the return of a convergence of two of my major interests - talking and food.

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