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

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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.


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