Random Ruminations

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This Sunday’s cycle ride yielded a mish-mash of culinary experiences. The day started with Bandra’s Theobroma and its Akuri. It was quite nice, creamy and spiced right; and a major star of the sideshow was the cheesy hash brown. The macaroons that came next were, however, a huge disappointment – the raspberry filling was delicious but the macaroon itself crumbled into gloopy nothingness in my hands. Not a patch on Le 15.

Next stop was VT, and an old favourite seems to have spruced up again. Cannon (just outside the exit for the pedestrian subway) used to be Mumbai’s greatest pao bhaji (ok one of the greatest) but had in the middle fallen distinctly into mediocrity; thankfully it seems to have recovered its lost touch. Now I think of Pao Bhaji as comfort rather than truly gourmet, and indeed I think of most pao bhaji as insipid mash, but Cannon (along with Sardar in Tardeo) is definitely one of those the critics tag “worth visiting”. The secret of their explosive name is a mystery, but the pao bhaji is good for two simple reasons – lots of butter (far more than average) and a very long simmer that makes this a dense, dark brown bhaji instead of the orange slop that most places serve. Cannon fries its onions long and hard, and then the veggies of the bhaji itself sits simmering (and darkening) for at least an hour on one tawa while the one of other three is being used to serve the current crop of customers. Slow cooking it is, and this multi-tawa business is only possible in a place like Cannon who is confident ahead of time that multiple massive (four-foot-wide) griddles full of bhaji will sell out.

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Next to Cannon is another old favourite – Kala Khatta Cold Drinks. Its main offering is the eponymous Kala Khatta – a spice-sweet-sour (and cold) drink that is distinctly superior to the average roadside Kala Khatta available all over Mumbai. The place also serves a few other flavours – I tried White Rose, which turned out to be a clear sharbat with a nice musky rose smell.

Moshe Moshe

about Bandra West, Mumbai 1 comment:

Haircuts are usually not on my list of pleasant, but friends sometimes take pity on me and treat me to goodies afterwards. Tuesday night the goody was a tasting session at the launch of Moshe’s newest outlet in (finally) Bandra.

The location is tucked up above Nature’s Basket, a death-defying climb up some narrow stairs or a lift ride away from the street. The layout is similar to his other locations – walking in brings you face to face with the breads, and then there’s a nice dining area which, for this tasting session, was dominated by a table filled with salads, cheeses and turkey cold cuts. I’ve never been thank thankful for turkey, but the Mediterranean-tinged salads were, without exception, wonderful.

Then the real assault started. As we sat down with glasses of pleasant white wine, little square plates filled with food started chasing us in what seemed like a never-ending supply. Nice little kebabs on sticks, poppers of asparagus and leek, two kinds of risotto, tofu, spicy chicken, not-so-spicy chicken, lamb, beef, corn crepes, the list went on and on. After a longish pause in the parade of plates, we thought we were at the end and moved into dessert territory, only to be brought back with a resumption of  more savouries. Presentations were outstanding, either single helpings in tiny square plates, or full portions in long rectangular ones

Many dishes stood out. There was a bulgur salad,  a spinach and pine-nut salad with some kind of creamy dressing, an asparagus and walnuts salad all of which were much worthy of attention. The risotto, the spiced chicken with green couscous, the ravioli and the leek&asparagus poppers were divine. The beefsteak, the shish kabobs, the tofu in pepper and the spiced fondue rated as very good (I’m sure I don’t even remember them all – there were over two dozen options). In desserts were murder-worthy lemon mascarpone logs, drool-worthy baby walnut tarts and some of his Madonna-worthy blueberry cheesecake.

The choice, the presentation and the execution is, much as expected of Moshe, impeccable. It is one of the few restaurants in Mumbai that consistently measure up to international standards in international food. Moshe’s food is centred around his Bagdadi Jewish roots, but there’s plenty of influences from everywhere else to liven things up. Many of the dishes we had are not on Moshe’s regular menu; we’ll have to see which ones finally make it but it’s bound to be good.

Moshe Shek was, apparently, the first Indian signature chef-restaurateur (that’s a chef with a restaurant named after him) – and indeed, I know of no one else in Mumbai who dares to bare. (disclaimer - traditional names like Thakkar or Bhagat Tarachand are not really thought of as chefs, though one could argue the point there). Obviously his baring has worked; his Cuffe Parade location, tucked inside the heritage precincts of Minoo Manor in the shadow of Badhwar Park has been feeding the chattering classes for a little past the itch years. Lets see how the burbies fare.

Sweet Swirls

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Rajpurohit Bhanwar Singh is not a man you would expect to find wandering the lanes of Mumbai, but that’s where I met him, churning out Mumbai’s best paneer jalebis for Gangaur at Juhu Shopping Center. Now paneer jalebis aren’t your tappori roadside stuff; we’re talking rolaty here with paneer, khoya, milk. and saffron all lined up. Crisp on the outside, but much juicier inside – this one’s a totally different taste and texture experience. Other sweetshops (like the disappointing Tiwari’s next door) make paneer Jalebis too, but Gangaur’s fat juicy crisp versions are distinctly better. Royal priest and all that…

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This is not the first time I’ve had paneer jalebis, but the variety I grew quite literally fat on was at Kharagpur’s Tech Market. The Bongs will have no truck with paneer, so we would call it chhanar jilipi. Unlike the regular flour jalebis, or even the paneer-milk versions of Gangaur (the sweetshop has strong Kolkata roots, by the way) – these are more like gulab jamuns made all squiggly, in taste, texture and look. At Tech Market, each one-rupee jilipi was the size of a small fist, enough to turn even the most resilient sixpack to jelly in days.

Mumbai is full of jalebiwallas, but most struggle to rise even slightly above average. Here, they’re thicker, sweeter, more chewy, an evening snack to be had after lunch or when leaving office. I miss the crisp, brown, early-morning jilipis of Kolkata, perfect for pairing up with rich mishti doi. The jewellers of Zaveri Bazaar do like their ancestors did in Gujarat, and faithfully pair their savoury breakfast fafdas with small, crunchy, yellow jalebis from Pancharatna or the 113yr old Mumbadevi Jalebiwalla. Fountain Caterers fed me a killer, saffron-loaded Kesar Jalebi at my birthday party, and I’ve written earlier about the fat, crisp, dark brown offerings of the very popular JJ Jalebiwallah. Delhi has its Old & Famous Jalebiwala, though I admit I’ve never actually been there done that, while UP takes things to a different level altogether with its imartis.

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If you thought that the ubiquitous Jalebi was a fun but pedestrian Indian sweet, think again. As the thirteenth century “Zlabia” it finds mention in ancient Persian cookbooks. Zlabia (or zlebia, zalabia, zalabiya or any one of its numerous alternate spellings) is well known in North Africa and the Middle East (though not always in the swiggly, baby-finds-crayons shape that is so familiar to us). Fried, orange and syrup are common factors – details vary from place to place – honey instead of sugar syrup, yeast, saffron, nuts, et al. And then there’s the American connection - a bit of side trivia on the zalabia is its association with the origins of the ice cream cone in America.

Foodwriting

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While much is written about food, cookbooks are usually not the best to find great prose. Great pictures, great recipes, even great murder weapons are often in good supply but prose;that's usually the province of food eaters.

It being a rule and all that, there need to be exceptions. When Rushina invites a bunch of dedicated, carnivorous bloggers to a veggie meal in Gamdevi, it certainly smells like one such. This time, we were faced with Yashbir Sharma and The Food Trails of Punjab – a book that is definitely a work of passion. Its hard to describe the book – a cookbook, a travelogue, a Lonely Planet of Punjabi Dhabas – picture, recipes, cook histories, dhaba tales, hotel recommendations all threaded together with honest, unpolished prose that makes for compelling reading. It is a true cookbook, because there are pages and pages of detailed recipes. It is also a great guide to the dhabas and other eateries of Punjab. Squeezed inside are stories of some of the men behind these dhabas and generous helpings of pictures of everything. One would call the style of writing distinctly rustic, but in a book about rustic foods and people that is hardy out of place. I devoured the book faster than the aloo tikkis that Rushina was handing out as starters.

Vikram Doctor came in late, praising Yashbir’s previous book. This turned out to be The Dhabas of Amritsar – and wonder of wonders, it is conveniently available online.

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