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Suvir Saran

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  1. And going back to Raji, her loss is sad. Tragic and certainly will leave a great mark in the world of Indian cooking and also French cooking. She was one of the more powerful women chefs in the US. She shattered many myths and generalisations that people would have assumed from her being Indian. She loved wine and cigars more than any other chef I have known. She loved food in all its many forms. While most people would romance the fact that they learned to cook and eat first at home from their parents, Raji made no bones about having discovered this passion of hers through travel and her desire to experiment. Maybe it was this unending desire to play with that which intrigued her, that made it possible for her to close her Indian restaurant and start a fusion restaurant way before fusion became trendy. She died young, but she lived a very full life. She cooked with the best in the business, she dined with the best and she died in the comfortable company of those she dearly loved.
  2. And what might curry-type spices be? Well, you are right, fusion in the US has been very different from fusion cuisine globally. I am not sure yet as to which I would chase after to feed my hunger. Fusion in Indian cuisine happened many times over. In the 10th century a cuisine that had been vegetarian for the most part and very Ayurvedic was given a infusion of meats by the new rulers. Such fusion kept taking place until the freedom of India in 1947. A long sustained marriage of differing food sensibilities has left India with a cuisine that is as varied as its secular culture, its languages, its people and its gods and goddesses. Food changes as much as the landscape and the culture of this sub-continent. I was testing a recipe for my cook book the other day and my co-writer saw me adding Ketchup into a curry. She was at a loss for words. This was nothing I invented, but a leftover from the India of fusion cooking of centuries before. Indian scrambled eggs are delicious and addictive. They are telling of the victory of fusion cooking. They are not very different from what we eat here. They have cayeene, onions, cilantro and some toasted cumin added if the cook feels the need to add another layer of complexity. But the addition of onions and cilantro and the heat of the cayenne, add a very savory layer of flavoring to a dish that has that very sensuous and easy texture that most any palate can savor when wanting a break from fussy foods.
  3. Firstly, I am of the opinion that Indian cooking is far superior, more subtle and multi dimensional in homes of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians. And Steven, you guessed right, Indian restaurants have often looked back at home cooking to find recipes that would excite a diner. In fact, Bukhaara, one of Indias top restaurant in New Delhi where President Clinton once again realised why he loved Indian food as dearly as he had known himself to, was founded by a group of foodies that understood that the genius of Indian cooking was guarded by grandmas, mothers, wives and professional home chefs and celebrated hosts. After having understood that, it is my understanding that they invited a very diverse set of women from Indian homes, with almost no understanding of how a restaurant works, to come and prepare their favorite dishes at the restaurants test kitchen. The team of executive chefs from across the hotel group where Bukhaara is, watched, studied, took notes and interviewed these women, gave them compliments, boosted their egos, gave respect to them for indulging in what would otherwise seem mundane and boring to them. But this was not being done as social work, but the hotel chain with interest in creating the temple to Indian cooking from the north west, had a business on their minds. And they did it very smartly. After documenting recipes from the very many participants, they were able to come up with the very best and then with the genius of a professional restaurant or hotel chef, they standardized the recipes and have been able to maintain great quality and consistency. Sharing with millions a repertoire that could have been common restaurant fare, but in this case, has the very simple, subtle and playful partnership of meats and vegetables with herbs and spices that reaches a zenith in Indian home cooking. Actually, at Bukhaara, they stay away from gimmicky garnishes, since they have understood long before the rest of us, the hokey side to gotham platings. The food is served almost as plainly as it would be at a comfortable home. They focus instead in making each dish a celebration of good food. While some travelers would miss out on home food while traveling across the Indian Sub-Continent, it is not uncommon for many to get invited to homes, to be offered food as they share trains or bus rides with rich and poor fellow passengers. There is a very deep sense of sharing in the culture of the Sub-continent, and so, most people I meet, the backpackers or the elite traveling across that area, have stories to share about how they have been moved by the generosity of even the poorest of poor mankind. I love the idea of a train journey across India in a unreserved coach for that very reason. There are 20 times more people crowding the coach than the maximum capacity, and in time, they each are carrying food for the travels packed by loving mothers, wives, home cooks or a neighbor. And as they bring these goodies out, the first thing they do, is offer their meal to those around. And they often are insulted if you do not want a small bite at the least. What is fascinating to me, is how rich and substantial even the poorest persons meal is. While it certainly has no drama that comes from having a pantry full of all exotic spices and ingredients, these barely spiced and flavored foods, have a rustic taste and simplicity that is haunting. For lack of resources, some of the meals I have eaten in these rides are made with little oil or ghee, with very basic produce and with few if any garnishes, but long after I have made it to my destination, the foods I was given to taste, the generosity of people living below the poverty line, have lingered vividly in my memory.
  4. Home cooking is much superior to the restaurant fare available. Mostly for one simple reason, in India, most people would rather go out and eat foods other than Indian. You entertain special guests at home. Chefs at homes of privilege come from a lineage of cooks. Recipes are often handed down through the generations and guarded as closely as ones jewels. Restaurant chefs can cook large meals, but often lack the expertise of playing with spcies in ways that a home cook does. In homes, spcies are often entertained in ways other than those known commcerically. For their healing, spiritual and their ability to cleanse the mind, body and soul. While a professional chef may know this, they have little time to entertain these nuances as one would in a home. Homes where the lady of the house cooks, will have foods that are very healthful, regional and light. Again, this touch will not be seen commonly in restaurant fare. Many restaurant dishes are copies of what would be found in homes, but a recipe that is close to the authentic home version, but has been adapted to match the stress that comes with large volume. IN that translation much of the subtle play between spices, produce and other ingredients is lost. Most home chefs have learned to cook under the unstructured tutelage of mothers, grand mothers and private chefs. A training that was without any set curricula but one based on improvisation and the very Indian way of living in the moment. Recipes often change with every little detail of ones life. WHile the home chef thrives in the mutability of a moment, a restaurant chef succeeds only if they can standardise, perfect and replicate the recipe again and again. These are just few of the many nuances of Indian cooking that have made it more of a success at homes and a challenge that will take years to fill by the professional staff.
  5. Steven, Are you trying to start a curry crusade? That will be a tricky one. I too would love to read what people think. NYC is catching up though... and has made leaps and bounds since even just 2 years ago in getting to be more authentic.
  6. we can change that Steven... you should plan a trip.. and I would love to be your guide.. and get you to the restaurants and also homes.... India like most countries, gives you as many different scenarios as there are moments in life. We are all ignorant in certain parts of our lives.. and it is just fine. Keep writing.. as you help others make themselves less ignorant. Suvir
  7. Stephen, You feel ignorant about what? Woof! I don't think so... you know a lot.. and write very well about things you know about. And Bombay (Mumbai) has so much to offer.. one could spend a lifetime there and not know it all. After having written so much about Bombay, I still feel there is so much more I forgot. But that would be true also for NYC or London or Paris... so no one person could ever do any of those metropolises justice in mere words... Thanks for all your postings... and for your site... they are great inspiration for many. And I hear that from many people I respect. Suvir
  8. Benedict, Wish you well if you do end up going.. and do plan a few extra days. R.T.I (I think it stood for Ratan Tata Institute is a great place to have Parsee food). There are a few locations in Bombay.. your concierge will be able to tell you of the nearest one. I forgot about it as I talked about Parsee food. Enjoy your trip.. and do keep us posted on your experiences. Suvir
  9. Does anyone know if Benedict was able to see our responses to his querry? If I was too late.. I am sorry.. If you have not left yet, Benedict, have a wonderful trip. Suvir
  10. Steven, Thanks for your prompt reply. Will be there very soon. Suvir
  11. Steven, Did you eat there yet? I went to see the place. Was very attractive... curious to eat there myself. Suvir
  12. Maybe we are losing ourselves in a very trivial fight for who is best. What country holds that title or what chef should be considered the best in the world? I call this trivial, since all of this is so very subjective and as we come closer to living in a world past the cold war and coming closer to a concept of being a global village, we should not have to worry about such titles. I did read one-person talk about Produce and ingredients being different in the US than in Europe. In my humble opinion, that is certainly true. While French supermarkets are now carrying the same kind of American trash, they still have street side vendors in abundance. Selling fruits and vegetables and fruits of the seas like we never see in the US. Maybe some vendors across NYC, but the produce happens to be the same big, fertilized product that looks better than it tastes. San Francisco has better produce and so does LA, but again, our culture here is steeped in buying from bigger stores and the average restaurant that most people can afford going to, purchase their foods from giant corporations with little care about organic or fresh. Then we need to think about how much canned, frozen and cold storage food we use in our cooking in this country. It is far more than in any I other country I have ever gone to. Maybe that should be telling about the higher cancer rate in the US than in most European countries and most of Asia other than Japan. When it comes to ethnic foods, I think the US has had a slow but steady ride in that arena. Many of my friends insist that America is far less racist than Europe. Maybe that led in some ways to ethnic people finding it easier to integrate into t he communities they moved into. With that, they found lesser need to just live in their own enclaves. As a result, we have seen a lesser need from them to create worlds that are very different from those of their neighbors. In London, the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities worked very hard and fought many to create a world that was theirs and theirs alone. They made every effort to leave an indelible stamp, unique to themselves onto the landscape of UK. That has not happened yet in the US. One has seen it with the Italian, Irish and Chinese communities here, I have not seen that much of a community amongst the more recent ethnic groups migrating into America. We certainly have little India's, Vietnam and Bangladesh in certain areas, but they are too small and too insignificant. I am Indian, and I still find very little need to go running in search of an Indian enclave where I would be more comfortable. In fact, their being far away makes them less of an attraction. And then, the fact that the enclave that is Indian is not very representative of what I want to see there, I end up never making an effort in any case. What I try to point here is the intrinsic ease with which people are living here. Or at least the feeling of ease. That creates a vacuum between what one is and what one wants to be. There is no middle and certainly no reason to recreate where one came from. Perhaps the recent developments and our war against Afghanistan and the racial profiling (I use it for a lack of a better word, yet), we will see enclaves that will house people of similar communities and create within them a sense of togetherness and a feeling that they are different from those they until yesterday, found comfort with. But is that something we should be wanting? Should our search for better Indian or Malaysian or Bengali cooking have to make us live such extreme steps? What else can we do? How else can we still have the same quality of Indian food as found in London? There are no easy answers. The Indians and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis that come to the US, come with great focus to better their lives in many ways. Some for a furthering of education, some to come closer to family and others to further their financial well-being. Others simply to create better lives. In all these different scenarios, they get lost in their goal first. And with the ease in getting into mainstream situations, they also learn a lot about the new land they have migrated to. That ease with which they can integrate at least on the surface, pushes at the back burner their homesickness. Thus, they enjoy the many other cuisines that were unknown to them in their own lands outside of t heir homes. And at home, they cook the foods of their regions and countries. While we can keep arguing which country or city has better food and the best chefs, we need to really make an effort as citizens of the worlds most successful democracy how we can ensure our status as a melting pot of the world. Thus, we should make our own decisions of why we prefer a certain restaurant or city. In America today, we are faced with the very real possibility of making many ethnic groups feel very nervous and scared. Our efforts in loving food from these places, should give us a very basic interest in also ensuring that these peoples human rights and dignity are at least maintained at the very basic level that any American should have. With that behind us, America is certainly a melting pot unlike any other. And through its restaurants and homes, one sees prepared foods daily like those eaten across the globe. While some may choose to debate the best chef and best restaurant, we certainly can hold our ground on being a safe place for educated debates.
  13. Steve, Maybe I need to have you make them for me to try. They sound like they would be amazing. I love sweets... my favorite part of a meal is the dessert course. I could live for sweets and sweets alone. Scary. I have seen your own work in Food Arts and all over... hope I can sample it very soon. I often tell people I learned to bake from Julia... from her book on French cooking. I have spent many late nights making Tarte Tatin, puff pastry and other pastry.. with her book as my teacher and my mistakes as my experience building guide. It is encouraging to see chefs like you take time to comment on what is posted by others like me. Rather generous and kind. Best to you and yours this holiday season. Suvir
  14. Jason, Indian Pizza has become a more reliable dish in the tri-state area. The Indian Chinese food is far from authentic yet. The chefs making it were mostly not trained in it. They are like me, trying to re-create it by taste. It still lacks the finesse one finds in the Indian Chinese restaurants in India. But it certainly is a most welcome start. As for the word Kinara - it literally means corner in Hindi. Not at the river. India has at least a dozen languages ... I think, am not certain, maybe as many as 17..... and then there are hundreds of dialects. Hindi is the national language of India. And many people across Indian can speak it. English can bring the educated masses more closely together than most any other language. In the south of India, there are 4 languages, changing from state to state. But curiously enough, even people living in a state where one language is spoken, people often speak Hindi and also the other three southern languages. Similarly those living in Bombay often speak Hindi, Marathi (language of the people of Maharashtra of which Bombay is the capital) and Gujerati. Many also speak Urdu, Farsi and Arabic. And certainly English is the medium of instruction at schools and colleges and business in most parts of the state. Calcutta is the capital of Bengal. Bengali is the mother tongue, but again, people speak Hindi, Bengali, Urdu and also some Gujerati and Marwari. In Delhi most people speak Hindi and Urdu. Punjabi, Tamil (language from southern India), Marwari and many other languages are spoken in the capital of India. And of course, English is the language used in most schools and places of work. While there has been a trend in promoting Hindi, it has been correctly seen as the agenda of the right-wing ruling party. They are similar to the right wing Republican party in the US. Their issues often are ones espoused by their fanatic religious affliliates that are a major chunk of the power base. Thus, language is a tough one to speak about in the Indian context. There are more languages in India than in Europe as we knew it for centuries. Then there are those dialects that change from village to village. We are talking about 1 Billion people.. and people with a very rich cultural heritage dating back to time itself. Even as the poverty laden masses are illiterate, they often speak in many tongues. It is that wealth in their person that makes traveling through India, even as one seess immense poverty interspersed with immense beauty, a celebration of life and living and culture.
  15. Jason, Sorry for the typos... I was trying to write and take a call.
  16. Jason, Indian Chinese is actually a world by itself. Very different from Malaysian food.. and a pity no one has thought of doing it here.. I know in Jackson Heights there are a few places that do some dishes... but Alas! Poorly at best. While Malaysian food has many curries and coconut and other Indian spices, in Indian Chinese cooking, one sees less spices but somewhat more heat. I think what they have added to Chinese cooking is the Indian plethora of deep frying and sauteeing and love for chilies and then with the huge repertoire of Chinese expertise in the same group, created a cuisine many decades ago, that is at once very different and yet very close to authentic Chinese cooking. I once met a lady who as Chinese born in India, she now lives in Jackson Heights and dearly misses that food. I was pickpocketed and with that, lost her contact information. She had offered to teach me some of that cooking. Now, I wait running into another person from that community.. to know more about the roots of that cuisine. As for Edison and Indian restaurants, I will do some homework before make any suggestions.
  17. Bombay, now called Mumbai is a melting pot of cultures in India. You can find in Bombay foods from all parts of India and also many other countries. The highlights of any food venture into Bombay would be the Indian food, Indian Chinese Food and Thai food. For sea food you can count on Sheetal Samudra, Mahesh lunch house and Trishna, all in Bombay to give you the best you can find in India. For Gujerati Thaali (a platter with assorted dishes to be eaten at a meal) you can count on Panch Ratna. For a vegetarian thaali you can also make a trip to Purohit or even Kailash Parbat. Kailash Parbat has many offering from the wide range of street foods that come from Bombay. Swaati is a new restaurant that has offering from Gujerato snack foods. Khyber is a fine dining Indian restaurant in Bombay. It would have food more familiar to one accustomed to Indian restaurant fare in US Cities. Bombay Brasserie is another such restaurant. Again, your concierge will be able to give you names of other new ones that are in this league. China Garden is the highest rated and most well respected Indian Chinese restaurant in Bombay. Lings Pavilion is a somewhat less expensive higher end Indian Chinese restaurant. Indian Chinese food is very different from Chinese food as we are familiar with it. It may well be worth a try. It is amazing as a food by itself. Sardar Pav Bhaji stand is a local Pav Bhaji stand in Tar Deo area of Bombay. Pav Bhaji is to Bombay what chili is to America. Sardars has the best Pav Bhaji you can find in Bombay. Pav Bhaji is addictive and soulful. You will yearn for it long after you are back in the US. You could have a lunch at the Bombay Gymkhaana or the CCI Club to get a taste of the famed Parsi cuisine that thrives in the city of Bombay. Parsi food is the food of the Zoroastrians that fled Persia and made a safe home in India. Their food is a long past fusion of the middle eastern and Indian styles of cooking. The concierge of the hotel you will be staying at could help identify an easy solution for you to taste this food. Bombay houses one of the best Thai restaurants anywhere in the world. It is at the posh President Hotel. The name escapes my mind now, but again, your concierge will assist you. If you want to enjoy fine Thai food in a most beautiful and perfect setting, this is your safe bet. You can also see produce getting carved by masters of that craft, and if you are lucky, you will be given one to take back with you. To experience the foods of the very diverse Moslem community of Bombay, you can make a trip to Mohammed Ali Road. There are many cafes and restaurants that serve the many dishes that celebrate the culinary diversity within this community. The life around the streets of this area is brimming with celebration at all times. Especially in the evenings around now. Ramadan, called Ramzan in India makes for the ritual of breaking the fast in the evening one celebrated by all. The streets in themselves are fantastic and you will be fascinated by the abundance of foods and cheer. On Colaba Causeway you will find a fair sampling of Baghdadi cafes and restaurants. Cafe Leopolds is one such place. There are several of them scattered no more than a few store fronts away from one another. These serve cafe foods as we are familiar with. Just off the Colaba Causeway, one of the side streets houses Bade Miyaan, a hole in the wall that serves grilled meats and tandoori breads. It is a refuge of the late night hip crowd as also the locals that live in the area. If you need a break from eating all these ethnic foods and want a refuge in a comfortable familiar setting, Shamiana the coffee shop at the Taj Palace Hotel at Gateway of India is just the best place to retreat. Bachelors, is a late night ice-cream joint that serves countless varieties of fresh fruit ice creams made at home. You can also get a wonderful bowl of strawberries and cream when in season. They are sublime. You may want to ask if they are. At Bachelors, on Marine Drive, you can also get the best Idlis (steamed lentil and rice cakes) with a most delicious Coconut Chutney. While a snack to southern Indianers, this makes for a great treat at any hour. The famous juice stand at Haji Ali serves amazing fresh juices of all kinds and also the cities sweetest strawberries when in season served with cream. You can also partake in Falooda, a drink made with ice cream, noodles and nuts. A very Bombay drink and cooler. If you have a desire to try out Indian desserts, you must make a trip to Mishti Bela, a temple of Indian sweets in Malabar Hill. At this beautiful boutique selling the finest Indian desserts, you will see Indian desserts in a manner you never thought possible. And the tastes and textures and forms that these desserts have, will thrill not only your palate, but awaken the senses in all ways. Indian desserts have had a very poor representation in the US. Simply because they are not always easy to prepare. I hope you enjoy your trip to one of my favorite cities. It never sleeps. And food is abundant. Have fun. (Edited by Suvir Saran at 12:17 am on Dec. 1, 2001)
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