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Everything posted by Vikram

  1. Thanks for the birthday greetings. And yes, you do get cockles - the really small thin shelled ones which are called tisriyo here in Bombay would fit that description I think. Suvir, you must have eaten them with our common friend ARK - would you agree these fit the bill as cockles. Whatever they are, they are utterly delicious. Despite my ancestral allegiance to mussels I have to say living in Bombay is winning me over to tisriyo as superior. They don't have the rubberiness that mussels can get and if they are much smaller, just tiny scraps of flesh in their shells, they are so flavoursome they make up for it. They are generally cooked in two ways, Mangalorean and Malvani. Apoorvi restaurant does the Mangalorean way, with lots of grated coconut very well. Last Sunday I had them the other way, with coconut milk and Malvani masala at Sindhudurg where I was eating with friends, and I had no problems fighting to make sure I got most of the tisriyo! We are also getting really good oysters now. Before one only got small ones, which were best eaten stir fried, though Malvani restaurants also make them with masala. But some guy in Kerala is now harvesting really excellent big oysters which can be eaten raw in a few places like Indigo. Bay of Bombay, now closed, used to have an oyster night where you could gorge on them in many different ways. I've tried to find where the guy is harvesting his oysters from, but its a big secret. The steaming in the pressure cooker (no weight on top) opened them up and then we cut them from the shell. The broth in the cooker smelled fabulous and can be used for a great stock, but in deference to my sister's husband who unaccountably can't stand the smell of mussels, we abandoned it. Maybe one could try making a rasam from it. Mussels rasam does sound good - I've had excellent crab rasam at Raintree, the Chettinad restaurant at the Connemara Hotel in Madras. But sambhar? Wouldn't the tamarind clash with the mussels? Vikram
  2. I was in Madras on my birthday and my sister, who shares my food obsessions, knew the perfect present: she took me in the morning to a neighbourhood called Annanagar to the one shop run by a fisherman's co-operative where one can buy mussels. There isn't much call for them in Madras, which is why they're only available in this one place. People in Madras are disappointly conservative when it comes to the fish they eat. A Bombay fish market is a wonderful sight with the range of fish and all the Koli ladies dressed to the nines and loaded with all their gold necklaces as they slice through huge surmais and rawas. This place just had big seer fish, which accounts for 90% of fish consumption, and a few smaller varieties and some baskets of prawns and crabs. The only people who eat mussels in Madras - and I think the only community who eats them in India - are Malayalis from North Kerala which is where my mother's family comes from. Mussels, known as kalamakai or fruit of the rocks, are a devoutly prized delicacy with us, all the more so for the fact that no one else seems to like them. Even my sister's husband, who's roughly from the same region, quickly evacuated the house when we arrived with one dripping sackful. Its possible that he left to avoid being dragged into cleaning. God knows that took forever and I can understand the fury of some of my aunts when a well meaning uncle managed to get several sacks of them as a special treat in the middle of a big family wedding. But once they were cleaned, de-bearded and then steamed in a pressure cooker for five minutes then.... the smell as you opened the cooker surpasses any descriptive skills I have. The best thing to do with them would be to pickle them, but that would have taken too long and anyway, everyone in my family feels, melancholically, that no one does it as well as my great grandmother used to. Arrikaddaka is another way, where the shells are stuffed with a rice flour and spice mixture, but this is, to tell the truth, rather heavy. In the end, my sister just sprinkled them with turmeric and chilli and rock salt and after leaving them for 15 minutes, quickly stir fried them till they were crisp. The result was blissful, but it did leave me wondering if there are other ways of cooking them Indian style. Once in Cape Town I had a delicious curry of them in an Indian restaurant called Perima's which used, if I recall correctly, a lot of mint, but the next day I have to admit I was rather sick which stopped me from going back to ask for the recipe. (Not that I'm blaming the mussels, or even if they were to blame, then occasional upset stomachs are a price worth paying for mussels). But does anyone else here have recipes or suggestions I can keep aside for the next time I'm in Madras? Vikram
  3. A friend from the catering industry, in a fit of post monsoon cleaning, has just gifted me four bottles of Israeli arrack. I quite like it occasionally - that's why I became the recipient of this gift - but four bottles looks like its going to last my lifetime. Can anyone suggest uses for it? Its such powerfully flavoured stuff I find it hard to imagine how one could create a cocktail with it, Vikram
  4. Chillies are bad enough, wait till you try and combine wine with South Indian dishes made with coconut milk or flavoured with coconut oil. I defy anyone to find a wine pairing that goes well with coconut. There's a certain gentleman who claims to be the father of the Indian wine industry who is prone to going on about how wine was made in India from ancient times, how famous these ancient vintages were, etc. etc. all of which is duly recycled by journalists as facts, but I am rather dubious. The problem is the word wine is used very freely by Indian writers to mean any alcoholic beverage whether made from sugar cane juice, or mahua flowers, or rice, or dates, or pretty much whatever you like. The more telling indication I think is the extent to which grapes were grown. K.T.Achaya, the main source on Indian food history, notes that grapes have been grown in North India for a long time, and there are some indigenous varieties, but he also notes that: "In India, the production of alcohol by fermentation has generally favoured starchy materials and palm exudates, though a variety of fruits have also been used. Madhira appeared to have been a grape-based wine." Achaya doesn't say here where he gets 'Madhira' from and I rather wonder if even this wasn't an Indianisation of Madeira which could very conceivably have been imported from the West - even before the British, since the Mughal court did import wine and isn't Madeira particularly suited for travelling in hot climates? Anyway, I think wine consumption in the Western sense only really starts with the Brits who drank copious amounts of claret and champagne mainly as an alternative to the potentially lethal local water. The post Independence wine experience is not to be contemplated by the weak of palate. I once, for a wine magazine in California, bought a sample of every Indian wine in the market and got quite a startling number. I try not to remember the tasting that followed but its been burned into my palate, particularly one unspeakably awful white port from Goa. (To add insult to considerable injury, the wine mag went out of business, so there went my story). Not all these Goan ports were that bad, especially if you didn't think of them as wines, rather than some kind of cough syrup. They were so unassuming as to be almost charming - I particularly remember the one that came with a free bar of soap attached, and the one that was packaged in plastic pouches. There were a few - Monte Guerim, I think, made by monks, that were almost pleasant. Another set came from Indian liquor companies who just made some stuff from whatever grapes came their way - mostly table grapes like Thompson seedless, so you can imagine the result. The quality went up a bit with two wineries set up more recently - Indage and Grover's. I would rather not comment on Indage apart from their decent sparkling wine (an ex-Indage winemaker told me candidly that this was because quality of grapes didn't matter, only the techniqe). Grover's is better - they have some pretty nice reds. The best whites, I think, come from an even more recent winery called Sula set up by a young guy called Rajeev Samant (who I know slightly, but not so well, I think, to make me less objective). They have sauvignon blancs and chenin blancs that are pleasant glugged well chilled. Now, of course, as my article pointed out, there's a flood of imported wine coming in, but alas, not yet, imported wheat beers which partly explains my bitterness. Can anyone else confirm my views about wheat beers and Indian food? Vikram
  5. Yes, at the ITC Grand Maratha Hotel which means you're getting street food at five star prices which sort of dampens one's enthusiasm, however good it is. Maroush is quite good, but most people seem to go there for the belly dancers more than the food. The Lebanese place I like is Lebanese Point in the middle of all the chaos of that main commercial street in Andheri Lokhandwala. Its run by guys from Dubai and its all good, honest, authentically tangy stuff, Vikram
  6. Hi Howler, back from Madras (on which more later) just as this frankie discussion gets going. Reading it I was struck by a sudden, immediate urge to have a Frankie, so went out of office to the Waikiki stand near Sterling cinema only to find it closed and looking like it had been that way for ages. I walk past that road often, but somehow hadn't noticed that. If it really is closed - and I'll check again - it would fit my observation that Frankie's are going out of fashion in Bombay. There was a stall near where I stay in Khar which again has gone out of business and I can think of others. Its also no long as easy to find in or near movie theatres, which is where I remember most of the Frankie consumption of my youth. Perhaps there's something up with the Tibbs guys (that can be checked), perhaps their insistence on control has prevented the Frankie really disseminating within Bombay like the vada pau. It could be a trend away from non-veg snacks - yes, I know there are veg Frankies but they don't bear thinking about. I certainly think the grease level in the average Frankie could be putting people off (the only instruction I'd add to the recipe above is that you have to end up eating at least half the grease sodden paper the Frankie comes wrapped in). There are similar roll type snacks - the Noorani sheekh kebab roll is a particular favourite of mine, because of the curiously meaty nature of the sheekh which I think could be due to the Noorani owners Moplah roots. I also like the rolls at Samovar in theJehangir Art Gallery. But none of these are the same as Frankies and nor, for that matter, are Calcutta kati rolls, since those lack the greasy-gracy element of Frankies. One last comment. Just checked the TOI archives and found some confirmation for SKChai's story about its etymology. Here's the story:
  7. Shamelessly pushing my own work again, here's a piece I wrote in the Times of India to show the extent to which this wine matching nonsense can get to. The piece was written just after the Indian Finance Minister presented his annual Budget in Parliament: This piece prompted some irate reactions from some people, one of whom wrote a response in a local paper so heavily laden in irony one could almost hear the clunk in every word. One extract is worth quoting because, while he was intending to be supremely satirical, he actually gives quite a good round up of the traditional drinks that could go with Indian food:
  8. There is a very simple answer to this question of how to match wine and Indian cuisine and it is: don't bother. I know I'm going to get flak for this, and I hate to pick a quarrel with Raju's expertise but I've tired this many times, with many different wines, and it really doesn't work. I mean you can drink wine with Indian food and you won't drop dead and it can even be a reasonably pleasant glug. But you get nothing extra from the combination and that I always thought was the purpose of food-beverage combining. I also do not want to be rude to the many restaurateurs on this list, but I must note how this thread confirms an observation I've made that the people who ask this question most insistently are restaurateurs which leads me to think that they're more interested in boosting profit margins from liquor sales than really enhancing their customers' dining experience. What's particularly annoying is that there IS a drink that goes extremely well with Indian food and its beer - and I say this without being much of a beer drinker myself (I go for wine anyday) but its simply true. I don't mean beer in the curry and lager sense - notthatthere'sanythingwrongwiththat, and something has to explain the success of chicken tikka masala. What I'm referring to are Belgian and German wheat beers, particularly the ones that use spices like coirander in the brewing like Hoegaarden. They are light, cooling, very refreshing, have hints of traditional Indian drinks like limbu-pani (these beers are often taken with slices of lime) and the spice adds a sympathetic note. Try them the next time you're eating Indian food and you'll find everything you never got with wine. And since restaurateur's profits must be respected (I mean that almost sincerely), please could they consider the mark-ups that could be made on imported beers! Vikram
  9. Vikram


    Nobody has mentioned using star anise as a flavouring but I've started doing it, following one of the recipes in Monica Bharadwaj's 'The Indian Kitchen' book. For those who haven't seen it, the book goes ingredient by ingredient, and gives a few recipes for each one, and the kheema recipe is under the entry for star anise. I think it works very well, in fact I'm going to make it my basic kheema recipe. I've tried other versions, including a very good, but time consuming one involving green masala (coriander and mint leaves made into a paste) and another one with coconut milk which is delicious, but a bit too high on the calories, I think. This is very simple and good. So with a top of the hat to Ms.Bharadwaj, please buy her excellent book, here it is: For about half a kilo of lamb mince: Melt a teaspoon of sugar in a large deep pan and let it start caramelising. As soon as its brown, add some oil and when that's hot, throw in 4-5 star anise (if they're whole it makes them easier to fish out at the end) and a teaspoonful of black peppercorns. Stir for a moment, then add a couple of chopped up onions and stir until they are brown. Add some ginger-garlic paste (yeah, yeah, do the real thing if you have time, if not Dabur's Hommade pastes rock. This of course is me and certainly NOT Ms.Bharadwaj speaking). Stir a bit more. Add some tomato puree. Stir until the oil starts separating (this is the standard instruction given by Indian cooks, and I have never quite understood what it means. Stir a bit, I guess). Add the kheema and stir it around, till its all a bit fried. Add the peas, if you want them. I dump them in straight frozen and it doesn't seem to make any difference. A 200 gm packet to half a kilo of kheema is about fine. Add one heaped teaspoon turmeric, one heaped teaspoon chilli powder (please, not Kashmiri), one heaped teaspoon garam masala and I've started adding some cumin powder as well. Add salt and stir it all. Add some water and lower the heat and cover the kheema tightly till its cooked or you get bored. Turn the heat off and stir in a bunch of coriander leaves, chopped up. I would recommend digging through it to take out the star anise since when you're eating, no matter how carefully you look for them, they always get into your mouth in a somewhat unpleasant way.
  10. Duck vindaloo is a traditional East Indian Christmas dish (I've already gone on about East Indians on one of the threads on this list, so lets not do it again, just lets say I'm referring to highly specific East Indian community in Bombay). They used to get the ducks some weeks before Christmas to fatten before cooking them up. I tried doing this last year. No, not fattening them up, I think my flatmate at that time would have had distinct objections to a couple of ducks wandering through the flat. But I managed to get a couple of ducks after a considerably complex process involving the mother of an East Indian friend of mine, a very specific poultry butcher in Bandra who got them on order and a very bewildered cousin of my friend who had to pick up two big dead ducks and store them in her freezer till I could come and collect them. Ducks, it seems, are not longer much in demand these days. And then I cooked them I sort of gathered why. It was the first time I was cooking ducks, and I hadn't realised they'd be so different from chicken. So I made the vindaloo masala (using a recipe from Patricia Brown's excellent book on Anglo Indian food) and left them simmering for quite a while, thinking they'd become nice and tender. In fact, the exact opposite happened: their fat melted off and floated in a orange tinted sea on top of the dish, while the flesh below took on the texture of old rope. A few of my friends, entirely out of loyalty to me, did try chewing their way through the carcasses, but they soon gave up. (Luckily my kitchen is never short of a couple of packets of Goa sausage, so they were quickly pressure cooked as a very acceptable substitute). So much for ducks then, but I should give the recipe a shot again, since the gravy was really delicious. It had a slightly pickled flavour from all the vinegar, but without the overpowering acidity of most pickles - my friends may have abandoned the carcasses, but they gobbled up the gravy and I don't think it was only extreme hunger that made them do it. Does anyone have tips for cooking ducks with Indian food? I think I remember that Chitrita Banerjee has a very delicious sounding Bangla recipe for duck cooked with oranges - an interesting take the old Western pairing, in a very different context. Some awful person has taken my copy of Life & Food In Bengal though, so even if I dared to try ducks again, I wouldn't know where to start, Vikram
  11. Interesting thread. Particularly because of how it highlights the way vindaloo has become associated with extreme spiciness outside India, when that's not quite how I think of vindaloo over here. For me, a vindaloo is spicy certainly, but not extraordinarily so - and I don't have a cast iron palate. I'd count some South Indian, particularly Andhra, dishes as dynamite and probably some dishes from the Northeastern states or Bhutan, like the one that's basically stewed chillies. But vindaloo, I'd say, is more tangy, from the vinegar of course, than spicy. I checked with my source of all information on Goan food, and she confirmed that traditional vindaloo is more sourish than spicey and according to her, has been moving even further towards sour and away from spicy, while abroad the movement has been in exactly the opposite direction! Her explanation is based on chillies and on who was cooking the dish that's become known as vindaloo abroad. In India what's been happening is that more and more people have been using those big wrinkled Kashmiri chillies that give a great red colour, but little heat - its more like paprika. (I have fulminated on this list in the past on how this standardisation of ingredients, lead by large spice companies and supermarkets, making us lose our traditional chillies). So where in the past people in Goa might have used 8-10 reasonably hot local chillies of the kind called Mapsa (presumably after the town of Mapusa?) for a kilo of meat, today they'd use 6-7 Kashmiri chillies and 2-3 Begde (the more spicier type that's commonly found in shops), so the overall tendency has been to tone down the spiciness. But the vinegary sourness remains the same, since that is the essence of a vindaloo. As she pointed out, that's why its cooked - because the sourness helps it stay good, especially when refrigeration is uncertain or when a large number of people must be fed, but there's not that much time for cooking - for example, when everyone comes down in the 2-3 days before a wedding (sorpotel and balchao are the other vinegar heavy dishes cooked for the same reason). So you can play around with the quantity of chillies, but not the vinegar. Her theory on why its become an extreme spicy dish abroad is also interesting. She suggests its because its the only one of the well known curry dishes abroad that doesn't come from the North Indian range that the British became familiar with, which was what was later reproduced in Indian restaurants abroad - dishes like rogan josh or dopiazah (even 'Madras' curry is more North Indian than really South Indian). These dishes all use garam masala and many other spices for a complex flavour. Vindaloo, on the other hand, is much simpler - chillies are really the only spice that matters in it. So compared with the other dishes it got identified as the 'spicy' one. (Many cooks were Goan so its plausible that they would have been allowed to introduce their Brit masters to a few token Goan dishes, while otherwise mostly cooking from the familiar Anglo-Indian repertoire. The Goans wouldn't have known the dynamite Andhra dishes - and I doubt their masters could have taken them either!) And once it got identified as the spicy dish, it just kept getting more and more so. Part of the whole 'lager and curry' Brit eating culture is clearly the thrill of seeing how much spice you can take - remember that Goodness Gracious Me spoof where a bunch of Indians go out for an "English" and compete to see who can eat the blandest food! - so restaurants would keep adding on the chilly powder in the vindaloo to make it even more of a dare, until it ended up in the explosive monster it seems to be today. Anyway, that's my friend's largely speculative contribution to vindaloo cultural studies! It does sound plausible though; what do others on this list think? The only thing I'll add is that I've seen the name explained as a Portuguese term for 'spirits of wine' meaning vinegar, but 'vin d'ahlua' derived from vinegar and garlic does sound more plausible. Vikram
  12. Seeds tasting like peanuts is a new one to me... maybe yes perhaps like boiled peanuts when you suck them out of the pods. I hope you've realised, BTW, that the whole pod can't be ingested. When you cook them they become soft enough to split and then you scrape (or chew) the pulpy interior, and the seeds, away from the fibrous pod and eat those. A particularly frugal aunt of mine was known for cooking the leaves from the big drumstick tree in her backyard, and we always joked about it as an example of her frugality - most people just cooked the pods, she cooked the leaves as well. But the joke was on me, a couple of months back, when chef Praveen Anand of Dakshin presented me with an AMAZINGLY good dish of prawns cooked with drumstick tree leaves. Their pulpy texture and slightly pungent taste was the perfect foil to the big prawns. Chef Anand told me he got the recipe from the Mudaliar community in central Tamil Nadu. I didn't get the recipe from him, but I'm off to Madras next week and I'll certainly try and weasel it out of him then, Vikram
  13. Vikram

    Pitta pater

    This has nothing to do with lamb filled flatbreads, but just to add that I've been reading Appetite and love it to bits. Its the sort of cookbook I've been looking for, for ages - not recipes so much as an approach to food. Any others like it? Vikram
  14. Vikram

    Club food

    Its a nice book, particularly in the way she weaves family history with Raj recipes. Pat Chapman of the Curry Club has done something similar with Taste of the Raj. The most definitive book on Raj cooking though is probably David Burton's The Raj At Table.
  15. Vikram

    Club food

    Starting a new thread from Howler's suggestion. Club food is a great subject and, with no modesty again, here's an (unedited version) of article I'd written on the subject for the Times of India sometime back. (eGullet guardians, please forgive my not posting a link, since the Times archives aren't available online). The article is Bombay specific, so perhaps people could post examples of Club food from other parts of the country, or elsewhere from the Raj, or in fact just anywhere. (What's the food like in the London clubs that the Raj clubs were inspired by?) The clubs I've described are Raj relics, but I think the institutional nursery food they served are likely to be found in clubs elsewhere as well - the point of clubs being comfort. Vikram In Search Of The Perfect... Club Food If one word were to be used to describe the look of the clubs left by the British Raj, it would be brown. Dark brown of Burma teak panelings and rafters. Polished brown parquet in their echoing ballrooms. Moth-eaten brown of the animal heads hung from their walls, interspersed with the sepia brown of old photographs and prints. Yellowing brown of ancient novels in their libraries. Oiled yellow brown of old cricket bats and squash rackets. Brown wood topped with green baize of billiard tables. Muddy brown playing fields with a lovingly maintained sprinkling of green turf on top. Brown wood and wicker planters chairs with long arms on which to put one’s legs up for the most perfect siesta. And, of course, brown food. Buttery brown of roast potatoes and turkey at Christmas. Peppery brown of mulligatawny soup and meaty brown of stews. Turmeric stained yellow-brown of curries and dhal. Golden brown of melting butter on light brown slices of toast. Crisp fried brown of breaded mutton cutlets or batter dipped fish fillets. Bottles of brown sauces like tamarind-tangy Worcestershire or HP Sauce and sauce boats of thick brown gravy. Even the vegetables that accompanied this, like mashed potatoes or boiled carrots and beans, could be described as spiritually brown. Milky brown cold coffee on hot summer afternoons, or the red-brown of good strong Darjeeling tea. Brown glass bottles of cold beer beaded with moisture or the pinky brown of bitters swirling through a glass of gin. And rounding of the browns is the chocolate of cakes and puddings, light flaky brown of pastry and burned brown of caramel spun into nests for ice cream. All this brown is not accidental. Brown is an earthy, comforting colour and comfort was the point of the clubs. They were originally set up for the young British officers and administrators as places of refuge from this hot unfamiliar country that they had been sent, many barely out of their teens, to govern. Their youth dictated their choice of food. London clubs like the Athenaeum or Reform might have been known for their haute cuisine. In India they stayed close to the nursery and boarding school dishes that their members had not left far behind. This meant eggs and bacon, lots of savouries on toast like mushrooms, baked beans, kidneys and the creamy cheese toasts called Welsh rarebits, the institutional cooking classics of British food like Irish stew and shepherd’s pie, and of course, plenty of puddings. Indian cooks - Goans in the West, Bangledeshi ‘mug’ cooks in the East - proved adept at these dishes, producing very palatable versions of British dishes, in the most primitive kitchens and with nothing like the same ingredients. They had a notably light touch with pastry and had to be restrained from letting themselves get away with the ornamentation of dishes. In time, as the flavours of the country worked their way into the Raj, these cooks would serve as catalysts, spicing up the dishes and adapting native ones (rasam or mullaga-tani, pepper water, becoming meaty mulligatawny for example). The result was the fusion that was Raj cooking, and the clubs were where it could be had at its best. In time the clubs changed. Women and children were allowed in, and then as Independence approached, they finally went brown in the most basic way, allowing in Indian members. This proved their salvation and clubs have maintained their status in an India very different from when they began. Some, like the community specific clubs (Parsi, Islam, Hindu, Catholic), set up in reaction to British exclusion, have dwindled. Some fell prey to market realities: the Byculla Club, one of the oldest in the city, and with a special soufflé in its name, was apparently sold for the value of its property. Yet the many clubs of the city continue, memberships as sought after as ever, and their food continues as well (the Ripon Club, in fact, seems to exist almost entirely on the basis of its fabled dhansak). How much longer this will last though, is a moot point. The clubs are under pressure to modernise, broaden their menus, add the ubiquitous Chinese and Mughlai sections, bring in trendy flavours like Thai or Mexican or crowd-pleasers like pizzas. Clubs are also increasingly outsourcing to independent caterers. This isn’t all that wrong - some of the traditional food was undoubtedly too heavy and monotonous, and many of the clubs do need more efficient management. Yet it seems a pity that this must come at the expense of the old menus. Club food is part of the history and identity of the clubs. One can only hope the day never comes when one will no longer be able to eat thin crisp Melba toast as the Royal Western India Turf Club, relish the soggy perfection of an open-hot beef sandwich swimming in gravy at the Bombay Gymkhana, or eat the best akoorie in town on the lawns of the Willingdon, or best of all, that club’s unique dish, a Kejriwal. Named after a past member and consisting of a cheese toast topped with a fried egg and chopped chillies sprinkled on top, the Kejriwal is a cholesterol bomb, but utterly delicious and in its oddity, its unfashionableness and almost nursery appeal, its a distillation of all that club food has stood for and why it must endure. ends
  16. Its really sad. Problems with their workforce I think. I still buy the bombil pickle sometimes, but everything else is best avoided. I'm not sure since its just a little past Martin's, and I never walk past Martin's! I think its a Dominos outlet now - and that's possibly an improvement on its food... Will ask a Parsi Colony friend to check about Dadar. Britannia's continues, although sometime back Romin Kohinoor, the guy who runs it, made my blood run by saying that he was sick of running the place and wanted to turn it into... oh horrors... a business centre. (Though this would arguably be better than the fate that has fallen on Wayside Inn which is now a totally undistinguished generic East Asian food restaurant. I weep everytime I pass it). Still Romin's father, who also runs Bastani's, seems to have put his foot down, so for now Britannia's continues (lunch only) as good as ever. Their speciality is Iranian berry pulao, made with small sour zaresth berries which they import from Iran. This is really excellent -spicy chicken curry, with big meaty pieces, under a mound of yellow rice and the berries adding a refreshingly different note. Most of their other food is pretty good too - the chicken special, dhansak, sali boti, and they also make what I think is the best caramel custard in Bombay. When people want to eat Parsi food I tend to take them to Jimmy Boy's since its open for dinner and you can get a mini version of the full lagan nu bhonu down to the guy coming with the silver ewer and pouring water to wash your hands. You also get a wider range of traditional Parsi dishes. But Britannia's is also very good. Vikram
  17. Yes, Blue Diamond is now one of the Taj's business hotels so it comes under Chef Solomon. Here, with zero modesty, is a short profile I wrote on Chef Solomon, as part of a larger article: Ananda Solomon Ananda Solomon is corporate chef for Taj’s business hotels division, but is best known as the executive chef of the Taj President, where he overlooks two of the chain’s best restaurants, Thai Pavilion and the Konkan Cafe. When Ananda Solomon stands, tall and absolutely straight, you get a hint of what he might have been if he hadn’t become a chef. “My father was in the airforce so that was my first choice,” he says. But he flunked his NDA entrance exam, so from then on it was going to be meringues rather than MIGs. At IHM, Mumbai though he found in Ms.Thangam Philip, its legendary principal, a disciplinarian who could have given any sergeant major a match. “She really taught me how important it is to be organised in the kitchen,” he recalls ruefully. Solomon’s career illustrates the career for a chef in the traditional system. After catering college he joined a hotel chain in India, and then went to the Middle East to work as a saucier in the Hilton. After gaining valuable experience there he returned to India to join the Taj as a sous-chef at the Fort Aguada resort in Goa. “That’s where I really learned about Indian food,” he says. Solomon’s experience was of the usual hotel chef, but in Goa he found in himself a curiosity about local ingredients and recipes which was not usual in the hotel mode of thinking. For example, when it comes to fish, most hotels are quite rigid, only serving varieties like pomfret or rawas that diners are familiar with. But Solomon became interested in all the other local fishes, often very tasty - and in the people who cooked them. He got to know the old ladies in the area, and learned from them the recipes they used in their own homes. Perhaps it was the proximity of Mangalore, which is where his roots lie, because that’s where Solomon says he got his basic interest in food, long before he became a chef. “I remember as a child sitting in the huge kitchen we had, and watching my mother cook on fires made from coconut shells or old coffee tree wood. I was the youngest child, so I was pampered. She let me sit in the kitchen and while she was cooking she would let me taste what she was making.” That childhood memory left Solomon with an interest in local tastes and techniques that stayed with his through his hotel training and which he later went back to, in creating Konkan Cafe. It was also this respect for local ingredients and local cooks that took him to Thailand to really learn Thai cooking for Thai Pavilion, rather than just teaching himself as too many other cooks in ‘Thai’ restaurants have done. (He did the same again with Mexican food when he opened El Mexicana, now closed, but in its time the only place serving real Mexican food in Mumbai, rather than bastardised version of tacos and refried beans). Solomon now runs a large operation, but he’s a passionate believer in the chef retaining his links with cooking. “No matter what I do, everyday I have to work on the range,” he says. “That’s what being a chef is really all about.”
  18. OF COURSE!!!! There are some elderly Parsi friends I cultivate almost exclusively for their Ripon Club membership (hopefully they aren't on eGullet). I love the place, all the antique furniture, the library where the most recent volumes are by that young Mr.Kipling, and the general aura of incipient decay, everything just held together by the excellence of the dhansak. Without the dhansak the place is nothing, so it had better be good - and it is. I would, in fact, put it as the best dhansak in Bombay, but it is a bit difficult to recommend since you can't just walk in and order it (why not? The members should really consider raising revenue by making it a restaurant). In its absence the dhansak at Jimmy Boy's is decent, followed by Britannia and, rather distantly now, Paradise. The RTI dhansak might be good if it was dished out fresh from the pot instead of having to be reheated in those horrid foil containers. I wish Parsis didn't consider dhansak an inauspicious dish, or wedding caterers like Goriwala's could dish it out, and going by the general excellence of their food, I'm sure it would be very good. Wedding caterers in general, BTW, are I think an important and often unacknowledged repository of regional culinary lore, but that is perhaps the subject matter for another thread. Vikram
  19. Indigo is decidedly not nonsense. I don't know why I left Rahul Akerkar out of that earlier list of celebrity chefs - he certainly more than deserves to be on it, but I don't think its his style to do it. Indigo is outstanding - in my opinion, one of the very best restaurants in India. Admittedly if you are visiting infrequently from abroad, I wouldn't recommend you go there - why pass on the chance to eat all the Parsi, Gujarati or Konkani food you won't get anywhere else, in favour of Western style food which you'll get abroad? But if you do go there, I don't think you'll be that disappointed. Indigo would be very good restaurant everywhere and in India, where ingredient quality is variable and, even more, consumer demands - more spicy, more veg, more sickening gluey cheese on everything - can dumb down the best menu, to run a restaurant like Indigo is exceptional. Even more is that fact that Rahul has sustained it. Over the years other restaurants have come and gone in terms of quality, but Indigo remains as good as ever. Its not just the food - the ambience is great, elegant without being oppressive, both the downstairs dining area and terrace are lovely (the lounge is, inexplicably, The Black Hole Of Bombay, but lets overlook that). The bar is also, easily one of the best in Bombay. Earlier this year I helped a friend at the Asian Wall Street Journal do a feature on the best restaurants in Bombay and since he explicitly said he wanted good food, whatever the ambience I took him to all my favourite joints: Martin's, Anantashram, Sarvi, Sri Ramanayaka and so on, and he loved them all, but he balked when I told him he had to go to Indigo. That wasn't why he came to Bombay he said. But he went and was really impressed. As he said in the piece he wrote, Indigo was a place recommended to him by people who said, "I don't normally go to such places, but..." and that was exactly the advice he gave. And a little while back I was helping a friend to a listing of the top restaurants in the city. We thought about which we would place in the absolutely top, the only ones with full scores and almost simulatenously we said, "Indigo and Swati Snacks." I'll sing Swati's praises another day (though I suspect I already have on this list). If you have time for just one place in Bombay, go to Swati Snacks since you'll get food that is both distinctive to Bombay and outstanding. If you have more time though, and friends are taking you, go to Indigo. Vikram
  20. The Oberoi? Top chefs? In which universe? The Oberoi group has many excellent things going for it, but food is never going to be one of them. I mean, its not bad, but its never particularly outstanding either - the group has never shown interest in really focusing on food in any of its restaurants. With the Taj too, the food quality is mixed. The curious fact about the group is that the food in its business class hotels is usually much more interesting than in its luxury hotels. In Bombay, for example, the Taj President has always been known for its outstanding food while the Taj itself has, er, not. In Madras the Connemara, its business hotel, has Raintree, one of the few places that could be said to serve _real_ Chettinad food. The food at the Taj Coromandel, like most aspects of the Taj Coromandel, is best passed over in silence. The diplomatic reason I was given for this by Ananda Solomon, the executive chef of the business hotels is that the large hotels are such big complex operations that the chefs over there are more administrators than really connected with the kitchen, whereas someone like him did have a bit more time to really get hands on. Maybe. The point is the Taj's food reputation as a whole is patchy. The one Indian hotel chain which really does have a good reputation on food is ITC's Welcomgroup. Coming up as a third chain against two strong rivals, they long ago identified food - and specifically the regional cuisines of India - as one area that could be a selling point for them. So they developed Dum Pukht for Avadhi food and Bukhara for Frontier food and then Dakshin for the food of the south. All their restaurants haven't been great, and I am mildly sceptical about current effort to extend the brands of these restaurants by selling canned versions of the favourite dishes from these places. The Dal Bukhara, for example, isn't bad (though one tends to suspect one could come to the same product by making ordinary kali dhal and adding liquid smoke flavour), but some of the others are strictly so so. The canned Khubani ka Meeta though is excellent, especially if you think of it as spicy apricot jam rather than a dessert. (I have vaguely been thinking of using it rather than apricot jam in several Western desserts; I think the results could be really good. But I'm getting sidetracked). Anyway, the point is, if you want good cooking and good chefs, treated in the right way, the Welcomgroup is the place to look (and I have absolutely no connection with the chain or group). Vikram
  21. Sanjeev Kapoor is a rather tiresome joke now. His show is competent, without being particularly interesting - the best one could say is that it fills the requirements of a TV viewing niche that isn't particularly developed yet in India. It was, at least initially, unpretentious, which is more than can be said of some of the other experiments tried out - one with Aly Khan as the anchor comes to mind. Success has gone to Kapoor's head however and how. He has opened some restaurants, including one in Bombay called Blue Cilantro that hands down is the ugliest new eating place in this city, and the food is dull beyond belief. His early books were good compilations of the basic recipes, presented fairly professional. But the latest book has to be seen to be believed. It features Kapoor dressed as a raja on the cover while still being called "Simply Sanjeev". The recipes inside are printed in a particularly hard to read italic font which says it all - if a collection of recipes that is meant to be of practical use in the kitchen isn't easy to read, what is its point? Tarla Dalal's recipes are always practical and generally good. She's resisted getting swept away by her success, which is probably wise since she's not exactly high on charisma - and that in fact is part of her appeal. Jiggs, as SK Chai says, is more an entrepreneur than a chef and sometimes I admit I've found that endlessly entrepreneurial enthusiasm wearisome. Every chef he wants to push isn't a hidden genius, and every new ingredient isn't ambrosia. But Jiggs' book 'Prashad' is solid, no question, and he deserves a lot of credit for saving styles of cooking that were disappearing by giving them an injection of 5 Star Hotel support. I have mixed feelings about the way these styles are often now only available at super expensive prices in 5 Star Hotel restaursnts or in short burst during food festivals at these restaurants, but better that than their disappearance. And the chefs behind them have got their due, which is very desirable. One of Jiggs' main such finds was Imtiaz Qureishi of Dum Pukht (the restaurant in the ITC Hotels and that style of cooking in general) fame. Qureishi has made that Lucknavi style of closed pot cooking famous and has also created a dynasty of chefs in his sons and nephews to perpetuate it. He would certainly count as a celebrity chef in India, though limited to this one style of cooking. Ananda Solomon of the Taj President in Bombay would certainly be my nomination for a celebrity chef. He got recognition with Thai Pavilion which is certainly good, though its entire authenticity is in question (Antoine, want to weigh in here?). His Konkan Cafe has brought the food of the Konkan region to 5 Star attention - it is a good place to sample it, though I'd prefer other, more modest places in Bombay. He's a really nice guy and passionate about cooking and certainly would deserve to be a celebrity chef, though I think is still too modest to go the whole routine. Ditto for Praveen Anand at Dakshin in Madras (and in charge of all the Dakshin restaurants). I don't know anyone who knows more about South Indian food that Praveen, but he's way too modest and shy to do the celebrity number. Moshe Shek, based in Bombay and now expanding, has the style and entrepreneurial ability to do the celebrity routine, if he wanted. Karen Anand, who written a couple of excellent cookbooks and is developing a good range of culinary products is another person who's flirted with the celebrity chef image (though more in the Nigella way - Karen will cringe if she reads this - since she doesn't run a restaurant). Wouldn't some of the Indian chefs based in the UK qualify - Cyrus Todiwallah of Cafe Spice Namaste for example or Das Sreedharan of Rasa? Both their cookbooks were beautiful and quite interesting to read, Vikram
  22. Does anyone know of cookbooks that cover the cooking of the Indian diaspora? I'm researching some stories on Indian cookbooks, and I thought this would be an interesting angle. The few such cookbooks I've seen are fascinating - familiar Indian recipes, but with differences in ingredients and influences that reflect the histories of these communities. I guess many of these cookbooks are conscious attempts to commemorate these communities, so they all filled with anecdotes and nostalgia that make them really interesting, and often moving, reading. I know the classic South African Indian 'bible' - Zuleikha Mayat's 'Indian Delights'. I have some South African Indian relatives myself, the wives of my Gujarati cousins who now live in India, and make some interesting recipes which they tell me they brought with them from SA. For example, they take kandh - yam with a weirdly blue-purple coloured flesh - and cook it and slice it thinly and use these slices to sandwich a mixture of grated coconut and coriander leaves and some other spices. It looks bizarre: purple sandwiches with a white-green filling, but tastes great. I've just picked up another really interesting book: Recipes of the Jaffna Tamils, edited by Nesa Eliezer and printed by Orient Longman. Since Jaffna is just a strait's distance from Tamil Nadu one wouldn't expect the food to be that different, and much of it is standard Tamil stuff. But there are interesting variations, like a whole section on recipes using the products of the palmyra palm. Also, and I realise this might sound political, but its not meant to be, Tamil Brahmin cuisine and culture seems to have less of a hold in Sri Lanka as it does in India. So while the image of Tamil food in India is dominated by vegetarian Brahmin cooking (at least till the recent rise of 'Chettiar' cooking), the recipes in this book reflect the non-vegetarian cooking that is very much a part of Non-Brahmin Tamil life. A recipe for rasam flavoured with chicken bones for example sounds really surprising to someone used to the common vegetarian only version. Are there other such cookbooks for the desi communities in Trinidad, Mauritius, Fiji and where else? A friend who was coming from Guyana promised to get me a Guyanese-Indian cookbook, though unfortunately he cancelled his trip at the last minute. (But this link has some interesting recipes: http://guyana.gwebworks.com/recipes/recipe...pes_alpha.shtml ) Any names, comments, recipes, suggestions from people with experience of desi diasporic cooking would be welcome. Vikram
  23. Mrs.K.M.Matthew's book, 'Recipes from the Spice Coast' is the best standard collection of Malayali recipes. (There are more community specific books, like Ummi Abdullah's book on Moplah cooking). It has recently been reissued in a beautifully produced version which I think is quite widely available both in India and abroad. For anyone wanting to try Malayali cooking, this is a good starting point. (Sadly, Mrs.Matthew died about a month back). Yes, I've got them with me, all the three volumes, everything from making sambhar to how to conduct a marriage (in Volume 3, the most entertaining one). They are still solid, no-nonsense books, with lots of practical advice on Tamil vegetarian cooking, though rather sadly that old drawing on the cover of the doe eyed Tamil bride looking dreamily into space while cooking (her sari was clearly going to catch fire any moment) has been replaced by a generic food photograph. (But the picture of S.Meenakshi Ammal, bucktoothed and benevolent, remains on the back cover). And yes, the measurements have been updated - no more ollocks, seers, maunds and visses, its all frammes, teaspoons and cups now. In addition to these three volumes, there's a much more fancy single volume "Best of Samaithu Par" book which would be good enough I guess, but I still think the original three are best. OK, though as I warned you, this is not the authentic recipe. This is partly because I've made changes as I've gone along (mainly due to lack of patience - Malayali food can be insanely labour intensive) and partly because the friend who sent it to me, made some mistakes typing it. Like she wrote 1 tablespoon turmeric, which faithfully followed, only telling me later she meant one teaspoon. Anyway, it all turned out very well the way I made it. The only other thing I should point out is that this is made with tough old Indian beef, which is anyway probably buffalo as I pointed out on the other thread. I don't know what compensations should be made for better beef. Erachi Sort Of Olathiyathu Take one kilo beef and cube it. Make a spice mixture by taking the following (in all cases I use generous interpretations, so 1/2 tsp is just short of one tsp). 1) coriander seeds (dhania): 1 tbsp 2) peppercorns: 1/2 tsp 3) saunf (fennel, I think): 1/2 tsp 4) mustard seeds (rai): 1/2 tsp 5) khus khus (poppy seeds): 1/2 tsp 6) cumin seeds (jeera): 1/2 tsp 7) cinnamon: 1/2 inch piece 8) cloves: 2, cracked open 9) green cardamom: 2 10) turmeric powder (haldi): 1 tbsp 11) dried red chillies: 4-6 (Use fairly spicy chillies, though not totally explosive ones. I use a few Guntur chillies, small and slender and a few Madras chillies, large and flat and shaped like a parrot's beak. Both are pretty hot by normal Indian standards though not, I think, as hot as some Thai or Mexican ones get) 12) ginger-garlic paste: 2-3 heaped tbsp. (Ideally I know one should fresh grind ginger and garlic, but I never have the patience. As far as I'm concerned, garlic and ginger-garlic pastes rock!) Dry roast ingredients 1-10 in turn in a small tadka (heavy) pan. This sounds laborious, but once you've got all the spices together it goes quite fast. Just put them one after the other in the pan, emptying it into a grinder as they start smelling strongly and going on to the next. Fry the chillies in a little oil and add them. Add the turmeric, the ginger-garlic paste and a dash of vinegar (2-3 tbsp). Grind it all to a thick paste. Rub the paste thoroughly all over the beef chunks and leave for an hour or two. (I usually make the spice at night and leave it to marinate in the fridge till morning). Once the meat has marinated, put it in a pressure cooker with no added water (yes, the manufacturers say you shouldn't do this, and I was scared the first time I did. But the meat exudes enough moisture for it not to be a problem). Seal the cooker and put on high heat. Once the steam is coming from the vent put the weight on and leave it for one whistle. Lower the heat a little and leave it for 3-4 whistles more. Let the cooker cool a bit and the steam escape before opening it. The meat should be well cooked with a fair amount of juices left in the pan. (Actually pressure cook it any which way you like, I'm just putting directions for those not used to doing it). Chop 4-5 large onions (or more if you like). Take some oil, not too much, in a large pan or wok and heat it. Throw in a handful of curry leaves, then add the onions and, if you like, a tbsp or two more of ginger garlic paste. Fry the onions well, then add the meat (not the juices) and some salt. Fry the meat till its nice and browning. In the classic recipe you're supposed to add the juices next bit by bit, so it always remains mostly dry. I have no patience, just dump all the juices together, and it sort of stews away in a savoury mass as the liquid evaporates. Stir the meat around every now and then, drizzling over - the Kerala touch here - coconut oil as the meat gets drier. The coconut oil is really a flavouring, so how much you add depends on how much you like coconut oil. And for the real Syrian Christian touch add slivers of thinly sliced hard coconut halfway through the frying process. (This tends to freak people out, so I've stopped doing this). This usually tastes better after its kept in the fridge for a day. Vikram
  24. Food in Kerala (Malayali food please, not Keralan) depends both on area - South versus North Kerala, backwaters versus the hills - and community: Moplah (Muslim), Syriani (Christian) and different Hindu communities. Many things are common like the use of coconuts, fish and rice, but other things can be quite different - obviously something like beef which is a big feature of Syriani food would not be eaten (openly at least) by Hindus - but I also find less known differences. For example, the Thiyya community from North Kerala that my mother comes from, is totally obsessive about shellfish like kalamakai (mussels). No one from South Kerala ever seems to eat them which is perhaps for geographical reasons - rocky coasts versus sandy beaches. Achaya has a good entry in his Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, which is a bit too long for me to type out, but sneak a look if you find it in a bookshop (Idiom in Fort Cochin, next to the synagogue might have it). One of the interesting points of difference between communities that he highlights is their differing use of breads all based generally on rice flour: appams and iddiappams for Syrianis, pathiri for Moplahs, nai-patthal for Thiyyas, appams and puttu for Nairs, dosas and puttu for Namboodiris. These are well worth trying since most of them would be hard to get outside Kerala. Another Kerala staple is tapioca which can be very good cooked there (and only there). In Cochin and the backwaters the cult fish to try is karimeen or pearl spot, a quite beautiful really estuarine fish. The best known place to eat it in Cochin is Grand Hotel (ask anyone at your hotel how to get there). Otherwise you'll get the usual seer, a big meaty fish which tends to dominate fish cooking in South India, I have never understood why. Even in Bombay, where pomfret rules, followed by rawas and surmai, you'll get more variety than you get in restaurants in South India. But I mustn't get into a rant on this. Moplah cooking is among the best in Kerala, and relatively easy to get since many Moplahs have started restaurants. Their biriani is famous, if you like biriani (I don't). They have interesting Arab influenced dishes like harisa, which is their version of the stewed wheat and meat concept that becomes haleem in Hyderabad and khichada in North India. They have lots of lesser known things like mutta-malas, egg yolks cooked in sugar syrup and pulled into strings. Syriani spiced beef (erachi olathiyathu) is wonderful. Its my standard pot luck or party dish, though admittedly the version I've ended up making has strayed quite a bit from the original, but everyone loves it anyway. The authentic version will be dry fried and spicy, but not explosive and usually cooked with hard chips of coconut. Totally addictive stuff. Meen vevichadu is their fried fish, which as Achaya notes varies a lot - I've had very different versions served by different Syriani friends. If you can get it, they make good pickled pork (or wild boar, though I rather wonder exactly how wild most of these boar are). Hindus usually eat fish as well, and its always pretty good, whatever the version. Two vegetarian dishes that I totally gorge on at my sister's in-laws place in Thrissur in the North are kalan, made from green bananas cooked with yoghurt and coconut oil and olan, made from pumpkin and beans cooked in coconut oil (if you don't like coconut oil, and some people hate it with a passion, you're going to have a hard time in Kerala). To some extent communities are located in different geographical areas, so you can look out for community specific dishes depending on where you are. Kottayam is the Syriani heartland, Kozhikode is the Moplah heartland, Kannur is Thiyya territory and so on. Also look out for the small snacks that are well worth eating like achappams, deep fried flower shaped cookies, pottiyappams, diamond shaped cookies, banana and tapioca chips of all kinds. Vikram
  25. Vikram

    Indian / Chinese

    Yessssss!!!!! Madras rules.... on 65 at least. And don't take it badly, everyone from Hyderabad. I said, on a post some weeks back, that Hyderabad decisively trumps Madras when it comes to food, so don't deny the city its few specialities. Anyway, I think the basic style of cooking it is fairly common with South Indian meat dishes, so it could have evolved independently with minor differences - as Episure notes, the Andhra version would be significantly spicier. Also, just as a side check, I'm asking a friend from Hyderabad, who's also lived in Madras for ages, to make an investigation and a verdict. And next month I'm going to Madras, so this time I'll definitely do a trip to Buhari's to see what the 'original' is like, Vikram
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