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Posts posted by Vikram

  1. I faithfully stock my car with christmas music when tis the season.

    You don't need to stock on Christmas music to hear it. Just ring any Indian government department and ask some question so complicated that you're put on hold. A few have some suitably patriotic music like that mournful shehnai stuff you hear on Air India, but most of them haven't bothered to change the default hold music the telephone system came with, and for some reason it usually seems to be "Jingle Bells"!


  2. There's been an explosion of South Indian/Pakistani places in San Francisco in the last couple of years. They are mostly low-budget, curry-oriented and TASTY. At these places you can get a plate of curry for about $5.00 and a good, just-made naan the size of a steering wheel for as little as a buck.

    This sounds like a variation on the abominable use of 'East Indian' to decribe any kind of Indian food. I'm guessing that the thinking here is that the Indian food in this case is probably 'South Indian' because Pakistan is to the north of India, or something like that. Little shudders are going through my spine at seeing naan described as South Indian. Obviously, however many South Indian restaurants now exist in the US, there still aren't enough.


  3. Rather late in life I've come to bafenu, the classic Parsi pickle made with a whole ripe Alphonso mango, and I am now kicking myself for missing out on this so long.

    (Actually as soon as I tasted it I remembered eating it as a kid at the homes of Parsi friends. I had this vivid flashback to meals all formally laid out, lots of linen and cutlery and porcelain bowls, and the starchy voice of my friend's grandmother telling us we had to finish the bowl of rather inspid soup before we were allowed to go on to the lacey cutlets and dhan-dhar-nu-patia, along with which, I'm guessing, came the bafenu).

    I found the bafenu at the Ratan Tata Institute, an old Bombay institution on Hughes Road where Parsi food is made by a woman's help organisation. Sometime back I think Bhelpuri or someone else from Bombay was lamenting how the quality had fallen - the chicken patties no longer as flaky and satisfyingly full of chicken as he remembered.

    This is probably true - the place didn't look particularly packed the day I went (the fact that it has no parking and is on a really busy junction doesn't help) - and I didn't feel tempted to try the patties. But the pastries looked as luridly coloured and inviting as when I was a kid, and while I resisted them, I didn't resist a date stuffed pastry or a dal-pori (like an ultra thick cake like puran poli) and they were both good, if heavy. There were long rolls of green-black patrel waiting to be cut, foil containers of dhansak waiting to be picked up for lunch and the plastic packets of bafenu, double packed for safety.

    I bought one and could hardly wait to go home and open it. And when I did, the anticipation was totally justified. Bafenu is made with a tart substance, mangoes (although ripe ones) and I think it includes lots of vinegar, the fabulous cane vinegar produced in Navsari by Kolah's, yet it doesn't have that palate shrivelling sourness that I think mars too many commercial pickles from India. Its sweet, but not jam like, hot, but not searing, almost a really intense mango curry rather than a pickle. I could certainly eat it alone and that's what dinner was, along with wonderful multi-grain bread from Yazdani.

    An exiled Bombayite once asked me to make him a care package of things to remind him of the city. I didn't ever get round to doing it, but if I do, a packet of bafenu will go in.


  4. I know you like some goa ports

    That's calumny! What I think I meant when - if! - I ever said that was that as ports they are a disaster, but as alcoholic cough syrups they aren't bad, and I've always quite liked cough syrups (maybe that nice dopey Benadryl feeling has something to do with it). Vinicola, which sells these 'ports' most aggresively, got it about right with its name - its really a not that soft drink of some kind. I have also, just once, has a relatively decent port at the house of a Goan friend. I think the name was Tres Irmaos, or something like that, and she said it was the one port that Goans felt was a cut above the rest.


  5. Interesting thread Episure, thanks for bringing it up (though I wonder if your two year delayed reply to A Balic's question breaks some sort of eGullet record!). Which is the company that is planning on manufacturing Asha? Sounds like a dubious proposition - I haven't tried it, but like many of these fabled things, its always seemed like the story sounds better than the product really is.

    As the previous respondents on this thread have pointed out, gin would be the basis for the most historically accurate cocktail in the modern sense - lets not get into what was mixed in those Ashas. They seem to have left out pink gins (with bitters) which was one Raj staple. Some of the clubs of the Raj also had special cocktails of their own - I think that "The Raj At Table" book gives the recipe for a few.

    My own suggestion though for the best cocktail to go with Indian food is something that has next to no links with India, but at least came from a similar climate: Brazilian caiprinhas. I don't think this is just my own love for them speaking. They are basically just a (very) alcoholic version of the nimbu-pani (for the non-desis, a sweetened lime juice with water drink) that we're all familiar with.

    The acidity of limes, and it has to be limes, no lemons please, with the extra bitterness from their skins which are macerated in the glass along with sugar, does a wonderful job of cutting through the occasional heaviness of Indian food. And lime, as you noted on another thread, serves to clarify the tastes in Indian cooking.

    There is unfortunately one big problem: from where does one get the cachaça, the white cane spirit that's used for this (and no its not the same as rum, and for reasons why I think there are some threads in the Beverages forum). I have been moaning and asking the question for ages, why on earth is it that we don't have cachaça considering that India produces such vast amounts of sugar cane and that all Indian made alcohol is made from the molasses produced from it.

    That is, btw, why the only really good Indian liquor is rum, everything else is extra neutral alcohol with flavours added. Indian Made Foreign Liquor is not always as bad as it sounds, but only the rums are really authentic. Mohan Meakin's Old Monk, in my view, is world class, and here's a link to a nice article on it written by a colleague:


    Back to the cachaça dilemma, I thought at one point that maybe I might find an equivalent in desi daru - the really hard core rot gut which might do the trick, since cachaca is pretty hard core itself when drunk neat. I thought I hit pay dirt when I found a bottle at one of my regular liquor shops that was actually quite well packed and neatly labelled 'desi daru'. It was even lime flavoured and was extremely cheap - just Rs60 for the bottle. I bought a bottle and took it home and tried...

    ... much, much later when I picked myself off the floor I realised this was a dead end. It was the most incredibly strong stuff I have ever drunk in my life, just sort of knocking tastebuds and any type of sensation quite dead for hours. It is just remotely possible to drink this very very diluted, but a cachaça substitute its not going to be.

    Now I am left with:

    (a) begging friends from abroad to get me bottles

    (b) befriending random Brazilians in the hope of getting bottles from them and perhaps getting them to invest in a cachaca making plant. One of them actually did get me a couple of bottles, but since she was here in India to find salvation declined to join me in making cachaça

    © haunting bars that have it. I finished the Indigo stock ages back, now I am working on a couple of places in the suburbs, but this isn't going to last long

    (d) substituting vodka, NOT white rum, which despite its common origins is way too syrupy. The vodka version seems to be spreading around town under the name of caipiroshka and it is a pale substitute, but better than nothing.

    If you do have contacts in distilleries, please ask them to stop wasting their time making Asha and focus on cachaça instead.


  6. If you don't already have Chitrita Banerji's Life and Food in Bengal, try and get your hands on a copy. She has very interesting descriptions of food in Dhaka - all sounding more rich than its equivalent in West Bengal. She mentions a Duck cooked with oranges that sounds interesting, if only to see what a Bengali version of Duck a l'orange is like. Also lots of dishes made from the meat of castrated goats - I forget the Bengali term at the moment - and other things like egg halva.


  7. Is anyone here familiar with the Hot Breads chain in the US? Yes, its the same Hot Breads that started in Madras and then franchised, rather disastrously, across India. After that turned out badly, the owner focused on Madras and then the global market - expanding to the Gulf, then the US and now even Paris where he has two outlets.

    I'll admit here that I'm doing a story on them, but I'm not asking these questions for it (the story is almost over anyway, just taking a break between finishing it). What I found interesting, and relevant to many of the discussions we have here on fusion food, is how the food served here fits in, and what people here make of it.

    Its been described, by no less than Robb Walsh, the Houston based food writer who's featured on eGullet (and mentioned Hot Breads), as a "wacky fusion of French pastry and Indian food". Here are a couple of links to Walsh on Hot Breads:



    And here are some descriptions (still Walsh): "potato-filled pastry known as an aloo croissant, which has an exotic fenugreek aroma and tastes like sag paneer inside a puff pastry" or a "tangy chicken croquette, masala-spiced chicken and cheese wrapped in pastry dough" or, what really excites him, "goat doughnuts... flaky croissants filled with cumin-scented ground goat meat in zesty curry sauce." (Its not his fault, I guess, that these descriptions sound like the menu descriptions on Air India's in-flight menu - there is, I guess, no other way to describe dishes like these to a non-Indian audience).

    What interests me is what people make of the concept - Indian foods in Frenchish wrappings and sold in markets abroad where the target is mostly Indians living abroad along with (increasingly) non-Indians in these markets looking for something different. That's the niche that Hot Breads decided to focus on after their Indian franchising misadventure, and that is what has brought them big success.

    Mr.Mahadevan, the founder, tells me that people drive from Philadelphia to Edison to get their products. In some markets their clientele is 80% desi (Indian), although in others like Texas its approaching 50:50 desi: non-desi. They also have other products targetted at desi niches, but with potential for moving beyond - for example, eggless cakes for Jain customers which people allergic to eggs are now snapping up.

    In many ways I think this is great and Mr.Mahadevan is certainly an entrepreneur I admire. When American fast food chains are spreading across the world, its certainly neat to see a reverse flow and one that has found such a good niche. The only thing that sort of depresses me is, well, I grew up in Madras myself and am familiar with their products and while they aren't exactly bad... they don't exactly get my juices going. There's something bland and processed and sort of subliminally greasy about everything.

    As fast food goes - and it is fast food at the end of the day - its not bad and I suppose the spice makes it more interesting than most of what's available, but the idea of people driving miles to eat it is somehow profoundly depressing. Do people really do this? Does the Hot Breads stuff seem that interesting and different when its in the US? What do people on these forums make of it, if they've eaten it?


  8. Does onion mean the whole plant? If so then add spring onion greens, something that I'm mildly addicted to. They have a great blend of saladness and the hint of onion pungency. I love eating them cooked the Gujju way - heat oil, add some chopped up onion and green chillis and saute, then add the chopped greens, cover and let sweat a bit, then remove cover and add some salt and roasted besan into which you've mixed turmeric, chilli powder, dhania-jeera powder and just a little oil which you mix till breadcrumb consistency. Fry the whole lot over a high heat, just a little. The dish looks like a mess, but tastes great.


  9. Mishree I guess is another spelling of misri means sugar crystals, and I've sometimes seen it used for brown sugar crystals, as opposed to white sugar crystals which is chini. But there are lots of curiosities here. The etymology would seem to suggest that the products came to India from outside - 'chini' meaning Chinese or from China, while 'misri' is Egyptian or from Egypt (Misr is the Arab term for Egypt - its official name, I think, is Republic of Misr).

    But food history says that sugarcane - which to complicate matters, seems to have originated in New Guinea, before spreading across Asia - was first refined in India, though its not clear if it was made into crystals. Its likely that it was made into jaggery, since that's what the traditional system of sugar making followed in India produces. Sugar crystals of the kind we use today, only seem to have been introduced much later - perhaps by those Chinese or Egyptians? Or was it the British?

    On the other hand, there is the term khand, which today means rock sugar candy, and Achaya also notes another sugar product called matsyandika which literally means fish roe, but was probably indicative of a product that looked like that which could well have been crystalised sugar. Also, as the product that's the subject of this thread indicates, sugar crystals don't have to be from sugarcane. So maybe they were produced in India, but that makes the names even more confusing.

    There may be writings that shed more light on this, and if anyone knows of them, please let us now. But the whole confusion is indicative of why we need more research and writing on Indian food. Achaya is there, and he is invaluable, but he's not always that clear and since he died a couple of years back, we're not going to get more clarity. There probably are academic writers on this, like Sinha, but many of them publish so obscurely you only get to know by accident.

    Most irritating of all are the Western scholars who often just overlook non-Western traditions completely. The most annoying example (and part of the reason for this rant) I've come across recently is non-food related - a book called Empires of the Monsoon which billed itself as a history of the Indian Ocean, but entirely ignored the non-European histories of the region. It was more correctly a history of European conquest of the Indian Ocean.

    And that's one criticism that I'd levy on a book that is otherwise a real classic of food scholarship - Mintz' 'Sweetness & Power', a study of sugar and its effect on history, colonialism, slavery and more. Its focus is the Caribbean, which is fair enough, but I really wish Mintz had tackled a bit of the origins of sugar in Asia, rather than just dismissing it in a few pages and footnotes,


  10. I think you'll find quite a few dishes made with the small Madras onions (have we decided if these are shallots or not?) Onion sambhar is the best of all sambhars, and made to perfection by our maestro at home. In fact I almost never eat dosai with sambhar and chutney outside home, because nothing quite compares to his dosai with onion sambhar.

    There's also a curry made with these Madras onions, I ate a very good version at Dakshin in Madras once - very intense, almost to the point of being a pickle. I will say though that onions cooked alone have a wonderful caramelly sweet-savouriness, that can get lost when too many other spices are added.

    I mean, its there, providing the background notes and that's why its the infamous single sauce that provides the basis for all curries in bad Indian restaurants, but that pure intense sweet undiluted onioness - for that I have to make an onion jam or just fry them up Western style.


  11. Among other things, we just don't have the same capacity for drink that the boyz do.

    Things are slightly different here! In my experience, its the girls who are doing the serious drinking (I keep bottles of India's excellent Old Monk rum almost exclusively for them), while the boyz are fooling around with lighter stuff (or each other).


  12. This has always struck me as one of those great food shaggy dog stories which probably crops up wherever coffee is grown. You get the same story in the coffee growing areas of South India, except with monkeys rather than civets - the coffee is supposed to be called 'monkey parchment'. (Wonder if there a Brazilian version -marmosets, maybe?)

    I'm not saying its not possible - Alun's pet civet proves it is - but it sounds like one of those cases where the story is more the point than the product. Its like the monkey brains story from Malaysia - you know, the one about those tables with holes in the middle where you stick a live monkey and slice off its head to spoon out its brains while the creature is still living.

    Someone, Davidson, I think, points out that this probably originates in some mischievous locals telling tall tales to gullible Western travellers in the region to explain those tables with holes for barbecues. After that the story took on a momentum of its own and apparently a monkey brain feast was actually staged for a Western TV channel, and presumably could be done again anytime if someone had the money and was sick enough to want it. The story is still the point.


  13. Vinegar isn't a big ingredient in Indian cooking, apart from Goan and (to a lesser extent) Parsi cooking and in pickles, but there is one outstanding vinegar made here - sugarcane vinegar made in Navsari, to the north of Bombay. The best known firm is Kolah's, an old Parsi company, that has been making it for ages, and its a rich and complex product, black and with molasses overtones. Its an absolute must for making the fruity Parsi pickles and either you get Kolah's to ship it to you in sealed plastic pouches, or there are just a few shops in Bombay (Motilal Masalawala being the best known) which stock it. Anyone passing through should try and get it,


  14. hey Mongo,

    just joining the chorus of praise for this blog, and thanks for the kind words many many pages back. What I particularly like about the blog, is that you're including some of those really basic, day to day, recipes that, as you point out, are what most Indian households cook everyday. It hardly sexy food - vegetarian rather than meat and its going to win no awards for looks (and no, your camera skills aren't to blame, if anything your food looks better than what I've seen in most Indian cookbooks), but its great stuff when cooked with a modicum of care, and that really comes through in your blog.

    Have you got a book deal yet...


    PS: For those looking to buy MrsK.M.Mathew's book at ridiculous prices, please keep in mind that her recipes can be a real pain to do. This doesn't detract from the book - its a classic, and if money is not an issue and you're really into Indian food (or if you have someone coming from India who can buy it), then go for it. But I've found her recipes quite labour intensive as is often the case with many Indian recipes where there's an unspoken assumption of servants in the background to do the really annoying cutting and chopping work.

  15. I will remind my Bombay friend to send it across to you, unless it has been delivered to your office in your absence.

    Oh god, maybe there are secret bamboo pickle addicts in this office who gobbled it in my absence. Or maybe it was Rushina's brother. Or maybe its still here under the mountains of papers on my table. Will investigate, and please ask your friend as well. But thanks for finding it,


  16. Interesting thread, and a great couple of posts SWoodyWhite. Its made me think of the gay restaurants I've been to with the bf outside India and the definite role that restaurants have for gay people within India.

    Outside India, I can remember going to specifically gay places (meaning rainbow flag outside the door) in Amsterdam and Cape Town. Can't remember the Amsterdam places, but one CT restaurant I remember was called Manhattan, in De Waterkant, CT's gay district. Nice enough place, though unmemorable food. One really good place I do remember, not specifically gay, but (I think) gay owned and (definitely) gay staffed was Olympia, a wonderful deli/bakery in Kalk's Bay, on the coast towards the Cape. Best cinnamon rolls I've eaten in my life.

    That apart, I think I've had mixed feelings about these gay specific places. I've appreciated the generally warm atmosphere (though some of the least friendly places I've ever been to have been in apparently gay places in Soho in London), the slightly campy air, the cute waiters (obviously the one real essential in a gay restaurant) and the fact that the bf and I could hands if we wanted.

    Yet I've usually had a slight sense of being ripped off. Most of these places were a bit more expensive than equivalent places that weren't specifically gay, and yes, yes, I know one should support the community, that there's an extra value in it being gay that one is paying for (and which there's absolutely no reason to pay for if you're not gay), etc. etc. But when you're counting the pennies, and as a poverty struck journalist I usually am when I'm abroad, it can grate a bit, especially when I think of the really interesting food places I could be at.

    (This also applies to one of the few restaurants in India that I could count as gay - in the sense that its run by an openly gay couple, so one hopes its gay friendly. Its a small place in Bangalore called Sunny’s that serves pasta and pastries and stuff like that. The food is good and when they opened I gave it a rave review, but subsequently I’ve gone off the place. Its really quite snooty and now seems totally over priced, confirming my feelings about gay restaurants).

    Changing the topic slightly from gay restaurants, to how gay people interact with restaurants, in India restaurants provide some of the few semi private places where many gay people can meet. Its a cliché to say that India is where the US was in the Fifties. It is in some ways - the gay scene is still largely closeted. Yet there's also a level of organisation and a certain imposed openness because of the influence of the gay movement abroad and because of AIDS which has forced the government to recognise that homosexuals exist, and to provide some level of support.

    So there are a lot more people coming out of the closet, and gay groups getting off the ground, but the common problem many of them have is where to meet. Private spaces can be hard to find in a country where most people live with their families, while public spaces might be too dangerous or, a slightly more community specific problem, too identified with cruising for anything else to happen. Which is where restaurants come in useful.

    Luckily most restaurants in India wouldn't discriminate against gay people - simply because it probably wouldn't occur to anyone running the restaurant to think that their clients could be gay (which is something one can have ambivalent feelings about, but lets not get into that). And its certainly not unusual for men to be dining together. Indian restaurants also tend to be fairly respectful to their clients (unless its one of those eat fast and go places), so they're unlikely to refuse most people entry (with one caveat which I'll come to).

    That's why, as I said, a lot of meetings in the gay and lesbian community here have taken place in restaurants. Some of the first activist meetings in Delhi took place in those vast gloomy coffee houses in Connaught Place in Delhi. There was a time when Gokul's in Bombay, one of the best cheap drinking places in the city (and a surprisingly good place to eat in), started becoming a really big gay hangout on Saturday's, but that backfired, probably because regular customers started objecting, so one fine day they slammed down on it.

    In Bombay I’m involved with a gay support group that has good reason to be grateful to a certain restaurant chain. Years back when we were starting up, we were looking for a decent, affordable and neutral place to meet in and we hit on... McDonald’s! It certainly wasn’t my choice, but in many ways it was an ideal one. It was well known, but wasn’t dauntingly high profile, its a friendly enough place (maybe they don’t mean it, but being nice to customers is part of the training manuals) it was clean and wholesome (which sort of fit the image we wanted to convey), it was affordable (McDonald’s in India runs one of its cheapest international operations) and perhaps the international aspect helped as well!

    If anyone from McD’s head office is reading this - unlikely I realise, they probably ban eGullet from their servers - then relax, you don't need to get on the phone to your Indian operations. We moved on from there to another place since it became a bit embarrassing, there were all these guys, and the occasional girls as well, sitting around a table with two burgers and a couple of packets of fries since no one particularly felt like ordering the food. But for a while at least and quite unwittingly McD had become the most gay restaurant in Bombay. (And some people still call us the McDonald’s group!)

    The one caveat I had to add about the potential that Indian restaurants had for queer people was that they do become a problem when you’re dealing with people from a wide range of backgrounds and economic circumstances. Even McD’s was too expensive for some of the people who wanted to come for the meetings. It is also a sad fact that even the most welcoming of restaurants would probably draw the line at admitting members of the hijra community - what’s usually translated, not entirely accurately, as India’s traditional eunuch community, but its more like a community of transgender people at a really grass root level, who have existed in India for centuries, but always marginalised to the fringes of society where they have to make a living from dancing, begging and commercial sex work.

    This really hit me some years back when I started to get friendly with one of the most charismatic hijras here, a real diva of a lady, always resplendently dressed and with fantastic poise. I’d met her at the main gay support organisation in Bombay, and we had vaguely talked about meeting somewhere in town at some point. And then I realised I could think of almost no place that would have allowed her in, except the most basic eating places where we could hardly talk. Perhaps she might have brazened it out, or passed as a woman, but the chance of being chucked out was always there.

    Which is why I’d like to end by giving a big thumbs up to the one restaurant I know of in India which allows anyone in, and serves pretty good food too. Koshy’s is a Bangalore institution, a huge cavernous place that’s been around since the Fifties and doesn’t seemed to have changed in anyway since then. Its the crossroads for the city (or the old city, not the glitzy new one packed with high-tech companies and call centres), open through the day, where everyone comes to meet, eat or just see who else is there. Surprisingly, given all the taboos around drinking in India, its one place which serves alcohol, but hasn’t got a sleazy reputation for that. Most restaurants that serve alcohol aren’t seen as acceptable place for ‘respectable’ women to go to, but there’s no problem at Koshy’s - the management maintains iron discipline on that.

    Koshy’s has a very relaxed policy on ordering - you can sit for hours over a pot of tea, though around lunchtime they might ask you to take a break and come back (over the same pot!) after the lunch crowd has gone. The food is pretty good and very wide ranging, from the Brit breakfast options of strong tea and eggs and big wedges of toast, to the Indian ones of Kerala appams and stew (the guy who was till recently chief minister of the state - the governor equivalent - would come in for that) to the most reliably good fish curry in Bangalore, to some more obscure dishes - its one of only two places I know of which serves Coorgi pandi curry, a rare Indian pork dish (wild boar originally, and still sometimes accordingly to the owner).

    And my best memories of Koshy’s are sitting there eating this fish curry with a tableful of gay guys, including a couple of really funny queens, so you can imagine we weren’t exactly quiet or discreet, but the waiters didn’t bat an eyelid and the people at the neighbouring tables didn’t care either. Even better was coming across a table full of staffers from one of the local queer support groups, including some hijras. This was one rare place they could go, and thumbs up to Koshy’s for that.


  17. I'm surprised no one has mentioned Bombay's flaky khari biscuits (though they are perhaps a pastry rather than a biscuit). Mongo will presumably defend to the death Bourbon's as the best biscuit for dunking, but perhaps kahris could count as the best savoury biscuits for dunking,


  18. is there a region noted for its use of fresh green chickpeas?

    Fresh green chickpeas are occasionally available in Bombay markets in season - the Bazaargate area is a reliable place to find them - but I have some faint memory of hearing that the town of Hubli, in Karnataka, close to the Maharashtra border, is particularly noted for these. I did once pass through Hubli and sure enough they were on sale, but I can't remember if they were particularly special.


  19. My pickle audit of what's currently available at home. The selection is influenced by the fact that I don't really like most mango and lime pickles. I think most commercial pickle manufacturers make their pickles too acid to begin with, and when you combine this with the natural acidity of green mangos and lime, the result is too mouth puckering for its own good.

    Perhaps the problem is that I don't get homemade versions of these often. My family makes other kinds, of which more in a minute, but not these two, so I don't have nostalgic memories of them. The only mango pickle I ever really fell for was a dark stick mass on sweet-sour mango pulp that a friend's grandmother in Himachal made. She died last year and since no one else in her family is able to make it, I'm going to have to resign myself to never eating it again (unless Rushina can find something that matches in her trip to the hills...)

    (Madhur Jaffrey has a nice passage about pickles and how certain varieties vanish with their makers in her Introduction to Indian Cooking book. She was talking about a lime pickle her grandmother, and only her gradmother could make. After the old lady died, the remaining batch was carefully doled out among her descendants. One interesting point here was how she says her grandmother always insisted that only one of the servants was entrusted with the job of turning the pickles in their crocks with his hand - apparently only he had the right hand for doing this. And apparently when someone else's hand was used, the pickles did go bad. A coincidence, or could some quality about someone's hand really affect the pickle?)

    Back to my pickles. The other problem I have is that many of my favourite pickles are made from ingredients that are either too local or hard to get. For example, for ages I have been longing for a Coorgi bamboo shoot pickle that was available in Nilgiri's in Bangalore, but is no longer seen. It was wonderful stuff, that seemed to use more pepper than chillis, as would probably have been traditional in that region before chillies came. This also prevented the slightly starchy sweet flavour of bamboo shoot from being drowned out. From my point of view, almost the only benefit of Episure moving to Bangalore was that finally there was someone who could track it down, but it doesn't look like he's had much luck.

    Similarly there a wonderful mussel pickle made in North Kerala (kalamakai pickle) which had this marvellous tang of the sea to balance out the sour and hot flavours. My great grandmother in Tellicherry would make them from big orange mussels and ship them to her family, who would treat it with reverance. To eke out the flavour my mother would cut carrots into sticks (only because of the orange colour, I think) and dunk them in the pickle, to eat when the mussels were over. Getting this pickle here in Bombay is almost impossible - Goan mussel pickle is available, but the overuse of vinegar, I feel, drowns out the mussel taste.

    Anyway, finally coming to my audit:

    - stuffed green chillies, from two places. One, slightly more pungent, from Motilal Masalawala, old and reliable Bombay store. The other, slightly fresher and should be refrigerated, from a small shop outside the Jain temple on Malabar Hill which serves excellent Jain pickles and savouries.

    - Rushina is too modest to say this, but her mother makes an awesome sweet and hot pickle (well chutney is more like it) from a whole bunch of ingredients that Rushina says she doesn't know or is trying to keep secret. She gave me a bottle that is now almost empty...

    - Curry leaf thokku, a south Indian sort of pickle. This is interesting, as almost the only dish where curry leaves are used in themselves, and its quite good. Also, I'm told, very healthy. I have a brand from Madras, Sri Ganeshram's.

    - Onion pickle, from Priya Pickles, using those small Madras onions that either are, or double up as, shallots. Not bad, though too acid like most commercial pickles and I don't think I'll be buying it again.

    - Carrot and dry fruit pickle, from Motilal's. This is the great Parsi pickle, the one that's served with crisp puffy fried sago papads at all their weddings. Its the first item of the lagan-nu-bhonu, the wedding feast, and I always OD on it then, even when I know that there are innumerable dishes to come. Its sweet and fruity and just faintly hot. But I have to note that having bought this months back, I still haven't opened it, which goes to show that some pickles are perhaps best enjoyed only in context.

    - Ginger thokku, from MTR. This is EXCELLENT. Hot, but not too hot, and with just the right amount of ginger burn. I have four jars which is an indication of how much I like it.

    - Tomato pickle, from MTR again. I bought this with big expectations, after the ginger thokku, but while its not bad, its not that exciting either.

    - OK, big drum roll for the real pickle de resistance, and the only reason its still in the fridge is because I've just come back from Madras, otherwise between the bf and me, it doesn't last too long. Its the prawn pickle made by Vijayan, our resident genius cook in Madras. Its in the North Kerala style and is HOT, with no over use of vinegar to conceal the taste. Its made with the small strong tasting prawns so their flavour just makes it through the eat.

    Eating this is agony (especially the next morning), but it is a delicious and irresistable agony, especially when eaten plain on bread with a few fresh tomato slices on top to balance the taste, and slightly cool things down. Today morning I went into the kitchen to make breakfast and found the jar was already out - at 9.00 am! - and the bf with a half-ashamed, half-defiant face.

    Vijayan makes this in industrial quantities to send out to all in the family (for some reason, all sons-in-law particularly love this), and we all dread the day when he can make it no more. My sister has extracted the recipe from him and one of these days I will have to try it, but I need to get a proper grinding stone first since one of the secrets, apparently, is that the spices have to be ground coarser than you can do in an electrical grinder.


  20. While everyone is thinking Malaysian food, I can ask this. I'm curious not just about Ais Kacang, but the whole range of shaved ice desserts that seems to extend through SE Asia upto Japan. Has there been a thread on this on eGullet already? Does anyone have any idea where they originate and from when?

    Because surely they can't be that old, since how old is ice production in these areas? OK, maybe ice is not a problem in Japan (though did Japan have a tradition of storing ice for use in summers?), but what about the more tropical parts of the Far East? Was there a tradition of making ice from that water and saltpetre mixture that I think is Arab in origin? (Irritatingly, the one Elizabeth David book I don't have is her last one on ice, so can't cross check the facts).

    Or does the use of ice go back to the American lead ice business of the nineteenth century. I checked Gavin Weightman's The Frozen Water Trade which has a lot about the trade between the US and India, but nothing about Malaysia apart from mentioning that the ships would stop en route to Calcutta and sell ice in Singapore as well. So that's one possible source - could this be the origin of shaved ice desserts?

    Leaving the ice part out, do these desserts link up to a taste for mixed textures that you see in desserts like the Indian falooda (though I think that's of Persian origin)? If falooda is the link, did that spread with Arab trade? I don't think there's anything quite like Ais Kacang in the Arab world though (to be honest I don't think there's anything quite like Ais Kacang anywhere else - its truly a weird dessert), so where does the inspiration behind it come from?


  21. Thanks for the insights everyone. I think the theory that it was used to conceal the flavour of powdered milk sounds most plausible to me. In India too there have been periods when good quality fresh milk wasn't that easily in the large cities - a much harder deprivation for such a milk obsessed country - and I think that's one reason that the add-to-milk products like Horlicks and Bournvita became popular, both for taste and for nutrition. The 'white revolution' that Monica wrote a piece about sometime back has now made milk shortages rare and, not coincidentally I think, sales of these products are stagnating.

    On the Maggi Goreng issue, I don't know how authentic it is, but it didn't taste that bad. It might just be unshakeable childhood memories (or more likely memories of my business school, where this was one of the few edible foods served in the canteen), but I think Maggi counts as one of the more acceptable of the range of ready-to-eat foods. Perhaps its the kilos of taste enhancers, or perhaps the springiness of texture that someone mentioned, but it does come out quite nicely in stir fries. (Its even quite nice eaten raw!)

    And Kew, thanks for the Nasi Kandar explanation,


  22. Can anyone explain the origins and reasons for the huge consumption of Milo (a rather sicky sweet chocolate drink from Nestle, made by adding Milo powder to milk) in Malaysia? I was reminded of this in a new Malaysian fast food restaurant called Pelita Nasi Kandar that's opened in Chennai (Madras), India.

    I think Nestle launched Milo ages back in India, but it flopped and I think was taken off the market. But here, to prove its an authentic Malaysian restaurant, was Milo on the menu again, imported, the restaurant manager assured me, from Malasyia and available both hot and cold (ais Milo, the way most people drank it he told me).

    Does anyone know why Milo became such a hit in Malaysia? Is it also popular in other countries in SE Asia, or is it just Malaysia? Is it because of Nestle - are other Nestle products as popular (the Mee Goreng seemed to be made from Maggi noodles, so perhaps they are, or perhaps this is not the best of restaurants)? And why on earth would an artificial tasting (well, to my taste) chocolate drink become popular in Malaysia when they grow so much of the real thing?

    Any information on this and other aspects of Malaysia's love for Milo would be appreciated. Is it drunk in any other way there, apart from hot and with ice cubes?


    PS: While I'm asking questions, what does Nasi Kandar mean? The restaurant manager said something about it being typical to the Penang region, but couldn't quite explain what it meant and I didn't particularly feel like hanging around to find out. The rotis in the restaurant were good, but everything else was rather ghastly.

  23. Thanks gingerly, interesting post on soapstone. You're right, that's what the kal-chattis are made from. I picked up three yesterday from Dakshinachitra, the south Indian crafts village down the East Coast Road.

    Its an excellent place (admittedly not entirely objective here, I know some of the ladies who started it). Its one place you can still get kal-chattis, but even more its worth seeing because they've been reconstructing traditional houses from different parts of the south - these are the actual houses, which they buy, take apart and put back together in Dakshinachitra with as much of the furniture and other stuff inside as they can get or assemble from other sources.

    And that includes the kitchens - in fact the kitchens are usually the one part of the house which really contains stuff. Wonderful huge brass vessels for heating water, mud pots and kal-chattis and metal urlis for cooking, wood and metal coconut graters, idiappam presses and lots of other great things.

    Its also fascinating seeing how the kitchens are laid out - the Malayali ones, for example, are usually built with a well just outside the window so you could draw the water straight into the kitchen (Dakshinachitra has dug well in the appropriate places). My mother remembers her grandmother using exactly such a kitchen.

    But back to soapstone, does what your extract say mean that they don't need more tempering beyond the oil application. Because everyone I know - my grandmother, my friend who makes yoghurt in her kal-chatti, the stonemason I bought it from and sundry other people all insist I have to season it before using it, or its going to crack or worse just explode.

    They differ on how to season it. My friend who uses hers for yoghurt says you have to fill it with salt and leave it for three months or so. The stonemason said I should fill it with hot water and leave it, replenishing it once a day for about a week. Most other people say I need to fill it with kanji (the starchy water left over from boiling rice) and leave it for a couple of weeks, changing the kanji every now and then.

    Are these all myths do you suppose, or should I do it before using the kal-chatti? I'm eager to start using it for youghurt at least, but on the other hand I don't want them exploding especially after I'm breaking my back lugging them back to Bombay?


  24. I've just picked up an excellent looking book on traditional Udipi recipes - 'Udipi Cuisine' by U.B.Rajalakshmi. Its a bit like 'Samaithu Par' and 'Rasachandrika', lots of traditional recipes along with hints on how to cook healthy food and medicinal recipes, notes on the ingredients used, details about the rituals behind serving the food and even some of the mythology behind Udipi food.

    Here's a note on how the metal of the cooking vessels affects health:

    Cooking in copper vessels is healthy. Rice cooked in copper vessels will relieve rheumatism, ailments of the spleen. But it will cause biliousness. Eating rice cooked in an iron vessel will cure tuberculosis and leukoderma. Eating rice cooked in bronze vessels will not only cure TB and leukoderma but also remove toxic effects. If cooked in a gold vessel, toxic elements will be removed and acidity will decrease and also leukoderma will be cured. Virility will increase and rheumatism will be relieved. Eating rice cooked in a silver vessel will relieve phlegm, liver and bowel movements will be faciliated. Rice cooked in an eartne pot will prevent liver complaints.
  25. Maybe the photographer has done it for dramatic effect, but Crawford Market never seems to me as dark and dramatic looking as it does here. (New Market in Cal I remember as dark and somewhat dank). I love the place though and any publicity is good for it.


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