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Vikram

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Everything posted by Vikram

  1. Dusting off an old thread, but my interest isn't metal vessels at the moment, but stone ones - of kal-chattis, as they're called in Tamil. I knew they were used for pickles and thought that was quaint, but perhaps not that practicable and anyway glass jars did the jobas well. But I've begun to wonder if stone has any properties that make it suited for certain types of food operations? A friend in Madras recently showed me the small kal-chatti she used to make yoghurt and she swears that nothing else is as good. She added that the vessel did have to be seasoned first which she did by packing it with salt for six months and then it would be ready. I'm not sure what stone is used for these kal-chattis - something relatively soft, I'm guessing, or they'd go mad making them. But could stone really have the water absorbing powers that I can see earthenware would have? Are there other benefits of using stone? And does the 'seasoning' really add anything? Vikram PS: As a slight sidelight, I've just recovered a set of kal-chatti toys I bought ages back in Bangalore. There was this old man who used to sit on Mahatma Gandhi Road (would anyone understand if I said South Parade?) and I can almost pinpoint the location, it was close to where St.Mark's Rd starts, near that excellent pork shop and he sold these kitchen sets for kids - miniature grinding stones, jars, a stove, plates, iddli vessels, the works - all neatly carved out of stone. I thought my mother had thrown them away, but I've just found them again and am taking them off to Bombay to join the metal kids cookery set I picked up in the mill areas recently. Does anyone have memories of these kids cooking sets?
  2. I have been trying to find a good pic of an open mangosteen on the Net, but have found nothing that really does them justice. Even the Food Thesaurus, normally infallible, lets me down here. Did find this article though, which gives an idea of the praises and cravings mangosteens bring on. I'm particularly impressed by the fact that David Karp, the Fruit Detective guy rates them so highly: http://www.downtownexpress.com/de_26/findingaforbidden.html Vikram
  3. Penguin India has just come out with a collection of Vir Sanghvi's Rude Food columns, which I've occasionally posted to this list. (I'm not sure if its on the shelves yet, since the one I've seen is a review copy sent to my mother, but I guess it'll be there soon). Columns rarely reproduce well in book format (Busybee is, just, an exception), and I don't think these entirely escape that problem, but that being said, the book is a very welcome addition to the rather meagre corpus of Indian food writing. Because that's what is really to Sanghvi's credit - he recognised writing on food, as opposed to restaurant reviews or the text that accompanies recipes, was a distinct category and that he was in a particularly good position to provide it. Obviously he was interested in food, but even more, he was interested both in its preparation and its eating. He travels a lot and has lived in different places so he's had the opportunity to sample much local food. He had the money to spend on good, but again to his credit, he doesn't do an Asit Chandmal and only write on expensive foods (with someone else picking up the tab), but also on really ordinary and inexpensive foods (though he doesn't seem to be much in street foods). Above all though, I think Sanghvi brings two big advantages to the table. As an op/ed writer and TV interviewer, he's not afraid to have opinions and to state them, but he's not dogmatic about things either. One of the biggest damp squibs in writing of any kind is when the writer can't bring himself or herself to take stands on anything - when everything is good, everything acceptable, everything just a matter of taste. That's not good, its just spineless. On the other hand, carried to excess, being opinionated turns into boring. Sanghvi knows how to strike the balance (and he writes in clear and readable prose). The second advantage was that as editor in chief of the Hindustan Times Sanghvi was able to give himself the space and freedom to develop his column to its best. Food writing really isn't taken that seriously in India and it can be pretty tough to get editors to really give you space for it - despite the fact that food writing gets responses like nothing else does! (This is not a personal complaint BTW since I have a lovely and appreciative editor in Sunday ET who generally gives me leeway and is usually right when she protests I'm going too far (the biscuits piece was one possible example)). But Sanghvi was able to give himself the space and he made the best use of it. The book will offer lots of good reading and lots to discuss, so do your best to get it if you can. Vikram
  4. Those are the hairy red ones, right? You see them occasionally, but I think they're imported from Sri Lanka or Malaysia. Have never had a really earth shaking one, but its probably due to lack of enough opportunity to try, Vikram
  5. Won't you find similar ones, if not from cookie obsessed American companies, but other Commonwealth countries? I did an article once that attempted an international typology of biscuits and while it threw up certain distinct national types like South African Ouma Rusks or those disgustingly sweet Australian Tim Tams, there were also common types which usually originated in certain ur-biscuits created by Victorian era companies like Huntley & Palmer and distributed by them across the British Empire. These then became the models for the local biscuits and I think bourbon creams (why bourbon?) were one of them? So if you don't find them in the US, why not check Canada or in Ausralian import stores. Now that import restrictions have been relaxed and we're getting biscuits from Australian or SA companies like McVitie's, I'm finding that they have many biscuits similar to the Britannia ones, Vikram
  6. Now for the nitpicking... Bague wrote: I've heard of this link before and Monica just made it again in the summer soups thread where she referred to kokam as, in parantheses, mangosteens. But is this accurate? The kokam link Monica posted says that its related to the mangosteen tree, but its not the same thing. The only reference book I have with me here in Madras is J.S.Pruthi's Spices And Condiments, one of those cheaply printed and dryly written National Book Trust publications, but which one hopes is fairly accurate and here's what he says on the subject: The link does seem clear, and if I had any doubts I need just look at my fingertips after a mangosteen session and they're lightly stained pink the way they are after I've been handling kokam. But will mangosteen rinds really give me kokum or an as-good equivalent if I dry them? I haven't tried since I don't suffer from any shortage of kokum or kokum syrup, but perhaps I should try just to see. (BTW, about kokum syrup, I rather want to know how to use it up. Does anyone have good recipes for kokum flavoured drinks? I have had some, but every time I try and make them myself, they just end up tasting medicinal). The real reason I'm interested in finding the link though is not the kokum, but the mangosteen fruits. If drying mangosteen rinds gives me kokum, then does it work the other way, and do kokum trees have wonderful mangosteen like fruits? I would love this to be true, but I rather wonder, because why hasn't one heard about them in Bombay which is part of a kokam producing region? Vikram
  7. Lifting out my eulogy to mangosteens from the mango thread. As this topic's subhead says, they entirely deserve a thread of their own (also I want to do some nitpicking). Are there other mangosteen maniacs out there apart from me? Any other mangosteen memories? I don't know whether to ask for mangosteen recipes though, because part of me feels that fruit so perfect shouldn't be messed around with.
  8. Monica, that's a coincidence, because I just bought a megapack of those Niligiri's chocolate covered digestives (for the bf, not me, he added, unconvincingly). They're easier to get here in Madras than back in Bombay. And they are totally delicious. Are you sure Niligiri's doesn't export them... or are you scared of finding out that they do! Vikram
  9. I might have some good news soon on the importing mangos to the US issue soon - or at least more precise news. I've been trying to follow up about the exact reasons for the refusal. The head of the Ambo Konkan festival told me that the initial reason given by the US govt was fruit fly, so a decontamination unit - something about a vapour heat process - was built in Vashi (on the mainland near Bombay), but the mangos were still rejected. He muttered darkly about NAFTA. I finally tracked down a govt of India source in the food quarantine department in Faridabad and he told me a detailed report has been prepared and sent to the US trying to respond to their concerns about the import of Indian mangos, and they were now awaiting the US government response. Once I get back to Bombay, I'll follow up on this, and hopefully try and get a copy of that that initial report, Vikram
  10. Come on Episure, if you wanted to drive Mongo mad, you're going to need more appetising pictures than that pile of distinctly unripe looking mangoes (unless its one of those types that's ripe when its green). Like maybe he should have seen the mangos in Chennai's central produce market at Koyambedu the other day. Its a wonderful and very well organised place, so when my father suggested a trip there a few mornings back, I jumped at it. In one of the few sensible urban planning decisions this town has taken, the markets were moved from the crowded area near the port, to this place on the outskirts on the Poonamalee High Road, but close to the Ring Road, so its quite accessible. Its in a nice looking sprawl of a building, long low sheds with triangular roofs, the fruit market at one side, the veggies in another, the flowers in a third, I have discovered the meat market yet. You either need a pass to access the area, or have to pay Rs10 to enter, a good decision that prevents it becoming chaotic. High summer is not the best season to go there, but even now, when you go in, what a sight! The veggie market is OK, lovely looking stuff and so cheap, but not that much variety - we'll see that, I guess, after the rains. The fruit market though is the place to be. The mangos don't hit you at once, you're lead in to them by big heaps of guavas, plump brown chickoos (Rs20 for 25!), piles of papayas (interesting to note how many of the fruits here have American connections) and the more local stuff like the sour green starfruit and black berries called jambul, I think. And then they hit you - the mangos, and if the smell is not an intoxicating as the piles of Alphonsos in Crawford Market in Bombay, its in a way more interesting. Alphonsos tend to swamp everything else in Bombay, while here you get to see a much greater variety of mangos. The biggest are the Banganapallis, huge yellow footballs of mangos, lots of flesh on them and very nice in taste if you don't mind the slightly chalky undertaste. There the totapuris, long and pointed at both end, best for ras or for sucking in the style that Mongo recommends. Mulgovas are almost perfectly round, with just that upturned tip at the end, that classic mango shape you find in paisley prints. A vendor tried interesting us in the greenish Neelam or 'blue' mangos - a waste of money, in my opinion, whatever effusions David Davidar made of them in his 'House of Blue Mangos'. Another greenish mango was the Dilpasand which was OK, but tasted fibrous. And right at the end of the market, the most exclusive dealer had boxes of Alphonsos, even cheaper than in Bombay (though not as large), a conformation of sorts of what I've always suspected that the Bombay price is kept artificially high. But I have to say that all thoughts of mangos were banished by when in another vendor's shop we spotted baskets filled with little dark round balls each with their distinctive cap - mangosteens! And really big ones, the best I've ever seen so far. Even my father, who normally bargains like crazy and refuses even the most reasonable offers, turned weak and only put up a minimal resistance when the guy asked us for Rs450/- for a basket of 100. We did buy some other fruit, but I couldn't care less, because now I'm in mangosteen heaven! I hesitate to say this on a list devoted to mangos, but I have to say that a perfectly ripe mangosteen is perhaps... the most perfect fruit ever. Yes, even better than mangos. They look so gorgeous when you cut them open - the neat white segments in the protective red flesh that surrounds them (which should never be eaten). And the taste!!!! Its a combination of apricots and peaches and raspberries and mangos and every sweet fruit you can think of, in succulent white flesh. OK, I know I sound raving here, but I've always seen mangosteens as impossibly expensive fruit of which you'd be lucky to get one or two to eat, and that will only serve to whet the appetite. For the first time in my life I'm in a position to eat mangosteens for breakfast, lunch and dinner and that's just what I've been doing! Vikram
  11. I think Mongo is right that the type of kimchi I ate was the reason for my sweeping statement. As he says, it was very fresh and squeaky and the fact that I was trying to eat it with sambhar and rice probably didn't help. (I think coconut and tamarind, both South Indian staples, can both be problematic in food combinations. They don't make it impossible, but you have to be careful). I'm back in Madras now and overdosing on the excellent Korean food you get here, courtesy Hyundai's mega factory here. (Also, in passing, I'd like to note that of all Indian cities, Madras/Chennai now seems the most in tune with the Asia-Pacific region. I think this is partly geography, partly the Tamil diaspora, but I keep coming across A-P links here like Australian companies, the Korean places I mentioned, another really good Japanese place, some places serving Malaysian food, Thai in abundance, and even that Singapore institution, Komala Vilas now has a branch here). Back to the Korean food. If anyone wants to try it out, there are two places - a decent, non-fancy place called KyungBokChong in Nandanam, and a slightly better place, in terms of both food and ambience, in Alwarpet called InSeoul (its the old Arirang). Great bulgogi, bibimbap, kimchi of course, but the thing I'm currently tripping on is the slightly fermented tasting red chilli paste called, I think, kochija. I've been told there's a place you can buy it here, and if I get my hands on it Rushina, you will definitely get your share! Vikram
  12. The bakery at Auroville, the international community in South India, close to Madras, produces a several classic French recipes adapted to local ingredients. Their version of financiers are made with cashews rather than almonds and are totally awesome. I'm going to Madras next week and consumption of cashew financiers is high on my list of things to do, Vikram
  13. Vikram

    Peanuts

    One of the things I like best about Maharashtrian cooking is its use of peanuts, placing real value on it for its taste and texture. A properly made poha for breakfast, with the rice flakes just soft enough, with curry leaves and mustard seeds and small pieces of potato, a pinch of sugar, some turmeric for colour and peanuts for a contrast in texture and taste, is a very good way to start the day.
  14. A pulao is nondescript, a biriani is way over the top. Pulaos are accompaniments, birianis are, unfortunately, often the main course. I can just about bring myself to eat a Huderabadi biriani if I'm in the Charminar area, because the genuine stuff is really quite light and elegant. Most other birianis are just too rich and full of stuff that has no business being there. Vikram
  15. Good decision. I think I'm coming to the conclusion that a lot of homemade Indian desserts are really not very good. Shrikhand, for example, strikes me as a dish that is just wrong. Its a way too throat cloggingly creamy and while the addition of mango pulp lightens it a bit, its usually just a waste of mangoes. Those china grass desserts sound frankly disgusting, and so it goes with a lot of homemade desserts. That's why most Indian houses don't bother with them, preferring to get something really good from a professional sweetmaker, or keeping it simple with kheer, which is always welcome, Vikram
  16. Vikram

    Ginger

    I adore Ale Pak, there's usually a jar full of it on my dining table, but I've got a cold at the moment, and have eaten it all. Its fudgy fire, if you can imagine such a concept - its got the texture of fudge, but when you put it in your mouth, first you get the sweetness and then the pure and powerful burn of ginger. Its the best thing to eat when you have a cold, and I eat it anytime, but its not for everyone (thank god). Friends I have offered it to are prone to reeling back, clutching their throats and screaming hoarse imprecations at me. I need to stop off at Dadar today evening to replenish my supply. Has anyone tried making it? That Indian Pantry book has a recipe, but since I can get it quite easily (Tambhe Arogya Bhavan is where I usually buy it, along with their delicate puran polis) I've never tried making it. Vikram
  17. A new food sighting in a Bollywood film. Well, not that new since the film is Maqbool, the Bollywood take on Macbeth set in the Mumbai underworld which was released quite a few months back, but I only just got around to seeing it. And my advice to anyone else who hasn't it - see it! The film has got ecstatic reviews, and I'm not sure its all that good. Or its more like this - I thought the film was really good, but it fell apart at the end and somehow that was all the more annoying for how good it could have been. Its interesting, I think, that it fell apart precisely where it diverged most sharply from Shakespeare, which is telling. I'm not a fanatic for sticking to texts and Shakespeare can certainly take it. For example, in the film Duncan is the don of the underworld and Lady M is actually his mistress who starts making eyes at his devoted assistant, Maqbool/Macbeth. Nor in the original, but it works. Yet the play does have a basic structure that must, I think, be followed and where this film doesn't, it goes wrong. That apart, its quite a film to see. Some things are just brilliantly done - the conversion of the witches into two corrupt, semi-funny, semi-sinister Mumbai cops is just fantastic, and so too the way they use the janam-patra (horoscope) diagram as a recurring symbol. Tabu is wonderful as the Lady M character and Pankaj Kapoor as the Duncan character (too good - he unbalances the film). And the depiction of the mostly Muslim underworld is visually stunning - this really is Godfather transplanted to Mumbai with all that film's visual style. And just as the men in Godfather were always cooking, here you see them doing it too, or at least one person - Maqbool himself. Its in the preparations for Abbaji/Duncan's daughter's wedding (to the Malcolm character, who's not his son in the film, another change that works) which Maqbool is in charge of. To show his devotion to Abbaji, he throws himself into it totally, making sure all the details are perfect to the extent of taking his shirt of and seeing to the spicing and the stirring of the huge vats of biriani that are being made. And it works - Abbaji is really moved that he's making the food himself and says so. But all the while Maqbool si getting increasingly tempted by the Lady M character. And the food plays a role here too, because the blood of the goats that are killed for the biriani starts spilling over in his thoughts, as a foretaste of his hallucinations after he's done the deed. Apart from that there's also an extensive dinner sequence, which is more I think to show the Muslim tradition of communal dining from one plate. None of this takes much away I think from the point I made earlier in this thread about the rarity of showing cooking and eating in Bollywood films. When its done, the connotations are nearly always of something earthy and not pure and that's the way it is too. The biriani and the blood reinforces that these are 'bad people' even if they're the subject of the film, Vikram
  18. On one of these threads I recently described how raw jackfruit is cooked by some Muslim communities as a sort of mock meat dish and is called Tree Goat. I've been reading an interesting book, "Indian Mansions: A Social History of the Haveli" by Sarah Tillotson, where I came across this wonderful bit of information. She's talking about how cooking was done in the havelis, and how the vegatarian - non-vegetarian differences were maintained, usually with separate cooking areas: I love the idea of moving vegetables! And it occurs to me that this sort of deception is probably more common than the other one, of pretending vegetables were meat. Didn't Bengali Brahmins have a phrase for fish that translated as 'fruit of the sea'? Doesn't anyone know others? An example of this being done, though without a special name was in a restaurant in Gujarat where the (ostensibly) strict Jain guy I was eating with, asked the waiter to make sure the bill said vegetable curry rather than the chicken curry he'd just eaten. The waiter seemed quite used to requests like this. Another old example from Madras, with alcohol not meat, is an 'Iyengar soda'. Which was simply a whisky and soda served in a silver tumbler so that the Iyengar (very strict Brahmin) men could pretend they weren't drinking alcohol. Vikram
  19. Momos were till recently one of the very few food items where that awful city up north could rightly claim superiority over Bombay. I have even eaten them down south in Coorg, in one of the resettlement camps for Tibetans in the hills there, but they never seemed to make it to Bombay. But now I'm told there's a place in the suburbs dishing out very decent momos. Its in Andheri Lokhandwala, somewhere near that Lotus petrol pump. A couple of weekends back the boyfriend and I tried finding it, and we almost located it, with the help of the talking Yellow Pages service. They gave us the number, but we called and they were still closed - it was only around 5.00, and we couldn't stay that side much longer. I'm off to Madras this weekend, but will make attempts to find it when I'm back, Vikram
  20. The nation's capital? Monica I didn't realise you're all coming to Delhi? Why would anyone come to Delhi to eat Bombay street food?
  21. Bhelpuri and I were recently salivating on the Swati Snacks thread for the owner's amazing new dish of a curry made with ripe guavas. Wonderful sweet-tart-spicy taste. Later I was told its an old Jain dish. Jakfruit is often cooked green because its texture at that time is closest to meat. Its used a mock meat in several recipes where its coyly called Tree-Goat. Khubani Ka Meetha is like a lovely rich and faintly spicy jam. The ITC Kitchen's Of India range has a canned version which is pretty much the only one in that range I really like. Dried apricots are also used in jerdaloo sali boti, a wonderful Parsi dish cooked with boneless mutton pieces and covered with fried potato straws. Cooking fruits and meats together is something the Parsis have preserved from their Persian traditions. The Coconut Grove restaurants used to make a totally delicious, rich and unctuous pineapple halwa. A real surprise, since I've always thought the fruit doesn't combine well with other things. Recently I bought a pinepaple murabba which was quite good. This reminds me of a great quick dessert snack we used to make in my (Malayali) mother's family called papadam pallam (meaning papads and bananas). After a meal if there was any leftover rice (so maybe I should file this under the leftover rice thread) and some overripe bananas, then the fruit was peeled and mashed into a glutinous pulp. Some of the rice was mashed in (for texture, I'm told) along with some sugar and ghee. Then any leftover papads (this being south India they were fried crisp, not roasted) were crumbled and scattered over the glutinous mixture. And that was it - sweet, fruity, with the papad shards for contrast in texture and totally delicious. Vikram
  22. I didn't know whether to put this under the Saag or Soul Food thread, since it could fit equally well there. Because my favourite way of cooking chickpeas is hariyali style - in a thick spinach gravy. I picked up the recipe from a Nita Mehta cookbook (she's like a cheaper version of Tarla Dalal - not particularly fancy, but good basic stuff that works), in fact her Low Fat cookbook, since the recipe uses only a little oil so that's another bonus. Its also an excellent recipe to make for a large bunch of people, since its either a dhal or a veggie dish, depending on how you look at it, and it is such a totally satisfying dish that I've seen even the most dedicated meat eaters spooning it in. Here's a rough recipe (and this is really one of those forgiving dishes where you're fine following the general outline, minor differences don't much matter): Pressure cook chickpeas along with some salt and a couple of black cardamoms (but if you don't have time, you can use canned ones and forget about the cardamoms). How soft you want them is up to you - I like them quite mushy. Take some bunches of spinach, the more the better since the gravy is so good, and clean and chop the leaves, though you really needn't bother about the chopping since its all going to be pulped anyway. Pressure cook them briefly along with some nice big onions and plenty of ginger-garlic paste (use fresh and grated ginger and chopped garlic if you like, I'm sure you're a better person than me), and just a little water. Once its all wilted, including the onion, pulversive into a thick green sauce in a blender. In a large karhai or deep saucepan heat just a little oil. Pulverise some nice big tomatoes and add the puree to the oil. Cook till the pulp is thick, then add a couple of tablespoons of channa masala and a teaspoon or so of chilli powder and salt. Stir a bit and then add the channa and fry in the tomato-spice mixture for a bit. Then lower the heat and add the spinach sauce to the channa and cook for a bit and that's it. Totally delicious and you can refrigerate it and it just gets better. Vikram
  23. Usually I enjoy reading these features but... is it just me, or did anyone else think this one was ever so slightly precious? Vikram
  24. There really isn't much Indo-French stuff in Pondicherry and probably not the other ex-French colonies either. One of my grandfathers came from Mahe, the colony in Kerala, and I've never heard of any French inspired cooking from there. There's the excellent Pondicherry bread, of course, but that's about it. My theory is that the local Tamil cooking in Pondicherry was too individual and different from French cooking to be able to blend with it in any meaningful way. How do such links tend to happen? I'm guessing its when the colonial elites tend to like some native dishes or ingredients, so incorporate them into their own meals; or when the elites intermarry with the natives; or when their cooks, who are drawn from the natives, leave to start their own cooking establishments where they popularise the elite's styles - or their own take on them. And I think this never really happened in Pondicherry since the French and Tamil tastes were just too different, so there was no interest in eating each other's cooking (French arrogance and Tamil vegetarianism [with the Brahmins, at least] probably played some part too). The result is what you see today in Pondicherry - a few places where you can get excellent classical French food and thousands of other standard eating places. The only thing which has brought some element of fusion recently has been Auroville and its food industries which are becoming increasingly commercial. They're using local ingredients, but with Western techniques and while sometimes the results are entirely Western, sometimes they create a remarkable fusion - the tamarind jam I was extolling on another thread is an example. Or the financiers that the bakery makes where cashews are substituted for almonds. Vikram
  25. Oddly enough, while Mumbai still annoys me at some subliminal level, I quite like being a Mumbaikar. It somehow seems a more authentic word than the rather effete Bombayite. Soul food... bit difficult, since my mother has always hated cooking (while paradoxically being quite a good cook). So I don't have the major childhood memories of her cooking which are, I think, the genesis of soul food. There was a succession of cooks who made different things, with different levels of skill, but nothing much stuck. Until Vijayan appeared in our lives and has since stuck on and is still going strong. His food is very good, his onion sambhar in particular is outstanding, but the one thing he makes which belongs in some category of his own is his prawn pickle. Its a north Kerala pickle, made with small prawns and tons of chillies, so its pretty explosive, and yet somehow the prawn taste holds its own and the whole is incredibly savoury. I long ago figured the best way to eat it is on bread with tomato slices on it to cut the heat a bit. Its wonderful, but dangerous stuff to eat - it lures you to eat more, and then do you regret it the next morning! What's interesting is not just how the family likes it, but how the in laws do too. My mother has two sisters and both their husbands demand prawn pickle when their wives visit home. My sister's husband tends to be blasé, but he's from north Kerala so its nothing new for him. But some years back I introduced the boyfriend to it. He was wary at first - to his Haryanvi upbringing, meat pickles are something incredibly strange. But when he tried it, he fell for it completely. These days when I return home from Madras, I have to ration out the supply carefully, or he'd eat it all and be moaning for days. Vikram
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