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Vikram

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Everything posted by Vikram

  1. Um... should we maybe be talking about Indo-Italian cuisine? No, not trying to make any political point, just glad the election is over and I can get back to reading this forum! I wonder though, could chicken tikka pizza be counted as an example of Indo-Italian cooking, or is that Anglo-Indo-Italian? Or what dish could we do in honour of the occasion? Anything, except of course with a saffron sauce! Vikram
  2. Could we move this thread from bad Indian food odours, to good ones - which are the Indian food aromas we totally trip on? Alphonsos go without saying of course, but here, off the top of my head, are three more: 1) Roasting coriander seed - completely unexpected burnt orange smell, I adore it, does anyone make a scent with it? 2) Frying chillies - the essence of a warm, savoury smell. I was frying some reshampattis and Madras chillies for Kerala beef yesterday, and the smell made the whole house feel good. 3) Goa sausages - a penetrating, vinegary, meaty smell. I often cook them quickly in the pressure cooker and at least part of the reason is that intense aroma that suddenly jets out when the cooker starts letting off steam. Vikram
  3. Does anyone have any idea what exactly the US government objects to with Indian mangoes? As people have pointed out, they import mangoes from other countries and other foodstuffs from India, so what is it with mangoes? Is it the particular use of some kind of pesticide or something? If the reason was known, perhaps some growers could find ways of growing Alphonsos in an acceptable way. There a major mango festival starting in Bombay tomorrow, more reports from there (squirm Mongo squirm!). But if anyone can shed light on this US embargo I could put questions to the growers there, Vikram
  4. Do a search on this forum and you'll see there have been several references for duck with Indian food. There are mentions of duck samosa, tandoori duck and of course duck vindaloo. Here's a post I'd written some time back about a rather disastrous duck experience of mine: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showto...30entry371548 I haven't heard of Malayalis eating duck much, but East Indians certainly do. Apart from the vindaloo recipe like the one I refer to here, there are several others like a duck baffat. Could PM you the recipe if you like, Vikram
  5. Sorry about that double post, I hit the Add Reply button mid-message by accident. A couple of other points: Paneer is wonderful and it has all sorts of different textures, there's a thread just on this subject somewhere. And potatoes are wonderful too, who would dispute that except insane Atkinsoids. But there's more to life than them and you wouldn't guess that in the average Punjabi household and certainly not in the average Punjabi restaurant. I'm not saying Punjabis don'y cook other veggies, but they don't respect and do justice to them the way Gujjus do - in their hearts they're lusting for the butter chicken and maa ki dhal. I mean, look at sarson ka saag, the one famous Punjabi veggie dish. You could make something interesting out of these mustard greens, but mostly they're served up with all the life cooked and pureed out of them. Exactly! Small cut veggies dissolve into indistinguishable mush when overcooked in the standard Punjabi way. Gujjus would stir fry and cook only very lightly - that in fact is the point of cutting small, so it cooks quickly - so the original flavours are retained. It is yummy (sort of), it has a texture (of some kind) - and it is usually the only real veggie on a Rajasthani thali. I'm not blaming the Rajasthanis for this, its not their fault that most veggies don't grow in their desserts, but the point is that if you want to eat good veggies rather than the pretend veggies Sanghvi refers to, you better go further south to Gujarat. So why is it served so often in Indian restaurants? To use up extra curds? Vikram
  6. First, Gujju thali places in Bombay. My favourite one at the moment is Friends, Union Joshi Club, popularly called FUJC (and that name sounds a little less odd when you realise its a literal translation of Joshi Mitra Mandal). Its a simple, but excellent place (and also very well priced). You have to go down the Kalbadevi Road and if you're coming from the Crawford Market side it'll be on the right hand side, on the first floor of a building. After that Rajdhani near Crawford Market and, er, that's about it. Chetna is too heavy (though admittedly delicious), Samrat, Panchavati Gaur and Golden Star too pedestrian and Thacker's (upmarket one near Marine Lines station, corner of road to Metro) is just ridiculously rich, they don't use milk when cream will do. Also it makes me shed bitter tears for the long lost and wonderful Sri Thacker Bhojanalaya in the back lanes of Kalbadevi. I have recently been told that this has restarted but I've been reluctant to go and check since (a) my cholesterol levels are too high and (b) I did try once and found that there was a pathetic excuse for the old one which was being run the old owner's son, and it was the best proof that culinary skills aren't genetic. Luckily I have Gujju relatives and friends who can be prevailed on to feed me, cholesterol levels permitting. OK, answering other points randomly: I don't know about tooth decay, but diabetes rates in Gujarat are soaring. In its current form it is really not a very healthy cuisine (and you can see why Parsi cuisine is REALLY unhealthy, since to Gujarati food, its adds lots of rich meat and egg dishes). And yes, there's too much besan eaten. I do say in its current form, because one can see how orginally it wasn't that rich. As Sanghvi notes it goes easy on the oil and it also uses lots of wholegrains, in particular jowar. Gujarat borders on the deserts of Rajasthan and parts like Kutch are quite barren, so the food was originally quite simple and healthy. But as Gujaratis have prospered with trade, they have spent their money on food and don't stint on the rich and sweet parts. Its a defining characteristic of Gujjus to do whatever they do to excess. Lots of Gujju food today is simply too rich, which is why I'm ambivalent about it. I concede the point on Bengali food and this isn't just from a desire to co-opt Mongo. I did think while reading Sanghvi's article that Bengali food was another example where extreme care was taken in cutting ingredients into small sizes - if anything, it goes even further, because there are all sorts of obsessions about the precise shapes and sizes in which different veggies have to be cut for different dishes. And what's wrong with Behala? Well, maybe nothing much, but please try and find many things to say in favour of this, or any of the other ramshackle neighbourhoods all the way down the Diamond Harbour Road? Well Punjabi cuisine, like Punjabi culture does tend to have a fairly strong hold over North India. This is possibly the influence of Delhi, which became a Punjabi city post-Partition - or maybe its just the influence of energetic Punjabi migrants who had to spread out across the north. The result is that, Kashmir apart, most North Indian cooking is equated to Punjabi. I'm not saying the other traditions don't exist, but they're hardly made much of, mostly existing at the local or home level. And do we really need to go into why Haryana isn't the most popular of states. The boyfriend is Haryanvi and while we squabble about this from time to time, even he finds it hard to uphold Haryanvi pride for too long. Vikram
  7. First, Gujju thali places in Bombay. My favourite one at the moment is Friends, Union Joshi Club, popularly called FUJC (and that name sounds a little less odd when you realise its a literal translation of Joshi Mitra Mandal). Its a simple, but excellent place (and also very well priced). You have to go down the Kalbadevi Road and if you're coming from the Crawford Market side it'll be on the right hand side, on the first floor of a building. After that Rajdhani near Crawford Market and, er, that's about it. Chetna is too heavy (though admittedly delicious), Samrat, Panchavati Gaur and Golden Star too pedestrian and Thacker's (upmarket one near Marine Lines station, corner of road to Metro) is just ridiculously rich, they don't use milk when cream will do. Also it makes me shed bitter tears for the long lost and wonderful Sri Thacker Bhojanalaya in the back lanes of Kalbadevi. I have recently been told that this has restarted but I've been reluctant to go and check since (a) my cholesterol levels are too high and (b) I did try once and found that there was a pathetic excuse for the old one which was being run the old owner's son, and it was the best proof that culinary skills aren't genetic. Luckily I have Gujju relatives and friends who can be prevailed on to feed me, cholesterol levels permitting. OK, answering other points randomly: I don't know about tooth decay, but diabetes rates in Gujarat are soaring. In its current form it is really not a very healthy cuisine (and you can see why Parsi cuisine is REALLY unhealthy, since to Gujarati food, its adds lots of rich meat and egg dishes). And yes, there's too much besan eaten. I do say in its current form, because one can see how orginally it wasn't that rich. As Sanghvi notes it goes easy on the oil and it also uses lots of wholegrains, in particular jowar. Gujarat borders on the deserts of Rajasthan and parts like Kutch are quite barren, so the food was originally quite simple and healthy. But as Gujaratis have prospered with trade, they have spent their money on food and don't stint on the rich and sweet parts. Its a defining characteristic of Gujjus to do whatever they do to excess. Lots of Gujju food today is simply too rich, which is why I'm ambivalent about it. I concede the point on Bengali food and this isn't just from a desire to co-opt Mongo. I did think while reading Sanghvi's article that Bengali food was another example where extreme care was taken in cutting ingredients into small sizes - if anything, it goes even further, because there are all sorts of obsessions about the precise shapes and sizes in which different veggies have to be cut for different dishes. And what's wrong with Behala? Well, maybe nothing much, but please try and find many things to say in favour of this, or any of the other ramshackle neighbourhoods all the way down the Diamond Harbour Road?
  8. No, nothing to do with the restaurant. In fact its by the wife of the publisher, who runs a Madras based distribution and publishing business, Affiliated East-West. But it might have been reprinted by someone else - the version on Amazon doesn't look like the original which came out years back. Vikram
  9. Brooke Bond and Lipton are one company now, so the brands should be too - I think they're packaged as Brooke Bond Lipton Red, Green and Yellow labels. (Of course, what labels and blends they use in India may not be the same as the ones for export). I think Yellow is the most premium, then Green and Red is the most basic of all, with a high proportion of tea dust. That being said, these are all fairly mass market blends, so don't expect anything outstanding. For chai (in the Indian, streetcorner chai seller sense) however Red label is THE brand. It is a BIG mistake to use a delicately flavoured tea for chai - you need something pretty damn strong to stand up to all that brewing and the spices and sugar and milk. In Lever's (the company that owns Brooke Bond and Lipton) Red Label is known as the chaiwallah's tea. So its harsh and strong and that's what its drunk for on roadsides, as a quick restorative along with all the milk and sugar. Well of course it wasn't, you're thinking of tea in the gentle steeping sense. For chai you have to boil the tea and spices and the milk and the sugar all together. And the water and milk must be in equal proportions, with perhaps the milk a bit more. And boil it all intensely - you want something strong and concentrated. Oh, and I'd add ginger, but that's a personal taste. Vikram
  10. Comments (most enthusiastic agreements): This is so true, and we've been discussing this on another thread - the brown/yellow/green glop nature that makes photographing (north) Indian food difficult. But I am just tasting (mentally, alas) Gujju dishes I've eaten in the past, and Sanghvi is so right, the textures are always an important element. Like the slightly slippery pasta quality of dhal dhokli, or the the soggy lightness of kanji-vadas, or above all, oondhiyoo, which is basically all about sealing a bunch of veggies with contrasting flavours and textures in a pot and then cooking it while tightly sealed (in the villages they put the pots in hay and set fire to the hay). So you get the mealiness of kandh (purple yam) with the squashiness of aubergines with the firm little flat beans with the muthiyas (dumplings) and the raw bananas, cooked to softness, all mellowed while cooking by the garlic chutney. Bliss! And unfortunately a winter dish, so many months to go. Oh yeah! Isn't the other characteristic of the shingara that it often has meat fillings? And Behala (a Calcutta suburb) is a serious threat, I started close to there and I KNOW. He he he. And he's quite right, I can't remeber ever eating a traditional paneer dish from Gujarat. This is also very true, although the practice can be a real pain to do. Gujarati Jain's reinforce that by going into the cutting of vegetables in their usual, slightly obsessive way. Their principle is that their commitment to not killing animals extends eve to the tiny ones you sometimes see in fruit and veggies. I remember seeing a Gujju Jain friend of the famly sitting in his kitchen one day, painstakingly slicing his way through a pile of cauliflowers so as not to kill the really tiny insects that burrow their way in. A big pile of cauliflowers was soon reduced to tiny florets and stem shards. And when cooked, they were done almost at once and had such a wonderful, fresh taste. And that goes for me too! In general I like Gujju food a lot, but there are many items I don't like much and feel no loss in avoiding like I've done since I was a boy. Tinda. for example - small little gherkin like gourds, or the shrikhand that Sanghvi attacks a little later, and I'm all for that too, shrikhand is just too creamy and sweet. And amen to that. Vikram
  11. Vir Sanghvi has written a really interesting article in the Hindustan Times on Gujarati food which underlines why I think he's probably the best regular food writer in India. I really like this one because I'm half Gujarati myself and have shared Sanghvi's mixed feelings about Gujarati food. I have eating the most amazing Gujarati food, both in homes and in some of the excellent thali places in Mumbai. It can be so good, and Gujaratis really obssess about their food so much (as opposed to, say, Maharashtrians who never seem to particular like eating all that much) and they have the money to really spend on their eating and there at least they do not stint. And yet... Well, Sanghvi spells out the problems with Gujarati food and also does full justice to its outstanding qualities - its relatively light use of oil and masalas (this applies to home-cooking, restaurants go overboard on the oil. I simply cannot eat oondhiyoo in restaurants, while I adore it when made in homes), its wonderful way with vegetables and, a really excellent point, that makes SO much sense, its appreciation of the importance of contrasting textures in food. I was going to post the link to the article, but that HT link is uncertain and slow so, with apologies to the moderators, here's the whole article, followed by my comments:
  12. Somewhere I have a Vietnamese cookbook written by a Vietnamese woman who was living in Madras (I think she was married to the director of the Alliance Francaise). There are several Vietnamese families living in Pondicherry - years back I remember eating good, basic, Vietnamese soups and dumplings in a tiny, spotless restaurant that also double up as a laundry - and I think she took their help in finding out how to make authentic recipes using standard Indian ingredients. Now that I think about it there's probably a minor category of cookbooks written by people from a particular culture, but based in a different country. (Of course, that description could apply to a whole bunch of Indian-American books, from that grad students guide to Indian cooking that's still available online to the efforts of our own Monica). Diplomats wives have often produced cookbooks, and the spouses of executives in multinational companies are keeping up that tradition. Its an interesting and I think quite valuable and practical category - you get the expertise of another culture adapted to the constraints of your own, Vikram
  13. from Vijay Prashad's The Karma of Brown Folk: Not the earliest Indian restaurant, but perhaps the earliest Indian tea-shop? There doesn't seem to be anything else about restaurants in Prashad's book (though he may know something about it, I'll try and get in touch with him). From his general description of early Indian migrants to the US, bhelpuri's hypothesis seems likely, that the first Indian restaurants were found on the west coast. The other alternatives could be in or near Boston, which had a connection with India due to the ice trade (there's an interesting book on this called "The Frozen Water Trade"), or, a long shot, Chicago, in the wake of the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 where Vivekandana made such an impact. Vikram
  14. I've just seen some excellent photography of Indian food in an interesting cookbook called 'Hiltl. Virtuoso Vegetarian' that a colleague got back from a trip to Switzerland. The book is a collection of recipes from the Hiltl restaurant in Zurich which has recently celebrated its centenary as the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Switzerland. Its founder, Ambrosius Hiltl, was converted to the virtues of a vegetarian diet when it cured him of the effects of rheumatoid arthritis and he started the restaurant which his family has continued. Not surprisingly the restaurant was popular with Indian visitors to Zurich and interacting with them made the owners interested in Indian food. Hiltl's daughter-in-law was a delegate to a World Vegetarian Congress that was held in India in 1951, and she returned determined to add Indian dishes to the menu. As can be imagined, this was hardly easy in Fifties Switzerland when getting spices was next to impossible. The book says Indian friends helped them get these and now I'm wondering if my grandparents could have been among them, since my grandfather was with the Indian Foreign Service in Geneva in the Fifties (except that as good Malayalis they loved their fish too much to be true vegetarians). The restaurant obviously solved its problem somehow since Indian dishes have been part of the menu since then and several recipes are given that sound a little odd, especially when their descriptions are given, but they seem sound enough: Kacharis ("turnovers with a spicy filling"), Ravaya, Dushin Rothli ("spicy courgette cakes"), Coriander Pilaff, Himalayan Mushrooms, Bengali Vegetables, White Curry . But the book is very well produced, simple and with big pictures that provide close-ups of the food. They have focused on the ingredients and also on the food being prepared - but usually the cook's hands aren't show. Its like in mid-prep, in a skillet, veggies cooking and the chef has vanished. The advantage is that it allows close-ups, is visually interesting and not static and gives some idea of the final form of the dish, before its settled into glop mode. Vikram
  15. Amb halad is what its called up here in the Bombay area, but in the south I've eaten it as manga-inji, which is a literal translation of mango-ginger (or the other way round). Its quite nice, a good alternative for those who don't or can't eat oily pickled. Years back when I was laid up with a really bad attack of jaundice and was going out of my mind on a diet of bland khichri and thayirsadam, manga-inji was one of the few things I could use to add more taste to it, Vikram
  16. The chai thread is probably not the right place to mention this, but I've recently started making sensational coffee in the thick, Turkish style, using palm jaggery. This is a dark, complex tasting product and it goes perfectly with strong coffee, Vikram
  17. It was actually Karen Anand who gave me the brown glop, yellow glop, green glop quote. I've seen tons of Indian food photography, from lots of really terrible ones, some OK shots and a very very few good examples. The ones I liked best - and admittedly this might reflect a personal taste for minimalistic presentation - are the ones that, as bhelpuri says, focus on the ingredients, though I can do without the exotic India effect of traditional textiles in the background. The books I've really liked here have tended to be British ones. Das Sreedharan's book on Malayali cooking has a beautiful, spare layout and exquisitely styled close-ups of the food against plain white backdrops. You saw the ingredients, you saw what the dish consisted of and what the final product looked like, all really plain and beautiful - in fact almost too much so, I've never seen Malayali food look like this after years of eating it. Sunil Vijaykar's 30-Minute Indian also had really good photos, as one might expect since Vijaykar was pretty much India's first really professional food stylist before he moved to London. This takes the close-up of ingredients approach - part of the style for that whole 30-Minute series - and the results were very good. I loathe this approach. Why don't I think its not a coincidence that you haven't attempted to cook from this book yet? Vikram
  18. NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! This is no way to treat the perfect Alphonso. (And with something like a Banganapalli I don't think its possible, they're too large and firm). What you're describing is the best way to eat the juicy and fibrous mangoes like the Pyries which are used for aam-rass (mango purée), and its presumably the origin of the idea that you should only eat mangoes in a bath. But it would be terrible to treat an Alphonso like that. Its flesh is quite different - firm, and not that fibrous, so it really is best eaten scooped from the sides sliced off the stone, and then of course you run the skins through your teeth to get all the flesh and juice, and finally, the best part - sucking the stone. If you're feeling fancy you can do the peel and cube version, though there's no fancy way of sucking the stone. This is perhaps the point to note how odd the Alphonso really is. Among mangoes, its not a particularly sweet variety, and sometimes its first taste on the tongue can make it seem almost tasteless. But then you get the real reason for eating - the extraordinary fragrance, that just takes over your nasal cavities, and the incredibly rich, dreamy back-of-the-throat feeling when you start swallowing it. Like all really great luxury foods, the secret of the Alphonso lies in its subtlety, Vikram
  19. Monica have you tried making these murabbas? And how would you classify them? They're normally spoken of as Indian versions of jams, which technically I guess they are, since they use sugar to preserve fruits. But they are also spiced, so they approach pickle territory and in some cases at least they seem to be of more medicinal use than as a confectionary. Achaya corroborates that by describing them as springing from the Unani system of medicine and that the term itself is Arab for 'preserved and domesticated'. I admit I have a particular reason for being interested in this, since I'm researching an article on people making quality jams in India (the two I'm looking at in particular are an English lady settled in Himachal who makes excellent apple juice based jellies and other jams, and a Swedish woman in Auroville who makes awesome jams, in particular a tamarind jam that it totally something else). All these jams have Western connotations, so I'm not sure where the morabba tradition fits into this. How do most people eat morabbas - as a pickle, a sweet or a medicine? Is Achaya's etymology of the name correct and, if so, are there still equivalents in Arab cooking? Or, since Unani derives from Ionian and means Greek influenced, are there equivalents in Greece and the countries of the Levant? In my mind this medical connection comes from amla (Indian gooseberry) morabba which is quite widely made for its reputed tonic benefits. It would have to be tonic, since I can't imagine people eating this voluntarily - amla is, to me, a totally vile substance. I recently had to eat fresh ones as part of a diet and I just had to stop since I'd throw it up at once. This is perhaps a childhood flashback since our family doctor would routinely recommend a tonic of his own connoction that, I recognise now, was heavily amla based, and getting me to take it, and to keep it down, was always a major exercise. This is probably why I didn't have much to do with morabbas in general - amla being the most easily available one at least here in Bombay. (Its also more of a north Indian thing in general, I guess). Its only recently I've started to discover their virtues, like the pineapple murabba I bought in Dadar market. It seems to include pepper, which had an odd, but quite good effect. And just when I was wondering how unique this is, I pick up a copy of The Essential Mosimann and find a recipe for peppered pineapple icecream. Anyway, that apart, any insights into morabbas would be appreciated, Vikram
  20. Crawford Market is the best, especially for international foodstuffs, but I've also been discovering the delights of the Dadar and Santacruz/Parle (E) markets. Dadar has lots of small shops with really interesting masalas, pickles, preserves, papads and sweets - all the lesser known Maharashtrian and Konkani ones. Its a bit of a problem, since the most interesting shops are Marathi speaking only and I don't, so I'm never quite sure what I'm buying. Recent purchases have including excellent Kolhapuri and Goda masala, fresh Alphonso jam, pineapple murabba, ragi papads and a couple of other things I am still not quite sure about. Santacruz and Parle markets are similarly interesting for Gujarati foods. I thought the Bandra-Khar markets would have interesting Goan and East Indian stuff, but I'm actually finding more interesting Sindhi foods. Most of the Goan and East Indian stuff still seems to be done through homes and word of mouth sales. Vikram
  21. For that Mongo I am going to start a whole thread devoted just to mangos! And post pictures too! Vikram
  22. Its an amazing book - and such a rare viewpoint. I don't want to get into an orientalisation debate, but I read so many books on Egypt almost invariably written from the Western viewpoint and while many were deeply appreciative and insightful of Egypt and Egyptians, none of them managed that connection with ordinary Egyptians that Ghosh did in that book. I read it on the journey to Cairo and looking down from the plane I could see the sea and deserts that Abraham ben Yiju had travelled centuries earlier, and I was sold on Egypt well before I landed there, Vikram
  23. Mongo, apologies, but I'm curious, is it really that hard to get good mangoes outside India? I had a young Brit houseguest a few days back and I thought I'd give him a treat with those alphonsos, and I added on a bunch of the red bananas that are increasingly available in Bombay. He was mildy interested by the red bananas, but quite blasé about the mangos - "you can get quite good mangos in England these days," he told me. (Ironically the one thing that did impress him was the big papaya I just picked up as a cheap filler!) Judging by the number of boxes piling up for export that I saw in Crawford Market, it seems quite likely that its possible to get alphonsos quite easily abroad. All those fruit sellers there proimently advertise the fact that they export alphonsos. And while I haven't eaten mangos grown outside India, I'm told they can be very good. I was too late for the mango season in Egypt but a friend who was living there and who's a born and bred Mumbaikar, told me that much to his astonishment they were better than most alphonsos he had eaten. The general quality of the fruit and veg grown in the delta is so outstanding I can almost believe that. Of course, I realise if you want to be dogmatic about it, you could say you are the kind of person who only eats Alphonso/Dussehri/Langda/whatever variety you obsess about, but I think that's just daft. Alphonsos are the best of course, I mean, its so obvious I don't even see any point in debating it, but I'll happily eat any others I'm given - I'm particularly fond of those mammoth sized Banganapallis that next to no one ever makes much of. Anyway, that point apart, how good or bad are the mangos you get where you live? Vikram
  24. As a slight diversion from these smelly issues, even if Indian food can leave overpowering smells, perhaps it could be forgiven because the country has also produced another overpowering aroma that no one could object to. I went to Crawford Market in my lunch break and the sheds on the side were full of guys unpacking the crates of Alphonso mangoes that had come fresh from the Konkan. The smell inside, at noon on a hot Bombay summer's day was almost intoxicating - a huge hot sweet aroma of mangoes and the hay they were packed in. I was trying to resist buying alphonsoes on grounds of general poverty, but one whiff and I'd bought six! Vikram
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