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Posts posted by Vikram

  1. The title essay in Sara Suleri's 'Meatless Days' is just brilliant, probably the most outstanding bit of food writing inspired by the subcontinent. Chitrita Banerji is very good as well, the essays in 'The Hour of the Goddess' are required reading.

    Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni on the other hand is the opposite of required reading, as are most of the writers unfortunately inspired by her. Shoba Narayanan's book was good, but she sort of irritated me a bit, a bit too smug.

    The Bulbul Sharma book I mention in my piece, The Anger of Aubergines, seems to have been written in response to this trend of books with recipes. Its OK, easy reading, or as we'd say in Bombay, timepass.

    Bhelpuri I'm quite a fan of Gadgil's book too. I like his piece on catching the ferry to go to the Konkan coast, and also on going to Bombay restaurants. If one includes reprinted magazine and newspaper writing like this, then there's much more food writing on offer, starting with Busybee who often wrote on food (his latest collection is called Jamva-Chaloji) and for a while now Vir Sanghvi has been producing really excellent food writing in his Rude Food column in the Hindustan Times.

    But Gadgil is also an indication that there may be more food writing in Indian languages that's yet to be translated or isn't much known. I seem to remember a good piece (in Malayalam) by Vaikom Mohammed Basheer about feasting in the backwaters of Kerala, and Ambai (C.S.Lakshmi) has written well on food (in Tamil).

    There is a lovely piece she once wrote about her mother's skill in cooking which she said was because she (her mother) had 'kai manam' or the flavour of the hand, roughly the equivalent of a gardener's green fingers when it comes to cooking. I don't think that has been collected - I read it in a magazine - but I think her collection "A Purple Sea" has an excellent story about a large Indian joint family as seen through their tiny kitchen and the women who work in it.

    Ambai runs an interesting oral history project in Bombay that collects womens' narratives and its possible that this may include some interesting stuff on food. I'll ask her perhaps and lets see what she comes up with.


  2. There seem to be many other troublesome animals that get milked... camels, water buffalo.

    Just a passing query, what is so troublesome about water buffalos? They are the most placid creatures on earth. There are some totally untranslateable jokes in India about the placidity of these creatures which provide a huge chunk of the milk here.


  3. Indian restaurants abroad (and alas here too now) seem to feel the need to make up with colours what they lack in quality. In general Indian food isn't the most photogenic of cuisines - an Indian cookbook writer and occasional food stylist I know once described it as "its all brown glop and yellow glop and green glop" - so the restaurants decide they had better make it technicolor to add some interest.

    In any case, we're supposed to be known for our love of strong colours - there's that Diana Vreeland remark about pink being the navy blue of India. This is probably more applicable to certain particularly touristy parts like Rajasthan, but I guess we are just more at ease with lots of colours.

    Coming back to your food, that red dye should not be there, it should just be Kashmiri chillies which give colour but taste of nothing at all. The carrot halwa though is orange because, well, carrots are orange so what do you expect? That being said, I think carrot halwa here is more traditionally made with red carrots, but I guess you just don't get them abroad.


  4. Also I disagree somewhat with Vikram about his observation about crabs. It is certainly possible to destroy the taste of crab in many different ways, however the Bengali style of cooking crabs (very spicy, and with small mud crabs) I think is quite sublime. I do agree though that its more suited for the smaller crabs.

    But this was exactly my point in the Crab thread, perhaps expressed somewhat extremely. I don't think its impossible to have a good Indian crab dish - there are innumerable excellent crab curries, and in particular I'm remembering a sublime crab rasam at Raintree, the Chettinad restaurant at the Connemara in Madras, where the fieriness of the rasam was balanced by the intense crab taste. But what works are small crabs and not the big ones. The delight of the big ones is being able to wallow in lots of wonderful, delicately flavoured crabmeat and that I think is done no service by most Indian cooking styles.


  5. Damn the time difference (and also my infrequently observed deadlines). I'm catching up with this thread way to late to add to the story (assuming anything can be added to Mongo's outline which is more complete than most Bollywood films by the time they start shooting). I can only make a couple of points:

    a) the only possible city they are going to is Bombay. This is not my Bombaycentrism here, but a simple statement of fact - there are no other cities in Bollywood (duh, why do you think is called that). Bombay is the one and only, the ur-city, much like all those Hindi pulp fiction novels are all set in 'Ramnagar'.

    b) this is not to say the only urban location for this film can be Bombay. You are all forgetting that other great Indian city called Manhattan. (And judging by the Bollywood films released in the last few years, Bangkok as well). Large chunks of every big budget Bollywood film these days is shot abroad (was there any part of Kal Ho Na Ho set in India?) - now just think how that expands the culinary possibilities. Just Bangkok alone could get the fusion going.

    BTW, that just reminds me, one of the hunkiest (and nicest) Bollywood heroes Akshay Kumar was once a cook in Bangkok. I think he was there to learn martial arts and took a job as a cook to support himself. Here's Akshay:


    And that reminds me of two other Bollywood studs with cooking links. Suniel Shetty, a rather overtly muscle bound action hero, comes from a family in the restaurant business (as any Bombayite/ Mumbaikar could tell from his name) and still runs a couple. And Aryan Vaid, a model trying to become an actor, went to catering college and worked as a chef at the Leela Kempinski hotel for a while, before leaving to start a catering service and only then getting into the modelling business after winning a men's beauty contest. Since Aryan is known for having one of the best bodies in Bollywood, he's an advertisement for cooks and caterers everywhere!



  6. Where can one find the East Indian cookbook? I've been hunting for years and have not found it (not found the EI women's Association either).

    The mother of one of my colleagues was part of the team that put the book together and she had a whole bunch of copies at home and I begged one off her. PM me your address and I'll try and get another copy and mail it to you,


  7. I wonder if you have read Hopkirk's 'Quest for Kim'.

    Sorry, forgot to answer this. Yes, I've read it and was rather disappointed. I'm a big fan of Hopkirk's - his central Asian books are real page turners particularly The Great Game and Foreign Devils On The Silk Road, but I was really hoping for a lot from the Kim book, and perhaps that's why I felt he didn't quite deliver.

  8. Vikram,

    1) I've a relative coming out here from Bombay a couple of weeks from now. Where can I get her to pick up both of these Dalal cookbooks? She lives in "thee suburbs", is the best bet to call Danai or Lotus and order them?

    Also, since cookbooks have been raised, are there any other must-have food books that you can recommend from the Bombay bookshops right now? I have a bunch of the Penguins (including the Parsi one) and several others, but if you could rustle up a top-5/top-10 I'd be most grateful.

    2) I'm also a fan of Kipling, and particularly the near-peerless 'Kim'. Actually, I'm very interested in all the accounts of the 'Great Game' (which includes that book). I wonder if you have read Hopkirk's 'Quest for Kim'. The author - whose several fine books on the 'Great Game' are also recommended - does a wonderful job of tracking the real-life events (and characters) that went into Kipling's books. If you haven't, I highly recommend it.

    Lotus is in general the (much) better bookshop, but Danai probably has a better collection of cookbooks. Not very sure what I could recommend though. Indian publishers are churning out cookbooks by the kitchenload (Tarla Dalal is almost scary in her industrial approach to cookbook writing, closely followed by Nota Mehta and Sanjeev Kapoor), but frankly very few of these are interesting. They're mostly just collections of recipes (often the same recipes!) with no attempt at talking about their antecedents or the ingredients involved or anything like that.

    In fact I'd go out on a limb and say that serious insightful writing on Indian food pretty much begins and ends with Chitrita Banerji (and this forum, of course!) although recent efforts like the Outlook essays and a few academic writers like Arjun Appadurai are very welcome. Banerji's "Life and Food In Bengal" seems to be out of print which is really sad, but her more recent collection of short essays The Hour of the Goddess is available - I saw a bunch as Strand just yesterday.

    Madhur Jaffrey, of course, also writes well on food as part of her cookbooks and her recent one on the food of the diaspora is must reading. You'll be able to get it abroad and its rather heavy, so perhaps you should spare your relative this one. Monisha Bharadway's The Indian Pantry is excellent, the one book that really looks at Indian ingredients, and very well worth having.

    Then there are the classics - Jiggs Kalra's Prashad, Camelia Punjabi's curry book, Madhur Jaffrey's Taste of India and her first one, forget the name, which is more Delhi focused. You say you have the Penguin books - I'd certainly put some of these like Bilqis Latif's book on Andhra and Hyderabadi cooking in that, Bhicoo Maneckshaw's Parsi book, Patricia Brown's Anglo Indian book and for sheer curiosity Hoihnu Henzel's book on the cooking of the north-east. There are two good Raj books - Jennifer Brennan's Curries & Bugles and, forget author's name, The Raj At Table. (But why isn't anyone reprinting Colonel Kenney-Herbert's Culinary Jottings from Madras?)

    Regional cooking books are usually worth picking up especially the old ones like Samaithu Par (Tamil) and Rasachandrika (Saraswat). On this forum in the past I've mentioned Mrs.Mathew's Flavours of the Spice Coast (Malayali, particularly Christian), Ummi Abdullah's (Malayali Muslim), Katy Dalal's (Parsi), a book on East Indian food from the local East Indian women's association. A very engaging little book I picked up recently is Vimla and Deb Mukerji's book on Indian street foods. If you're interested in it, the best book by far to talk about Indian food from a health and nutrition angle is Ruth Davidar's Indian Food Sense.

    These are what occur to me off-hand, will post more if I think of them. If your relative gets in touch with me, I can help her get the books. I live in the suburbs (Bandra) too, just PM and I'll send you my number,


  9. My basic tea at home is a Nilgiri tea, grown by the A.V.Thomas group on their Sutton plantations. It was mostly for export and my father knows someone in the AVT offices, so he got it for me, and still does, in large canfuls.

    Its now being sold on the market here, at least in south India and I strongly recommend it. Its got a good, strong flavour, but with none of the harsh tannin back taste that rules out most blends like the BrookeBond Lipton ones for those like me who prefer their tea black.

    I'm also very fond of Kashmiri tea though, which is green and brewed with almonds and spices. Lots of recipes on the net - look for 'kahwa' - most of them made by brewing a strong green tea with saffron, cardamoms, cinnamon and chopped almonds.

    Swati Snacks, the most interesting restaurant in Bombay, brews a very good version with lots of cloves that I have been trying to replicate with no success. I've got an easy way of doing this which is simply to add to the tea a readymade saffron-cardamom syrup which you can get in some Maharashtrian shops in Bombay.


  10. like all McD openings in countries where such things are alien, the opening of the first store brought huge crowds who queued peacefully for a slice of american life ( Lamburgers?) Same in China.  Same in Moscow ( I was in Moscow when that happened, very bizarre.  The average queue for a burger was three hours and there were 50,000 applications for every job )

    That may have been the experience in Moscow, but in general it has not been the experience in India. That _is_ how KFC opened in India - lots of hype, premium location in Bangalore, quite high prices and lots of stuff from the KFC people about how finally you could get this great bit of America right here in Bangalore.

    And they got creamed. First of all they became the natural target for every anti-American demonstration in the city and at least twice I think the place was ransacked. Even worse, as Simon says, lots of people came once and quickly decided that the food was crap and if they really wanted unhealthy ways to eat chicken, there were plenty of places in Bangalore that could provide just that.

    McD was studying the market at the same time and they took on board on all the failures of KFC and came up with a strategy that has become a business case studies standard. I don't have any great liking for their stuff, but their approach to India was brilliant. First, they were very low key. Didn't come into high profile downtown locations from the start - they started in the suburbs, not much hype, just some local media.

    Second they positioned themselves as a family restaurant in every way. So it was all designed to be non-intimidating and welcoming to everyone, even if they weren't particularly cosmopolitan. It was all very child friendly - they have special packages for hosting birthday parties and I know this comes as such a boon to many parents with kids, they quickly swallow their anti-McD feelings. (There's also very little Americana on display).

    And they were also superior to Indian restaurants in one way - hygiene. The McD places are spotlessly clean and I know Indians like a Jain friend of mine who would not eat in other Indian restaurants, but will eat in a McD simply because of the hygiene levels. (To reassure strict vegetarians like my friend the veg food is cooked strictly separately from the non-veg food).

    Most important of all, they got the prices and the menu right. McD in India is not expensive - in fact I think I've seen tables that show its the cheapest McD in the world. That is still not dead cheap by Indian standards, but its affordable. Take into account all the value meal combos they advertise and its pretty good value. There's a McD close to my office opposite VT Station, the big train terminus in Bombay and you can often see two types of people eating - foreign backpackers because its cheap and safe and familiar, and Indian travellers, because its cheap and safe and close to the station.

    The real masterstroke has been the menu which is VERY Indianised. First of all, absolutely no beef and they say this repeatedly and loudly. There was a Maharaja Mac made of mutton, but if I'm not wrong, this is also being phased out. So the only meat options are chicken and, sometimes, fish. In contrast, lots of vegetarian options lead by the McAloo Tikki, a spicy ball of mashed potato dipped in batter and cooked and served in a bun - an international version of the vada-pau that's Bombay's most favourite streetfood. There are wraps that use lots of cheese and spicy tomato sauce, stuff like that. And of course, there are french fries by the ton, and yes, I admit it, I like their french fries.

    McD has done its job so well, its now really well established, its opening more restaurants, more rapidly now. Its becoming more high profile - I guess now it feels it can take the risk. KFC, if I'm not mistaking, has shut shop.


  11. edit to add: p.s. no such word as "keralese"--you can say keralite, but the more accurate term would be "malayali".

    Mongo adroitly heading off imminent explosion from me! But Pan's reply is interesting and points to how, just as people outside India are little aware of the differences withing Indian cooking, Indians are not aware of the differences within the Indian diaspora. That's why Madhur Jaffrey's recent book on the diasporic Indian cooking was so important and why more on this is needed.

    For no reason other than perhaps its lunchtime here in Bombay, I'm thinking of a wonderful Indian sauce I had in Cape Town. It came readymade and was described as a coriander something sauce and you got the coriander, but it was also dark and tangy. I looked for it in the supermarkets, but I'd had it at the house of a friend who had bought it from an Indian shop, and I had no time to track it down. Wish I could remember what it was.


  12. Maybe this forum is witnessing rajmasynchronicity (or else we all like it a lot) since a couple of days back I was also cooking rajma, made safely in the pressure cooker and cooked with shalgam (turnips) and LOTS of ginger - the rajma gogji recipe from the Kashmir section of Madhur Jaffrey's Taste of India book. Its one of my favourite recipes which I make as often as there are turnips in the market - they often disappear in the summer, so this was by way of being a farewell to shalgams recipe for this summer. Its a good recipe for those who want to cut the fat since it has none of the cream and butter that Episure is revelling in, and this time I used a corn oil spray and non-stick pan to fry the turnips and the results were excellent.


  13. This question of food and Bollywood films - no, wait, time out: all Mongo's points about the term Bollywood are excellent and true, but I'm still using it because:

    (a) its convenient

    (b) the terms for the other Indian cinema industries like Tollywood (Bengali, from Tollygunge), Mollywood (Tamil, from Madras) are tedious beyong belief,

    © the term Bollywood now has a certain sense independent of the actual Bollywood film industry referring to films involving certain typical elements like music, dance, escapist story lines and, of course, the desi community in some sense or Mongo will pounce on me and ask why Chicago doesn't count as a Bollywood film. So under this expanded sense you can include everything from Lagaan to Sholay to Monsoon Wedding to Mandi to Mother India to Munnabhai MBBS (my new fave film!) to Maqbool. It would include that piece of fluff called The Guru and even Bend It Like Beckham and Bhaji On The Beach, though I accept that by then its straining at the seams. The only thing it would definitely not include would be the Indian art film tradition of people like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, but since this is effectively dead anyway, we can ignore it.

    OK, back to food and Bollywood. I've written about this somewhere, but frustratingly can't find the piece, but if I remember what I said it was something on the lines that one of the biggest differences between the Indian and Chinese popular film traditions was in their approach to food. Chinese films celebrate food and its cooking in every way - eating it, serving it, cooking it. There's even a Jackie Chan film called The Chef and you can just see those cleavers being used in fight sequences. So when Ang Lee made Eat Drink Man Woman (Monica, rent it IMMEDIATELY), he was drawing on a well established tradition.

    Indian films however rarely show food, and I think this reveals some telling cultural differences. (I don't agree with Mongo's suggestion that this is out of concern for starving viewers. If they're starving they're not going to be able to afford a ticket and anyway, with the films going over the top in showing aspirational fantasies in every other way, why would they stop at the food).

    I'd suggest that one reason for this absence of food and cooking is social hierarchies where cooks come pretty low down (how this meshes with the maharaj concept where the chefs are Brahmins is a fascinating question, but for another thread). Its something servants do or women (who are servants anyway in most Indian families). It is not aspirational at all, even today - why do you think the middle class parents in Monsoon Wedding aren't amused by their son wanting to be a chef?

    So you're just not going to show the main characters cooking. Remember the way those mafiosi in the Godfather films were always making meatballs and pasta? And can you imagine any of the gangsters in Indian films doing anything like that. Bawarchi is the exception that proves the rule, as is a more recent film that I did post about - Rules: Pyar Ka Superhit Formula where the very hunky hero wants to become a chef:


    I think there's also another reason, and its to do with a schizoid attitude towards bodily pleasures that runs quite deep in Indian culture. It could be sex or it could be food, but both are treated in a very squeamish way upfront, even while both are being indulged in like crazy in private. As has been observed ad nauseum, this is the country of the Kama Sutra (and some pretty steamy Bollywood films), but which becomes are moralistic and prurient - at the snap of a bra you'll have people mouthing off about outrages to the honour of Indian womanhood.

    So too with food. Indians love to eat, but they don't quite like being reminded of this fact. There's some uneasy feeling that all those fasts and self denying ascetic meals that 'holy' people are meant to follow are the real ideal. I've seen Jain ceremonies where people who have fasted for two weeks or more are almost literally worshipped and then everyone goes for a mega feast. There's the Ramzaan cycle of daytime fasting, nightime gluttony (though that's not just Indian). In the Hindu mythological comics we read as kids there are all those pictures of sages denying themselves bodily pleasures and acquiring huge powers, while its the gross demons like Kumbhakarna who eat like crazy.

    And you can see this comes up in films as well. As Monica has noted villains are among the few people often shown eating in Indian films. And what do they eat? Meat. Huge horrible chunks of it, thereby confirming their base, tamasic nature. (Along with it they drink, and if there's anything Indians are even more schizoid about than food and sex, its alcohol). In a more tolerant vein the other group that eats a lot are the clowns and buffoons - remember Tun Tun, the comic actress whose characteristic was being very fat and eating a lot.

    There's one other group that is associated with food and that's also characteristic. Mothers are often shown with food, but not cooking or eating it, but giving it, because that's what mothers are meant to do in India, endlessly give of themselves. So that spoon of curds given before a journey that Monica noted is given by the mother, and its the mother too who's often shown trying to feed her sons, stuff them up - 'le beta, le, thoda aur khana, maa ke hath se khana'. ('eat my darling, eat some more, eat from your mother's hand')!

    So that's how food comes into Indian films. But showing it being cooked, served and eaten without guilt. Ewwww... that's not how its done in Bollywood.


    PS: As one might expect, Bollywood film sets are known for the fabulous food on offer. There are specific film caterers who are reknowned for being able to knock and serve the most amazing - and heavy - food imaginable on the sets. Its one of the few perks the crew enjoys, so its never stinted, even if the stars themselves in these figure conscious days are more careful about what they eat.

    Oh, and for a last film and food link, don't forget the ritual of breaking a coconut that absolutely has to accompany the first take of any film. That first take in fact is always a formality, done for the coconut which is broken as the director shouts "Action!" and then "Cut" almost at once. The coconut is distributed as prasad while the filming gets going.

  14. QUOTE (mongo_jones @ Apr 7 2004, 09:54 PM)

    (julia roberts eats in "ocean's eleven," by the way, and in "pretty woman", to name just two films.)

    I stand corrected. Although I can't recall her gastronomic exploits in Ocean's Eleven, you've jogged a memory of some pigging out she did in Pretty Woman.

    Oh well... back to the drawing board! :)

    You both should be ashamed. You've forgotten that in "My Best Friend's Wedding" Julia Roberts character is... a restaurant reviewer! And there's an early scene in the film that actually shows her in action doing this. (Lets leave out the fact that she made probably the least plausible restaurant reviewer - and that was the least plausible restaurant reviewing scene ever!)


  15. of course the whole thing is vastly improved if you use genuine mustard oil to begin with, but here in colorado that isn't an option

    Its not? How do you survive? And how will you get your aunt to make genuine Bengali food without mustard oil? I know mustard oil is sold for massage purposes - surely it won't kill you if you use that. (This is, of course, a neat reversal of the olive oil situation in India where for years you could only buy it from chemists for use in massage).


  16. 'Oh Calcutta', the Bengali restaurant in Bombay, makes a Jhinge-Posto that has a searing mustard flavour. Don't know how authentic this is, but its divine. And since its vegetarian its also the reason - along with their mochhar ghanto or stir fried banan flower - why they changed their name from the original 'Only Fish'.


  17. I opted for Pork nu Vindaloo. I have always wanted to try this dish properly made and I am very glad I did, it was excellent. Tender morsels of pork made with Goan masala paste to into which palm vinegar is added. The dish is also redolent with garlic and spices, which are enhanced and almost counter balanced by the twang of the vinegar.

    This is to make an observation just for the sake of making an observation, but its ingredient related, so it should be OK for eGullet. One of the subthemes of the Parsee meal was the use of vinegar, but since I wouldn't expect Cyrus Todiwalla to be anything less than authentic, the vinegar he used for the other dishes probably wouldn't be the same as the one for the vindaloo - quite correctly Goan palm vinegar, since this really isn't really a Parsi dish. For Parsi food only one type of vinegar will do - Kolah's sugarcane vinegar from Navsari. I'm researching an article on vinegars in India and got my first packet of this and it is AMAZING. Its supplied in plastic packets and when you cut one open, you get the most amazing heady smell. And the taste has all sorts of subtle, sweet-sour notes. I realise comparisions with balsamic are absurd, but that's what I was babbling to myself when I first tasted it,


  18. How do you cook foods that are ‘exotic’ (asparagus, leeks, etc) with an Indian flavour?

    Ideally not at all. At least, not the two veggies you've mentioned. I think one has to be realistic about Indian cooking, in that it takes a pretty strongly flavoured veggie to be able to hold its own with the spices. If the flavours are delicate like with leeks, most Indian cooking methods are best avoided. Asparagus I don't know - maybe someone could come up with something, but I've never eaten any Indian style of cooking asparagus that allows that taste to come through.

    This doesn't just apply to veggies. That delicate flavour of crabmeat, for example, is killed by most Indian recipes. What works are smaller crabs, where you can get a subtle delicious crab from the whole creature, and don't really need to bother extracting the flesh. Bombay restaurants often wave monstrous meaty crabs at you, and these are really best eaten in their butter-pepper-garlic style which isn't that Indian really. Its a total waste to eat them cooked in most masalas.

    This is not to say that no 'exotic' ingredients should be used. Broccoli, for example, I can see coming through quite well. I've added it to sambhar and its been pretty good. That Rasa guy has a recipe for broccoli thoran in his "Fresh Flavours of India Book" and I can see it might work. What other ingredients are strongly flavoured enough to work with Indian food?

    As a slight aside from your question, do you know what common ingredient is really exotic in India? Lemons. I can't ever remember seeing real lemons in India except in the most fancy 5 star hotel restaurants and there they were more decorative value than use. So common is the substitution of limes for lemons that no one seems to have bothered to grow them in the parts of India they would grow, like the hills, and the use as substitutes in recipes is taken for granted - all one has to do is allow for the greater acidity of limes and adjust accordingly.

    This isn't a problem for me, since I love the acid coolness of limes. But just as a matter of curiosity I wonder how readily substitutable they really are and if anything is lost either way.


  19. Coming to this interesting discussion a bit late, I'm not sure which points to reply to first.

    At random, on Iranis vs. Parsis, there is definitely a difference. Parsis refers to Zoroastrians who came to Indian centuries ago and who have deep roots in Indian culture. Iranis were immigrants to India from Iran/Persia who came in the late 19th/early 20th century attracted by the textile lead boom of the Bombay region. Many of the Indian industrialists were Parsis who gave employment to the Iranis, often as their personal servants. Many of these Iranis were poor Zoroastrians so presumably the Parsis saw this as doing something for their historical community. As a point of fact though, there were Muslim Iranis too who came, so its not accurate to say that Iranis = Zoroastrians.

    And as bhelpuri notes Irani food is not quite the same as Parsi food. Its similar obviously, since it has some of the same roots, and working as cooks for the Parsis, the Iranis style of food came even closer to theirs. But they did use Persian ingredients the Parsis had given up or forgotten - the small sour berries called zaresth, for example (barberries, I think they are called). There's a wonderful Irani restaurant called Britannia not far from my office that makes the most sublime chicken berry pulao.

    At one time at least, Irani food would have been more widely available than Parsi food in Bombay because they controlled much of the restaurant business. It was common for Iranis, after working for years with the Parsis, to take their savings and open restaurants where their food was available. These restaurants were also bakeries so Iranis ran the bread and cake business in Bombay (to a lesser extent, along with the Catholic Goans) so its quite possible that Kipling's Parsee baker was actually an Irani!

    These Irani restaurants were particularly popular because they were seen as neutral places where Hindus, Muslims and Christians could all eat (I realise this meant that the existence of Muslim Iranis was tacitly overlooked) though at one time they kept three types of crockery - pink for the Hindus, green for Muslims and flowery for Christians and every one else. It used to be the boast of Irani restaurant waiters that they could tell what crockery to give you without asking you! Sadly most of these restaurants are closed or on their last legs now, but that's another story.

    I've also noticed the tendency of Parsis abroad to start referring to themselves as Zoroastrians, or to come together in Zoroastrian organisations. There might be many reasons for this. Such organisations could include non-Parsi Zoroastrians, and there are also many of people of Parsi origin, but who have not lived in India for three or more generations, so their links with Indian Parsis are weak. They might find it easier explaining themselves to others as Zoroastrians are, without getting into the complexities of Parsi history and culture. And over the generations in their new countries many of the characteristic parts of Parsi culture like Parsi Gujarati dialect or the cooking are likely to fall into disuse so the religion might seem the more logical thing to focus on.

    I think though - and I'm saying this not as a Parsi myself, but one who's lived with them most of my life, often been mistaken for one (my surname sounds like a Parsi one) and would count myself a close and affectionate observer of Parsi culture - there is a strain of religious revivalism or dogmatism that has grown in the community that tends to focus on the religion to the exclusion of Parsi history. Allied to this is the tendency of many Parsis to project themselves as "Western" as opposed to Indian and in doing so to make much of the Persian part of their history and less of the Indian part. (On a practical note, there are more historical records of the Persian than of the Indian period).

    This came up last week in an interview I did with Dr.Katy Dalal whose new cookbook Jamva Chaloji-2 I have lauded in another thread. As an archaeologist and historian by training no one is better placed than Dr.Dalal to go on about the Persian culture of the Parsis, but she very firmly focused on the Indian side. Much of her research has been about the remnants of Parsi history in India, and the book is also an attempt to preserve this by bringing back the life and the recipes of Parsis in the villages of Gujarat. During my interview she bemoaned the fact that Parsis had become too Westernised and said that her book was an attempt to correct this.

    And here, and finally coming to the subject of this thread, could be a justification for spelling the restaurant's name as Parsee. An important part of Dr.Dalal's attempt to focus on the Indian part of the Parsi experience is the way she always refers to the recipes by their Parsi Gujarati names. And many of these do seem to me to preserve an older style of spelling - bhunjela sookka boomla for dry roasted dried bombay ducks, for example. Today we'd be more likely to spell that sookka as sukha (or sukhe, for the Maharashtrian style). That colonial double O crops up again in words like istoo (stew, and yes, I know this is a Malayali usage as well) or mitthoo (sweet). Its true that Dr.Dalal uses Parsi rather than Parsee, but I can see a case being made for the latter as the dialect term rather than colonial usage.

    (Unrelated question: if modern Indian orthography has replaced double Os with single Us, then should we be referring to sappotas as chikus rather than chikoos?)

    I did want to take up Mongo's point about the naming of Indian restaurants, but will have to do that in another mail (or perhaps its worth a separate topic). The only other thing I want to say is that if balmagowry is looking for Indian champions of Kipling, count me in! Any problems about his politics, which to a large extent were of his time, are to me quite overruled by his sheer literary genius and his love and knowledge of India. I put Kim on any must-read list of books on India, archaic or colonial visions be damned!


  20. You don't need a better guide than Episure, but its such a relief to find someone looking for food recommendations for an Indian city other than that awful place up north, that I can't resist throwing in a few recommendations. I have to say that many of my best Bangalore food memories are old and probably vanished by now, but these were still around when I last visited a year back:

    1) Koshy's - this is and has been for years the central Bangalore meeting place - at least, for real Bangaloreans, and not recent immigrants drawn by Silicon Plateau of whatever they are calling it buzz. Koshy's is cavernous, dim, cool and you can sit forever over a pot of tea. If you want to meet someone in Bangalore, the easiest thing to do is just to arrange to meet there and in the course of your meeting, you'll probably bymp into whoever else you want to meet. The food is quite good too - their Malayali fish curry is excellent and they are one of the few places that makes a version of pandi curry, the Coorgi dish that's one of the few Indian dishes to use pork.

    2) Mavalli Tiffin Room - the other great Bangalore food destination. The place is so famous its launched its own, pretty good, range of pickles, masalas and ready to cook Indian meals. I have to admit I have mixed feelings about MTR's food itself - yes, I know that would be counted as heresy, not least by my father who when he's in Bangalore is regularly out there at the crack of dawn to be among the first through its gates in the morning. To my taste the food (South Indian vegetarian) is a bit heavy and rich for the sake of being rich, but there are times it works. They have a Sunday dessert called Chandrahara which is about a zillion calories a mouthful, but its simply divine.

    3) Cafe Schorlemmer - its on the roof of the Max Mueller Bhavan on Lavelle Road. Its a lunch place run by this German guy and his Indian wife. Its Western food, and no matter how much one wants to eat Indian food in India, there are times when one wants a break, so take it here. Excellent salads, steaks, desserts.


  21. Bad cooking = Mughlai food

    Ok, let me rephrase that a bit more charitably. Bad cooking = Mughlai food the way it is cooked most of the time. I think there are few types of cooking so easily cooked badly. The use of masalas, cream, cashew paste, dried fruits and nuts, etc are all an invitation to cooks to overdose on them and cover up the taste of the basic food being cooked. The result can be unspeakably vile.


  22. Thank you, from your posts Delhi becomes more real to me and I get more excited with each post added. Rich, diverse, opinionated, and sometimes aggressive!

    "sometimes" aggressive? Huh!

    and sleepydragon, "in which annie gives it those ones" is available on indiaclub.com; i should warn you that much of it may be incomprehensible to people who didn't have the westernized indian university experience--it mixes languages without any crutches for the non-enabled reader--but it is still a good read. the movie itself i remember through a nostalgic haze--it aired but once and doordarshan (the indian govt. broadcaster) lost/destroyed the original film.

    I think the film is available, I've certainly seen it in some much adored bootleg videos. (Beware of asking for it in video shops though - its title invariably leads the guy to think you're asking for a porn film). Unlike Pan I think this is pretty much the only good thing La Roy has ever done. In particular, reading her hysterical, paranoid, America-hating and self-aggrandising essays, its only the memory of this genuinely funny and zeitgeist capturing film that persuades me to give her any credit.

    While I'm tempted to dismiss this whole thread as a pointless exercise in trying to find virtues in a place that doesn't have any, I think Mongo and Bhelpuri have raised two interesting issues that perhaps might deserve threads of their own - the value, if any, of Indian Chinese food and the value, if any, of upmarket recreations of downmarket dining experiences. Anyone want to start these?


  23. Vikram, maybe you can expound more on your Hummus in the Middle East and Africa forum?

    Please... coming from you, it would make for a great new way of entertaining this dish that has found a comfortable place in new American cookery.

    Suvir hummus has a found a place in Indian cooking too these days, or in view of Mongo's ongoing dispute (I am firmly on his side, of course) on regional versus national monikers, I should say Gujju cooking. All my fellow Gujjus (well I'm half) have discovered its not just veg, but also made from the channa dhal (chickpeas) they adore (a friend's husband once did a calculation of the besan being consumed in Gujarat and it was an amazing figure and none too promising for the average health of the Gujju community). I would certainly be too diffident to discuss it on the Middle East forum, all I do is soak and pressure cook channa till its falling to pieces, blitz them and mix with tahini (now readily available in plastic jars from the Middle East), garlic paste (Dabur's Hommade is the best), lots of lime, some salt and of late lots of roasted cumin as well. No exact quantities, I just do it to taste,


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