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Shri Balaji Bhavan - Houston


brucesw
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I hadn't thought of that with regard to the mustard seeds.

I had read chaas was called the Indian version of buttermilk; I expected something much thicker. I read it was milk, yogurt, malai; it would be a little disappointing to know all they did was water down yogurt but on the other hand it was very tasty nevertheless and I'll be able to make it at home very easily. I see it's also on the menu at Bhojan; I will look forward to trying it next time I visit there.

Salt lassis I find vary quite a bit from shop to shop and sometimes have so much salt as to be barely potable, sometimes so little as to be barely detectable.

The other beverage I've had at Krishna Chaat that I've never had before was Masala Lemon Sharbahat, which I guess is their spelling of what I find in Wiki as Sharbat, made from lemon leaves or flowers rather than the fruit itself. It was okay but I wasn't as taken by it as the chaas.

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You have to remember that there's proper traditional buttermilk, and the yoghurt-simulation of buttermilk. Although salt lassi can be quite thin, I have generally noticed that in restaurants the distinction between buttermilk and salt lassi is that salt lassi is made thicker and is richer whereas buttermilk is more watery. I'm not sure many restaurants outside of India would serve proper buttermilk.

Incidentally, did you read the milk, yoghurt, malai thing on the wikipedia article for chaas? If you read the article carefully you will see that it says that one of these is churned in order to create the chaas. What it doesn't make clear is that this is the process for making butter, and that the chaas is an additional product leftover from this process. So you don't have the butterfat in the chaas, which you might be expecting if you just read that chaas was made from milk, malai and yoghurt. If you read the article on buttermilk you will see what I mean. The article does also explain the difference between what most Americans think of as buttermilk (e.g a cultured product a little like yoghurt, thicker than milk) and what buttermilk means in India. Personally, I think it's a mistake to talk about these two products in the same article, as they are very different.

Also note that in the description of how buttermilk is made in India it just says the yoghurt is churned to make butter. From what I know, it is actually the cream that rises to the top of yoghurt that is churned, as traditionally the milk for making yoghurt would be unhomogenised so the creamy bit would not blend in unless stirred. The cream would be taken off the top of the yoghurt (possibly for a few days if only a small amount of yoghurt was made, or if a large amount of butter was required) and the butter would be churned from this. I think butter is also sometimes made from sweet cream in India too.

[if anyone with more expertise has anything to add/change about the above, I would be interested. I do not claim to be an expert in this area!]

In terms of your disappointment about the ingredients, I should point out that drinks made from yoghurt and water are popular in several countries. As well as various kinds of lassi from India (which come in sweet, fruit, salt, masala, etc.) there is also aryan (found in various countries in the middle east) and doogh (mostly associated with iran I think, but also found in other countries in the middle east). I think doogh might be made with carbonated water. These drinks are very refreshing in hot weather!

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I had read the Wiki article on chaas, yes, but not the one on buttermilk. The only time I've seen butter being made was years ago, as a young child, on an aunt's farm. I recall only the churn, not anything of the process or product. I did reason that if the curds of butter that formed were skimmed off, what was left would be pretty thick, on the verge of curdling, but I can see now just the opposite is the case.

I have had the Persian dogh - carbonated - and do not like it. I have been enjoying yogurt drinks since the 1970s when I discovered a recipe for borani in a NYT cookbook and carbonated dogh is the only one I don't like! However, I've had the dogh at an Afghan restaurant here, made with their home-made yogurt and not carbonated, and it was the best yogurt drink I've ever had.

I stopped off at Bhojan today to pick up a quick tiffin to go; I had never done this and I wanted to see what I would get. I also wanted to get their version of chaas and their kachoris (they have lilva, moong dal and dried fruit on the menu). I got two vegetables, rice, a dal and 4 roti, and ordered the chaas extra. They had the lilva kachori on the buffet and when I asked about the other two the server just indicated that's all they have so I took two of them as extras also.

The Navratnam curry was excellent. I've had this once before here. Likewise the Oondiyu; the first time I had this I couldn't figure out the dumplings but read up on them later. This time there was only one dumpling but it was much larger. The dal was Toover dal according to the sign on the buffet - a very soupy, deep red with virtually no solid matter. I would have assumed it was a version of rasam had it not been labeled.

It was a very big portion of chaas, close to 2 cups, thicker than what I had at Krishna. At first sip, I thought they had just given me a mildly salted lassi but later concluded not. However, I would guess this one was made just by watering down yogurt. I was half way through it before I realized there was some masala added that had all settled to the bottom of the cup. I need to get some of those metal tumblers to drink this out of. The chaas at Krishna was much better.

Bhojan - lilva kachori.jpg

So now I have had the type of kachori ordinary Indians eat! This was slightly smaller than a ping pong ball, $.50 each. Probably a good thing these aren't readily available as I'd probably eat too many of them.

Edited by brucesw (log)
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Correction to the above: that was Navratnam Kurma, not curry. Actually, I think the way it was spelled on the buffet was Navrat nam Kurma, as three words. Anyway, 'Nine Gems,' although neither time I've had it could I identify 9 veggies, nor were there any nuts or raisins as some recipes suggest there should be.

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  • 5 weeks later...

Sorry for a belated reply. I am very anxious that everyone enjoy their "Indian" eating excursions, and get to know the varied terrain better. The first issue, as Bruce has discovered, is that food outlets differ in quality, service and authenticity. It is well known among expatriates that profit is the bottom line for these businesses, not any desire to provide great food. There is a website created by an Indian that delights in listing every minor & major health code violation of "Indian" restaurants in the NYC area in lurid detail!! Many of these restaurants create "food" and get by!! Such is the case of many lower-end Chinese & Thai take-aways, and they too manage to survive for decades and develop quite a loyal following. I have myself cooked for a Thai-Lao "joint" of this persuasion, that has thrived against all odds. You don't even want to know the nature of the "Thai" and "Lao" food they purvey! From a lowly prep person,I was promoted/shanghaied to Chef #2 on my 3rd day w/o inquiring if I knew anything or not, including using the high pressure stoves, so you can guess at the state of affairs! A similar climate prevails in Indian F&B in the US where any legitimate chef commands huge salaries. While it may be ok to cook for a family, the same skills do not translate into restaurant cookery, for many reasons. That is a problem many Indian joints realize well after opening.

Thus, we have wild interpretations of food,the same phenomenon that created the Curry House Cuisine of the Bangladeshi cooks in Britain. The need to earn money and throw something at customers that they will like drives this market. The same impulse drives much "Chinese" cookery in India.

That said, some broad clarifications short of minor details to assist Bruce in his forays:

Pakora: Indian TEMPURA with chickpea flour batter.

[Also called BAAJJI in southern India. Note that BHAAJEE/BHAJI is a different food in north India, a dry-cooked veggie].

Whole slices usual: like your US onion rings!! Eggplant slices, ditto cauliflower, pumpkin, whole spinach leaves etc.

In Punjab & south, may comprise chopped mixtures e.g. potato + spinach + onion, dusted with chickpea flour, gathered up into balls by virtue of their residual moisture, fried.

Kachori:

Indian fry breads enclosing a filling that is generally thin and simple: various ground raw dals, esp. Mung, Urad, Chickpea flavored very simply. Eaten with a very lightly spiced vegetable or potato curry, jalebis, or sooji halwa.

Khasta Kachori:

Pastry with very short dough deep fried: traditionally ball shaped holding a spicy-sweet filling made from legumes such as mashed Mung beans, lilva = immature pods of hyacinth bean, Lablab purpureus.

Raj kachori seems to be a more recent innovation from Delhi, a short dough disc fried to a crisp puffed round, hollowed and filled with various goodies.

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Bruce,

I shall always wish every business Godspeed. However, this W'kana whatever and the whole slick PR set me growling with its pretentiousness [is that a word?] and sheer false colors. So beware!

Beginning with W'kana! What word is that? I am quite fluent in the language and am puzzled? If they are so aware of their culture, they would have known that the Vedic people called their common language just "Language", BhAshA, and their sacred or liturgical forms several things, including "Ch(h)anda". Vedic priests get huffy when they see their heritage prostituted.

Their whole style is slick, hotel school shtick: foreshadowing cooking with absolutely garbage technique. It may raise the expectation of certain tastes, e.g. as British vindaloo or "phal" has, or of Panda Express Orange Chicken and the infamous General Tso.

One casualty is the problem you experienced with rasam and something that Jenny partially addressed [where in the meal itis eaten]. These restaurateurs never trouble to explain to their diners HOW the food should be eaten. Thus, an entire tradition falls by the wayside. Many communities live cheek by jowl in or near the Tamil sphere of influence, and yet partake of rasams that vary in their powder texture etc.

Some common rasam types:Lemon rasam, ginger, black pepper, tamarind, tomato, Mysore rasam, etc.

Each will have different levels of spicing, sourness, and permutation by community.

Now, the way to eat rasam is to take slightly soft rice, warm or hot, and mash it up with rasam in a particular Indian manner with fingers and thumb. Only then is rasam well incorported with the starch, and a particular soupy,messy texture achieved. Many add plain yoghurt too. It is ONLY in this context that the rasam-rice becomes exceedingly delightful. Rasam is spiced to be a foil to this quantity of rice AND yoghurt!

OR, rasam is eaten as RASAVADE, where HOT urad dal vada are plunged into steaming rasam to become plump pillows. Again, the edges are blunted, a known dilution effect.

This brings us to a general problem of spicing Indian food for US customers. In India, rice or breads comprise 80% of a mouthful,the vegetable, meat or the "vyanjana" less than 20%. Indeed, the flavor and texture of breads MUST be PARAMOUNT, and veggies or "curries" be applied merely as "dipping sauces". All too often, I have seen US patrons push away their "starch" ( Ah, that demon word !!!) and spoon gravy, meat, what have you, on to their plates. THEN they complain about Indian food being heavy, greasy etc. If you were to spoon CHICKEN SOUP BASE into your mouth, you would have the same reaction!!!! Hello, dilution factors!

AND, the self-proclaimed "experts" of .....hound and similar boards could not distinguish good regional food if it hit them head on. The ones who claim to have gone native are the worst offenders. Interestingly, you will NEVER EVER find any real natives voicing their opinions there!! And the younger generations in India are growing up in a food landscape so radically changed, they probably cannot distinguish how things used to taste in the bad old days!! Or how a basic dish should taste. NO compromises.

This is not an insane Jeremiad. The very genetics of cauliflower, tomato, eggplant, pumpkin, okra etc. have undergone irreversible change in India.

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The restaurant is in a small bedroom community that is hardly on the map for dining options at all much less any of note. There is a small Nigerian restaurant nearby and I must admit, when I first saw the name, I guessed it was another African place! I was hoping it might be quite a find since it is so close. I will report if I go.

I shall have to pay more attention to my fellow diners at these places and observe their eating to see if they've adopted the Western obsession for meats and vegetables over breads and rice. I was puzzled at Bhojan, when I first went, because they ply you with an endless supply of fresh, hot roti, more than I could ever possibly want, but under new management/ownership, they bring out only about a third as much and you have to ask if you want more.

I always think that I am pestering the staff of these places with too many questions but perhaps I should be asking even more.

As always your pointers and observations are appreciated - the adventure continues.

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