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Whose Indian Food Really Stands Out?


Suvir Saran
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Toby: I hear the emperor's new clothes argument all the time about every restaurant that has a reputation for being good. I especially hear it from people who haven't ever tasted a Peter Luger steak, or been to Sushi Yasuda, or enjoyed any of the other quintessential food experiences. And I get a lot of apologies later on, of the "I was blind but now I can see" variety. Not always, but often.

No, Steven, I simply meant that it's possible to recognize a quintessential food experience without extensive technical knowledge of the ingredient/cuisine/technique involved. (Are you being intentionally obtuse today?)

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Fat Guy - Yes I agree with you. If you want to eat complex spice mixtures, you are better off at Diwan then at Tabla. But if you want to eat good food, based on this past Tuesdays meal, the Bread Bar at Tabla won in a rout . But I am quite happy for you to keep your superior position on this, and for me to keep my inferior, ignorant and closed minded one. And tonight, when I am wolfing down my luxury proteins at Fairway, I hope you are enjoying yourself for dinner at Penzey's where you will be parsing a large plate of spices.

What I find odd is that everyone is ignoring that I reported that six out of seven diners overwhelmingly preferred Tabla to Diwan. Were they imagining things? Do you think they can't tell? Is it possible there was a great improvement at Tabla?

I am willing to listen to Fat Bloke's argument, but I'm not sure I buy it.

Wilf - Well I will Plotnickiize that statement. I believe a cuisine that revolves around spice combinations and parsing them, is not as legitimate as a cuisine that revolves around high quality proteins where the technique is to bring out the best qualities of the proteins and to compliment them with spices. In fact, given the clientele at Tabla being what appeared to be 2/3 people from the subcontinent, I don't think I'm the only one that feels that way about it.

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Steven: I hear you. But at the same time, we don't want to frighten neophytes away by making it sound like they need to sit an exam, right?

Incidentally, I have eaten at Tabla, and would sign up to the description of the food as nice pieces of protein, with some almost afterthought spicing. I have found that to be done well on occasions, and poorly on others (for example, a succession of dishes dominated by cumin). Diwan's on my list.

Edited by Wilfrid (log)
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Life-long consumption of good Indian food (as opposed to Bengali/6th-Street all-you-can-eat steam-table crap)

That statement shows you entire lack of understanding of Indian food. While the food on 6th avenue is cooked by Bangladeshi's ( not strictly Bengali's anymore ) it is not Bengali food in anyway, no more than the food on brick Lane in London is. You are right in saying that it is crap however

Indian food ( again I wont go in to the whole " there is no such thing as Indian food it is like saying European food" thing as it will confuse matters more ) is like all cuisines a balance of haveing exemplary ingredients, flavourings and seasonings that compliment the ingredients and bring out the natural tastes with cooks who have a knowledge of the food and the grace with which to carry it out

Tabla displays none of those things. Diwan displayed some of them. Although I am shocked that people think it is a reasonable excuse that a dish was crap because the chef was not there. that's ok then???????

S

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Life-long consumption of good Indian food (as opposed to Bengali/6th-Street all-you-can-eat steam-table crap)

That statement shows you entire lack of understanding of Indian food.

I think you're overreaching a bit, Simon -- just as you have with your comments about Diwan and Tabla. Your perceptions of these places are so far outside the range of normalcy that I can't reconcile them with anything. And I'm entirely aware of where the standard 6th-Street dishes come from, and that they're mostly not Bengali. I was referring to ownership, using a shorthand that I've used and explained elsewhere and which everybody but you probably understood.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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the braised beef brisket which comes in a little iron tureen, handle and all, and which is braised in a light broth that is mildly spiced, what's not to like about that dish? It could have been served in a Mexican restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, a French restaurant, etc. all with the spicing routine tweaked for local custom.

G.: This description, from Plotnicki, hardly sounds like food that is "conventionally Indian." Ditto the "little casserole of lotus root and what might have been baby bok choi." I have no objection to those dishes; they may be great; but I don't see them as conventional.

I’m surprised at you deliberately quoting my post out of context to make a point. You’re normally so pedantic about these matters.

I said that the "Bread Bar serves food that is more conventionally Indian than the main restaurant" (emphasis added) and I stand by that. There may be unusual dishes but the breads, the chutneys, various tandoori dishes, etc., are typically Indian, at least in my US/English experience of Indian cooking.

Edit: Added final qualification.

Edited by g.johnson (log)
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deliberately quoting my post out of context to make a point

G., what point do you think I was trying to make?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I am quite happy for you to keep your superior position on this, and for me to keep my inferior, ignorant and closed minded one.

It's not like you give us much of a choice, especially when you say things like:

I believe a cuisine that revolves around spice combinations and parsing them, is not as legitimate as a cuisine that revolves around high quality proteins where the technique is to bring out the best qualities of the proteins and to compliment them with spices. In fact, given the clientele at Tabla being what appeared to be 2/3 people from the subcontinent, I don't think I'm the only one that feels that way about it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I am quite happy for you to keep your superior position on this, and for me to keep my inferior, ignorant and closed minded one.

It's not like you give us much of a choice, especially when you say things like:

I believe a cuisine that revolves around spice combinations and parsing them, is not as legitimate as a cuisine that revolves around high quality proteins where the technique is to bring out the best qualities of the proteins and to compliment them with spices. In fact, given the clientele at Tabla being what appeared to be 2/3 people from the subcontinent, I don't think I'm the only one that feels that way about it.

I have to say that I agree with FG on this one. just consider me his life preserver

To say that 2/3 of the diners in a place being Indian makes an Indian restaurant any good does not make sense. Indians are just as capable of misunderstanding , being ill informed about Indian food as you americans are

Not this Indian mind

S

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That I don't know what I'm talking about, I assume.

For the life of me I can't see where you got that from. For the record: everything you said was right, as far as it went. I agree that downstairs is "more" conventional than upstairs. I agree that Diwan and Bread Bar can be compared. I have no problem comparing any two restaurants -- it's just that the farther apart the restaurants get in style, the more likely it is that whatever standards are applied will dictate the outcome. But I do maintain that the dishes mentioned by Plotnicki and Toby do not fall into the "conventionally Indian" category.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have to say that I agree with FG on this one.  just consider me his life preserver

To say that 2/3 of the diners in a place being Indian makes an Indian restaurant  any good does not make sense.  Indians are just as capable of misunderstanding , being ill informed about Indian food as you americans are

Simon,

With this last point, I'm wondering if you could you elaborate your thoughts on Steven's contention - and I'm paraphrasing - that one needs a lifetime of experience with a cuisine to understand it.

Edited to add relevant FG quote: Life-long consumption of good Indian food (as opposed to Bengali/6th-Street all-you-can-eat steam-table crap) is certainly one way to understand it."

Edited by Liza (log)
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Steven's contention - and I'm paraphrasing - that one needs a lifetime of experience with a cuisine to understand it.

For the record, I said it's one way to understand a cuisine.

(Edit: I see you added the relevant quote. Thanks.)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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An expert PMed me to predict there'd be some more arguing on this thread before it was done. I'd be interested to know how "conventionally Indian" people think Diwan is. It was hard to tell from reading about it here.

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Simon, given the complexity of Indian cuisine, and its regionalism (regionality?), why not start us all off on a learning experience by drawing the distinctions and using the vocabulary that will help us to understand the differences? A thread that talks about "the best Indian food" seems silly in the way that any discussion seeking to generalize about "the best" seems silly. If no one else will, why not help us out with a gradual introduction of specifics?

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Sure. I am writing on the hoof as I head out to set up for the London Book Fair, but let's give it a go

first of all what's a lifetime? By SP's argument ( stretched to the absurd ), if the place was full of Indians even if they were all six years old, that would be better than a bunch of western Gourmands. Patently not.

Secondly, there is the assumption that people understand what they are eating just by eating it. trust me I know enough people from Bengal and every other region of India that have been brought up on this stuff and wouldn't know Dimple from Zaika. Understanding comes more from a desire to understand than from an accident of birth. I would be more swayed by SP's assertion that Tabla has improved than I would by that of an uncle of mine who would eat cardboard if it was put in front of him with enough chilli on it even though he has spent his life being cooked for by the most exceptional Bengali Chefs. why? Because, although I don't always ( very rarely in fact ) agree with Steve P, I have enough respect for his palate to be intrigued.

The person i know whose judgement I would most value on Indian food is a 42yr old Welsh guy. He has not spent a huge amount of time in India but has developed a passion and hunger to learn. He has forgotten more about the regional differences, the spices, the ingredients than I will ever know and I hope I am pretty knowledgeable

S

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Simon, given the complexity of Indian cuisine, and its regionalism (regionality?), why not start us all off on a learning experience by drawing the distinctions and using the vocabulary that will help us to understand the differences?

Take a look at the Indian board, beginning, perhaps, with the thread on the history of Indian cooking.

Edited by Sandra Levine (log)
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Simon, given the complexity of Indian cuisine, and its regionalism (regionality?), why not start us all off on a learning experience by drawing the distinctions and using the vocabulary that will help us to understand the differences?

Take a look at the Indian board, beginning, perhaps, with the thread on the history of Indian cooking.

Suffice to say that Diwan, for example is trying to offer a wide sampling of dishes from lots of different regions to give people an over view. I am not too down on it, I just didn't see the reason for all the hoo ha. I read the menu, looked closely at the buffet and tried a couple of dishes and it was underwhelming. But that's OK, so many Indian places of its ilk are

better then to start here and move to restaurants that specialise in regional cooking in all it slight and shade. I don't know enough about Ny to know where you find them, but great Goan food, Kerulan food, kasmiri food can be understood by anyone with a palate but has to be prepped by someone with an lifetime.

S

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better then to start here and move to restaurants that specialise in regional cooking in all it slight and shade.  I don't know enough about Ny to know where you find them...

I don't think you do find them in NY, unless they're hiding out in Flatbush or somewhere. I think it would be hard - perhaps impossible - for someone to develop a basis for judging Indian food by eating it in New York. I won't generalize to other American cities, because I have some vague awareness of the limits of my knowledge.

Edited by Wilfrid (log)
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That sounds right to me. You can get a pretty good overview of French cuisine by eating in New York, but that level of Indian culinary encounter is not available in restaurants here. If you expand the scope of your tasting to North America, and especially if you include Canada (which is more UK-like in its Indian cuisine than the US), you can get a bit more of a hint. If you go to a place like Singapore, where many people tell me they have the second best Indian food in the world, it's a real eye-opener (I have done that). And I assume if you go to India itself, it's a whole different ballgame (that's next on my list). But . . . a restaurant isn't the only way to eat. There are a lot of good Indian cookbooks, cooking classes, and homes here in the United States. Having some Indian friends helps too, especially if they're good cooks. And I agree with the statements above that reading the India board here is a great start.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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