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Whose Indian Food Really Stands Out?


Suvir Saran
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Not distinguishable? Suffer those who beg to differ, for they may yet come up with a persuasive argument  I have faith that the average diner can tell the difference between sourdough naan and the typical naan served at any Indian restaurant including that of Diwan, not to mention the myriad of differences between the two establishments.

Most diners never heard of Nan, let alone Coach Farm's goat cheese.

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If I could just get a decent curry somewhere... :sad:

A nice curry lamb pie...

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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And while the food at the egullet dinner at Diwan was very good, it still seemed to somewhat follow the model of Indian restaurants in the West, what Smita Chandra in the Cuisines of India calls the "tried-and-true formula, serving [a] hybrid Punjabi [tandoori]-Moghlai [biryanis, kormas, etc.] cuisine."  Many of the dishes at Tabla Bread Bar are interpretations of regional Indian cuisines less familiar to Westerners, such as the Goanese dishes (which were influenced by the Portuguese, of course), such as the Veal and Coconut Curry.  Perhaps this was what was meant earlier in this thread by "unconventional" Indian food at Tabla Bread Bar.

Toby, what were these Punjabi dishes you speak of that were served at the Diwan banquet?

Toby, you use the word in the plural, and suggest they were all "tried-and-true formula" dishes, maybe you can educate me about that banquet.. and what was served...I hardly thought there was any great Punjabi influence in that meal.. but maybe Smita Chandra and you know more than what some others who are also keenly and intimately familiar with Indian cuisine.

Maybe Mr. Mathur the chef at Diwan, and I can learn from what Smita Chandra, or whoever else you refer to have taught you about Indian and more importantly Punjabi cuisine.

Maybe even Michael Batterberry of Food Arts Magazine ( a man who has traveled to India many times and over decades) and Gael Greene who is only recently back from India (after travels to many of its regions) can learn from you and your sources.

They certainly are very different from what any Indian or old India hand is familiar with.

As for Tabla and Diwan, they are each very unique and different from each other. There is little if any commonality between them that would make them even remotely easy to compare. And actually, comparisons are odious. And personal preferences are worthy of encouraging and this world has great space for each of us to have our favorites. It does not make the favorite of another any lesser.

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And while the food at the egullet dinner at Diwan was very good, it still seemed to somewhat follow the model of Indian restaurants in the West, what Smita Chandra in the Cuisines of India calls the "tried-and-true formula, serving [a] hybrid Punjabi [tandoori]-Moghlai [biryanis, kormas, etc.] cuisine."  Many of the dishes at Tabla Bread Bar are interpretations of regional Indian cuisines less familiar to Westerners, such as the Goanese dishes (which were influenced by the Portuguese, of course), such as the Veal and Coconut Curry.  Perhaps this was what was meant earlier in this thread by "unconventional" Indian food at Tabla Bread Bar.

I have a different take. Some of the dishes at Diwan are unusual--the beggar's purse for example. At the eGullet dinner it was remarkable that we didn't have the usual main dishes, e.g., kormas, curries with lots of sauce. In contrast, many of the dishes I tasted at TBB were familiar to me though I agree some were tweaked. Also, Goan dishes are available in most Indian places in UK high streets and I've had them (and seen them on plenty of menus) in NY too. I see both Diwan and TBB as offering traditional as well as unusual dishes.

Interesting you say what you do.

Great post Yvonne.

And now going back to the foods of these two restaurants....

A friend from Goa found the Balchao and the Vindaloo and Diwan far better than what he eats back home in India. :shock:

And he found what he ate at Tabla not at par.. and a joke.

But I have had some good food at Tabla. And some great Kulfi.

And like you Yvonne, I find that both TBB and Diwan offer dishes that are unique and traditional. And I can well imagine that people will go to each of choose one over the other when craving certain dishes.

It really does not make either one better. They are what they are.

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Toby, what were these Punjabi dishes you speak of that were served at  the Diwan banquet?

"Tandoori food -- dishes cooked in hot, clay ovens -- was brought into Delhi after India's partition in 1947. Fleeing Hindu refugees from the North-West and the Punjab came with a few clothes, a few pots, and their tandoors." -- Madhur Jaffrey, A Taste of India

Sorry, Suvir -- while the food at the banquet was quite good and the entire evening was lovely, a subsequent visit to Diwan was a major disappointment. Although I gave your name as a reference (per your suggestion) when I made the reservation and specifically asked if the chef would be cooking that night (and was told he would be there), he wasn't there. The food was below standard (including what was called your tomato chutney, but was so definitely not); a friend from California was treating me to dinner and I had suggested Diwan. I was totally embarrassed, especially when the exorbitant (for the quality of the food) bill came.

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A friend from Goa found the Balchao and the Vindaloo and Diwan far better than what he eats back home in India. And he found what he ate at Tabla not at par.. and a joke

Did he send you a PM about it?

This type of statement has about as much meaning as my father saying that soup flanken is as good as bolitto misto. How do we know your friend from Goa isn't culturally biased?

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As for Tabla and Diwan, they are each very unique and different from each other.  There is little if any commonality between them that would make them even remotely easy to compare.  And actually, comparisons are odious.

I can't agree with that last statement, Suvir. Comparisons are almost never odious, they are pretty much what we spend most of our time at eGullet doing :raz: Sure, the person doing the comparing may be logically or factually incorrect, and the results of the comparison may leave you in disagreement, but why would that be classified as odious ?

I personally think we place too many demands on people here to "prove it" when they say something we disagree with, and which we think they may not be "qualified" to say. I am not an expert on Indian food, but when I said I thought the food at Diwan was excellent, nobody complained that as a non-expert I wasn't qualified to say that.

Two people here seem to have said that they enjoy the food at Tabla more than the food at Diwan. Well, I prefer the food at Babbo to the food at Diwan, and I prefer the food at Diwan to the food at Blue Hill. And why not ? It's all to do with what I find delicious (The Toby Test) and what my general subjective preferences are. The two people on this thread who prefer Tabla probably just have a preference for European food over Indian. Why should we not allow them that preference ? They are not wrong in that preference, they are by defintion right. They prefer what they prefer, and they are entitled to their preference.

Eat and let eat, that's my motto :biggrin:

Edited by Martin Rosen (log)
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Actually, Martin, I like very spicy Asian foods. I just found the quality of cooking and ingredients to be tastier at Tabla Bread Bar (even though the food wasn't highly spiced).

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Two people here seem to have said that they enjoy the food at Tabla more than the food at Diwan.

Actually I think it was four of us. And to be accurate, it was just one meal at The Bread Bar we were describing.

But Suvir's statement about comparisons being "odious" is amusing in light of the title of his post;

Whose Indian Food Really Stands Out?

Unless I am mistaken, the inference has to be that "Stands Out" means other Indian restaurants. Unless Suvir meant to say that the food at Diwan stands out from Katz's Delicatessen or Dim Sum GoGo or McDonald's etc.?

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Actually, Martin, I like very spicy Asian foods.  I just found the quality of cooking and ingredients to be tastier at Tabla Bread Bar (even though the food wasn't highly spiced).

I hope you didn't think I was suggesting otherwise :smile: "The Toby Test" isn't meant to be in any sense sarcastic, it's my compliment to you.

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Two people here seem to have said that they enjoy the food at Tabla more than the food at Diwan.

Actually I think it was four of us. And to be accurate, it was just one meal at The Bread Bar we were describing.

But Suvir's statement about comparisons being "odious" is amusing in light of the title of his post;

Whose Indian Food Really Stands Out?

Unless I am mistaken, the inference has to be that "Stands Out" means other Indian restaurants. Unless Suvir meant to say that the food at Diwan stands out from Katz's Delicatessen or Dim Sum GoGo or McDonald's etc.?

Steve Plotnicki,

I was only giving the title given by Gael Greene and NY Magazine.

Maybe you can write a letter to the magazine telling them what you feel about those words. :sad:

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"Tandoori food -- dishes cooked in hot, clay ovens -- was brought into Delhi after India's partition in 1947.  Fleeing Hindu refugees from the North-West and the Punjab came with a few clothes, a few pots, and their tandoors."  -- Madhur Jaffrey, A Taste of India

I guess you did not eat the majority of the non Tandoori dishes served that night. What a shame! I am sorry. It must have been my error. I am glad though that you have found some good food at Tabla BB. That is what matters. It hardly matters to me if you enjoy Indian food at Diwan or Tabla or Tamarind or Dakshin. It is the enjoyment of my peoples food by others that for some reason, makes me very very happy.

Back to the eGullet Diwan meal, most attendees seem to have been amazed at the quality, taste, uniqueness and variety at that meal. Maybe I missed your table as I made rounds that night sharing the details about each dish and also some geographic tidbits. My apologies to you and your table-mates for not having given you the same experience others were given.

A majority of the dishes were not from the Tandoor. And hardly any were from Punjab.

But I guess the Tandoori dishes stood out for you somehow. Well, that is true, most people, many non-Indian, but certainly even the most well respected taste makers of India, supplicate in front of the foods served by Hemant. That is the wizardry he shows in his kitchen. Tandoor or curry.

And Tandoori foods as we know, came from the area around modern day Pakistan for the most part. And became popular after the partition of India.

The wild boar and the venison are from Madhya Pradesh. So very very far from Punjab. These are still made in the areas of Madhya Pradesh in ovens like tandoors, that unlike the Northern Tandoors, are set into the ground.

India has used oven like the tandoor for as long as it has had a documented history. The recipes used at Diwan and many other restaurants that have gone away from the plain ole tandoori cooking that most are familiar with, borrow heavily from the other such recipes.

And my grandparents fled Pakistan and came to India... and hardly anyone had time to bring back Tandoors. It is a play with words. And beautiful in sharing the love of food of these people.

Sorry, the meal you ate at Diwan, that you loved as per your mail to me after the event, was hardly Punjabi in its menu. It was as diverse as you are going to get anywhere in the world of Indian cooking.

And again, Table and Diwan cannot be compared... I think someone in this thread said it was like comparing apples and oranges. And I agree with them.

I am glad that those that have enjoyed Tabla BB have felt that way. I wish you many more wonderful meals there. And look forward to reading your posts about them. It is always wonderful to read about restaurants that continue to grow and make people happy. I cannot imagine Danny Meyer and chef Floyd Cardoz doing anything but that.

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Suvir, it was you who whetted my interest in Indian cuisine.

Regional Cooking

scroll down to: Punjabi Cuisine, where you wrote:

Punjab is in the north of India. The food of Punjab is rich in texture & taste. Indian cuisine owes the popularity of Tandoori foods to the people of Punjab.

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Suvir, it was you who whetted my interest in Indian cuisine.

Regional Cooking

scroll down to:  Punjabi Cuisine, where you wrote:

Punjab is in the north of India. The food of Punjab is rich in texture & taste. Indian cuisine owes the popularity of Tandoori foods to the people of Punjab.

Did that say that all tandoori foods are from Punjab?

I said we owe the POPULARITY of it to the people of Punjab.

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Complete text for what I wrote about the cuisine of Punjab. Just in case anyone is interested.

The recipe I shared on the thread to which Toby gives a link was for Baingan Bharta (eggplant dish). And no, it is not made in the tandoor.

Punjabi Cuisine

Punjab is in the north of India. The food of Punjab is rich in texture & taste. Indian cuisine owes the popularity of Tandoori foods to the people of Punjab. Tandoori chicken as we see today comes from Punjab. The food is usually rather rich and laced in ghee, butter and cream. Like many other regional cuisines, Punjabi food has seen a fusion of its own. Being on the frontier, it saw many invasions and many different people coming in. Each of these people have left their own influence on the people of Punjab and their food. This cuisine has taken the best of all the food styles and combined them to make another great cuisine. This food has become so popular in India that often when people think of Indian food they are talking about Punjabi food. People are drawn to the delicious aromas of these thick luscious gravies and the delicious breads that accompany them. Punjabis live a very full life and to them food is one of the most important ritual. In India it often seems like no one knows how to enjoy life as much as the people of Punjab.

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