Food · Uncategorized

Colonial Curries: Part 2

Food from the colonial era has largely become part of our daily life. There are so many of them, which seems so very “ours” yet owes its origin to certain compulsions or explorations during those days. And there are some preparations, which has, over the years, gone into oblivion. Lockdown and the compulsion to cook everyday meal, made me explore some such treasures of the past.

Hope you have read part 1 of my blog “colonial curries”

Colonial Curries: Part 1

Junglee Pulao:

Pulao used to be a cherished luxury for a long time. Pol-Anno became Persian Pilaf apparently and then traveled back to become our own Pulao. It is savored in distinct forms with unique names across. But deep in remote locations, when the hosts/khanshamas wanted to impress the Sahibs, can a traditional pulao be possible considering the ingredients that I needs? Maybe not. And hence my guess is that led birth to Junglee Pulao, done in a rustic way to satisfy the craving of a savory meal. Semi cooked mutton/goat meat is mixed with available vegetables namely carrot, green peas, potato etc and cooked together to create this delight, born out of limitations and attempted in a planned way in my kitchen.

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Depending on the palate of the consumer, it was served either with a Devil’s chutney, a fiery chutney made with ground raisins balanced with ginger-green chilies-tamarind-vinegar-sugar-red chilli. For the faint-hearted ones then, Raita is a nice option to accompany this pulao.

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Fish Kedgeree:

The name clearly indicates that it owes its origin to the popular Indian dish Khichdi/Khichuri. With ample availability of fish in the Gangetic plains, fish, along with Khichuri was a common combination of the Sahibs. Maybe, somewhere, some cooks innovated and merged the two to create this rice based dish with fish flakes. Influence of Mughal kitchens and love for eggs, led to the eggs paving its way into the dish, more so, as it became popular as a wholesome breakfast combo. More adept one is in making the consommé, more delectable the outcome is likely to be. This is a classic case of a dish, beginning from its humble origins, and slowly rising up the social ladder. While today, is more common in the homeland of the sahibs than the land where it started from, but it has grown in cult as more exotic ingredients were added like salmon and veal and hence is a part of aristocratic extravagance, or maybe decadence as some may choose to perceive.

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Devil’s Pork Curry:

While it was one of the most savored meats in ancient days, arrival of Portuguese in India rechristened pork’s popularity amongst certain set of people. As the name suggest, it is a fiery hot dish and can be made with beef/pork/mutton and even eggs. Once wild boar, venison, rabbits were popular meat for this curry. Similar to Jhalfrezi, Devil’s curry was often made with leftover meat, and hence the need to make it fiery hot to subdue the not-so-fresh taste of meat, the next day. Dominance of vinegar, Worchester sauce, tomato ketchup indicates it linkages to colonial origins, merged seamlessly with use of mustard powder, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, cinnamon and cloves.

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Anglo Indian Mutton Curry:

A lovely blend of mixing roasted grounded spice and coconut with traditional way of cooking mutton in Bengali homes, is what makes this Anglo Indian probably. The use of saffron gives a distinct colour and aroma to the dish.

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Pot Roast:

A dish which largely represents the era, and has zero use of Indian spices. Chopped Garlic, ginger, salt, sugar and lime juice does the trick with whole baby onions and whole baby potatoes. As the dish evolved, I could relate it to childhood days, and often we used to call this stew in daily parlance. It was something often available in cabin-styled joints or popular as a light mutton preparation at home. And it is cooked in a pan and not in OTG/microwave. A perfect accompaniment to Pulao, Roti or toasts, depending on how you want to feel while slurping the amazingly delicious gravy. Yet again, this simple classy preparation owes it origin to the French and as James Beard shares “French immigrants to New England brought their cooking method called à l’étouffée for tenderizing meats.”

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Lamb Liver DoPyaza (Dopiaza):

As shared in my previous blog (link shared above), this owes it origin to Mughal kitchens and using of onions twice in the dish (or twice the quantity of meat), once as Beresta and once as raw onions at the onset of cooking. Extending it to mutton liver may well have taken place later, maybe in colonial days.

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Isthu:

While stew is amongst the oldest food having its first proven traces to Japan, it features in ancient cookery books of Europe as well. the popularity of it in India and often being referred to as Isthu may link it back to Kerala, where coconut milk based curries might have evolved into Isthu as the Brits were looking for their favourite stews. It also has a Persian lineage, and tasting completely different, the Mughlai Isthus are also as popular today.

Pronouncing stews in local parlance might have helped make Isthu a popular term in the capital of the Brits then, and it has traces more of the European ways of making stews, based primarily on boiling the meat in water till semi done and adding baby potatoes and baby onions and then add them to the saute of ginger-garlic paste with crushed coriander and black pepper to make a simple yet memorable ishtu. It will remind us of the mutton stew (Isthu) that our mothers and grandmothers were fond of making, owing its origin to the Anglo Indian community.

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Pork Vindaloo:

Carne de vinha d’alhos (meat marinated in wine-vinegar and garlic) was what led to the origin of Vindaloo. It was modified basis availability or lack of it of certain ingredients and thus it evolved into Vindaloo. Absence of vinegar was managed through fermented palm wine while local spices like cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper and tamarind. While today, in many places, it is nothing but a curry with plethora of chillies, but key to Vindaloo is that subtle balance of taste with vinegar and spices, none outdoing each other. It hardly needs anything while cooking since everything goes into marinating the meat, the longer, the better.

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Mulligatawny Soup:

A blend of British tastes, exotic foods and Indian spices that have made it a superstar in the soup category. Emerged from pepper water/ pepper broth popular in Tami Nadu, the British soldiers wanted meat to be added and accompanying ingredients to suit their taste. Along with Kedgeree, it is possibly one of the oldest Anglo-Indian dishes owing its origin as far back as 18th Century. the first known reference of this soup is as below by a soldier during war against Tipu Sultan

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“In vain our hard fate we repine;                                                                                                       In vain on our fortune we rail;                                                                                                            On Mullaghee-tawny we dine,
Or Congee in Bangalore Jail.”

Food · Uncategorized

Colonial Curries (Part 1)

With the onset of Lockdown, realization dawned that the next travel will now be a long time away. Tried letting off the frustration by reading travelogues. The mention and passing description of Railway Chicken Curry transferred me to the train journeys of yester-years and that salivating food from Rail pantry car. The description there in, of raiilway chicken curry led me to explore, prepare and write a blog on the Railway curries. Link below.

Railway Curry

In this entire process, my interest and excitement went deeper to understand more about food of colonial era evolving into Anglo-Indian food. To call it just Anglo-Indian food maybe wrong. As the Europeans settled down here, the initial convergence was of the famed dishes of the Mughals, which were modified to suit the taste of the Sahibs leading to chops and chaps, and slow cooked lamb dishes, which were popular from Delhi to Bengal with modifications suited to geography and climate were intriguing. Mog cooks from Sylhet or Muslim Khanshamas from various institutions were hired to create such dishes.

The next wave of evolution started with the opening of Suez Canal and with Memsahibs traveling to India and cooking up fusion dishes along with their Indian cooks in their Kitchen. Jhal Frezi or Caramel custard owes their origin to them.

The subsequent phase, which is a more lasting one on us as they stayed back, were the dishes born out of marriages between English men and Indian women, that created unique converges and some of the memorable recipes.

The entire evolution, like everywhere, was a gradual one, with changes gradually and silently creeping as in vegetables like potato, tomato, capsicum arriving here, spices from India reaching them, egg and chicken being embraced by both Hindus and Muslims here.

Lockdown allowed the opportunity and time to not only read about them but also try my hand at them and attempt to immerse myself in those era, by at least, trying to replicate some in my kitchen, though neither the set-up, nor the ingredients maybe exactly similar.

Even in those days, most of these dishes didn’t follow one specific recipe. It varied from location to location and basis who is cooking it. But the essence probably remained similar and my attempts, during lockdown, was to follow one  of the many recipes for each dish, but try to soak myself into the essence of creating these dishes in those era, while cooking them

Dak Bungalow Chicken:

Because of the very nature of their operations, Postal Department (posts are known as Dak in vernacular) had bungalows in far flung places. The British Officers will arrive, without prior intimation, late in the evenings and of course, will expect a sumptuous dinner, in those remote places. Country chicken used to be the most common meat with which, the caretaker will have to quickly cook a chicken curry that should be tempting in its looks yet moderate on the tongue. Even though the ingredients and quantity varied from location to location, similar surroundings, similar situations and limitations created a particular experience of this chicken/mutton curry. Eggs, always kept in plenty in such Bungalows, were added to make the dish more tempting in absence of plethora of options. The fiery colour, created by red chili paste used to be moderated by adding yoghurt, to avoid Sahibs burning their tongue.

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Goalanda Steamer Curry:

East Bengal Railway opened the line from Sealdah to Goalanda (on southern bank of Padma) in 1871. It made the difficult journey from Kolkata to Assam and Eastern part of Bengal slightly easier. The night train from Sealdah used to arrive early morning in Goalanda. People used to board the ferry services for the long journey on the boats for Narayanganj or Chandpur to board another train from there. The Mog cooks of the boat or boatmen used to cook meals which the hungry passengers used to devour. Rice and country fowl curry was the most common dish. Country fowls, being easily available, were cooked in the most simplistic and rustic way, mixed with mustard oil, onions, garlic, ginger and green chillies, and yet it produced a taste, that those who experienced , said they never had it elsewhere. Slowly this food became famous and appeared in folklore as goalanda steamer curry. Nothing linked to the colonial rulers, but this heralds from that era.

Country Captain Chicken:

Country Captain Chicken today gets associated with Southern US. The dish was once included in the U.S. military’s Meal, Ready-to-Eat packs, in honor of it being a favorite dish of George S. Patton. But the dish owes its origin to colonial India. In the 17th century, the British trade ships were known as country ships and the captains therein were called Country Captains. Presumably, as the ships prepared to sail back, chickens were deep fried and loaded onto the ships, so that they can be retained for a few days, in an era, when there was no refrigeration. Appropriately they were cooked with the ground spices in the ships. No wonder, when you search for description of this dish, it will mostly appear as “In its basic form, country captain is a mild stew made with browned chicken pieces, onions, and curry powder”. (Note: Addition of egg is not default in country captain chicken)

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Barra Sahib’s Chicken:

Barra Sahib (Big Boss) will be eating. Hence it has to be done well, with all key constituents. Potato and fried eggs (after boiling) will be part of this carefully prepared chicken dish, popular with khanshamas in colonial houses. The use of chironji characterizes this dish. While it was used as a cheaper alternative to almonds, but its cooling properties probably was another reason to use it in such dishes, Indian being mostly hot and humid. Like many such dishes, sour curd was used to nullify the heat of red chilies which was liberally used here along with green chilies in the paste that made the gravy. Beresta, an adoption from Mughal era, was used to create the color of the gravy along with the rich taste.

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Ooty Club Chicken Curry:

Wherever they found a cooler climate, they used to set up a base there. And that’s how places like Darjeeling, Shimla still retains that colonial architecture in its landscape and certain practices in its daily lives. And wherever they set up a base, starting off clubs. The Club was the social center of the civil station and the cantonment and a place they went for leisure, exercise and conversation. And food there supposedly had a finesse with the best khanshamas in the kitchen. The blend of usual onion-garlic-ginger with coriander leaves and rounding off at the end with coconut milk makes this dish quite a unique one.

Chicken Jhalfrezi:

“in the UK, the word ‘jalfrezi’ is commonly misunderstood to represent the heat level of a curry…it’s thought of as a ‘medium heat’ curry…in fact, the word derives from the Bengali word ‘jhal’ meaning ‘spicy’ and ‘jalfrezi’ is the term for the original dish in which cooked meats are stir-fried over a high heat with vegetables such as pepper and onion,” as Atul Kochar writes. Left over cold/boiled meat, fried with lots of onions and chilies was the source of jhalfrezi in colonial days. To make it more wholesome, capsicums and green peas are added, now that Jhalfrezi is prepared by design and not as an afterthought.

Glossy (Glazzy) Chicken:

This is a classic convergence of excess of butter and ketchup as a marinade on top of traditional ingredients of onion-ginger paste. A simple dish, where the taste lies in marination. Add some stock to the marinated chicken while cooking and the dish is done. The glossy appearance was kept probably to impress those who will be devouring, yet not revealing the simplicity of the preparation. Often fruit slices are also added to this dish to create a sweetish taste .

Chicken Dopyaza (Do Piaza):

While it owes it origin to the imperial kitchen of the Mughal era, this dish, with Persian influence was popular during British era. The inherent sweetness in the dish probably suited well with the Britishers here. Do Pyaza may mean twice the amount of onion in comparison to the quantity of meat or maybe adding onions twice, once at the start by adding raw onions to the oil and cooking the remaining dish thereafter and towards the end, adding beresta (onions fried golden brown and cooled).

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In Part 1, i focused on colonial chicken curries. hope to share some more of my attempts in part 2.

Food · Uncategorized

Dream Duck Dossier

Stress levels were high, not because the flat tyre detailed us considerably. It was more because it is unlikely that late in the evening, through the remote countryside, we will get place to repair it. What if another tyre gives in? Neither do we have option of camels like Feluda had in Sonar Kella. At least three more hours before we reach our destination and it was already 8 pm. To make matters worse, it started drizzling. Visibility got poor and we had to slow down. There is nip in the air in mid-November and the drizzle added chill to it.

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The dimly lit hut made us stop. Our chauffeur wanted to refill his bottle with water. He went out and towards the rear side of the hut. We also came out of the car. Followed him. Hunger was setting in and yearn for hot tea in that chill pulled us towards the hut.

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The elderly lady was cooking some vegetables, possibly for their dinner. There is something deeply enticing about cooking in a rural setting – fresh vegetables, being cooked in an oven dug out on the ground, with firewood. Th flames occasionally forcing itself up around the karai (pan). It not only helped cook the vegetables but also warm us up.

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“Anything to eat Mashi (aunty)?”

“Cooking out dinner babu”. “You want to have dinner”. While we never thought of that, but it can be exciting – vast open paddy fields around, rear of an earthen hut, light drizzle, darkness all around, with one bulb hanging and the flames of the earthen oven.

“Anything in non-veg you have?”.

“I have eggs, can make you egg curry. Also we got some duck this morning. But duck will take time”.

Duck!!! This chill, this setting,, basic way of making it. How can we not agree? Chauffeur said that it will be past midnight when we will reach our lodge. Never mind, it is just an hour’s difference. But for that one hour, we can’t miss a lifetime’s experience.

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She got the partly de-skinned dressed duck pieces and poured mustard oil, salt and turmeric and kept it for a while. Inthemeantime, she finished her cooking of veggies and started kneading dough for our rotis.

Half an hour passed. In between, she chopped a couple of large onions. Put the pan on that earthen oven and poured mustard oil. The night was getting cooler, but the surroundings were heating up as the splash of onions into hot oil evinced our hunger.

 

Some ginger garlic paste and some chopped green chilies went into it. Unlike what we do at home, she put the whole garam masalas and bay leaves a little later, poured some chili powder and cumin powder. All the measurements were approximate. She didn’t need a tea or table spoon to measure. The aroma emanating made the chill disappear. I wonder, why we don’t get such an aroma in our kitchens. Maybe we get it, but the backdrop of that setting helps the aroma to hit harder into our olfactory senses. And then finally the marinate duck with all its marination went in. More than the dish, that scene was appetizing as she browned the duck meat in the pan. She kept stirring it for almost 10 mins and then put a lid on, stirring intermittently. As the duck cooked, the surrounding became colorful, thrilling. The dull dead night with drizzle turned into a colorful medley of aroma and experience.

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“Babu, you all sit down on this side.” It was like a heavenly declaration. Roti and duck curry ready. And some raw onions and green chilies. What she took almost 1.5 hours to get ready vanished in a few minutes. But what stayed on for years is the experience, something which is so difficult to get.

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When I got this duck meat, those memories flashed up. I don’t know the measurements she used, but I vividly remember every scene. And on I went onto recreate the dish (just the dish and not the experience) in my kitchen.

A memorable and unforeseen experience during travel being recreated in a period of lockdown.

Food · Uncategorized

Reminiscing Railway Refreshments

“Veg or Non-Veg for dinner sir?”. the question pleasantly shook me up from my state of viewing the endless paddy fields outside as dusk was setting in.

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“What’s there in Non_veg?” was my obvious query.

“Mutton Curry, Chicken Curry, Egg Curry” was spelled out in one breath.

Childhood learning from parents seems to get deeply entrenched. Remember mother always used to preach not to take mutton outside. And i don’t want to have just eggs for dinner. Hence Chicken curry was the obvious choice.

“When will you serve it?” Somehow, while ordering food, the appetite suddenly seems to grow. Don’t remember which station he said.

Doesn’t matter what i did in between. Soon the trays started coming in at scheduled time.

The aroma of that “train food” filled the compartment. One is always told that food in a train maynot be hygienic. It maynot be value for money. It is neither gourmet. But yet, from childhood, i have an unflinching craving for the food served from pantry or in that typical tray with zones divided. True, the food from home would have been more wholesome. Indeed none of those preparations compare to the average restaurants in a city. Yet there is something indomitable about the salivation that happen thinking of food served in a train.

I take the cover off the tray and there lay partly rice, one chapati, one subzi, some salad and a chicken curry. The chicken pieces don’t reflect the colour of the gravy. Partly whitish which tastes somewhat like a boiled chicken without the gravy infused in it. The gravy bears scant aroma of chicken but it glorifies itself with that reddish orange colour that is signature of a railway curry, and a taste that can be made only by cooks associated with railways. One would like to take the gravy with spoon when the cereal is over and gravy is still there.

Without any reason, the train hoots loudly disturbing my dinner. It keeps hooting till i discover it is the alarm of my cellphone. It is 6-30 am.

Appetizingly disturbing start to a day. Subconscious is starting to crave for a travel again. I had to cancel my wildlife outing due to COVID and the soul knows that it is absolutely uncertain, when will the next travel be, and that too by train. Coupled with this, maybe, regular cooking during lockdown led to this delicious dream.

Tough to resist myself from embarking on the journey now, the journey to replicate my dreams, if not the travel part, at least the food part, in my kitchen.

When one knows the origin of a preparation, it is even more interesting to sail into making it.

As Railways expanded across the country in the early part of last century, long journeys needed sumptuous food for the colonial bosses to make the boring journeys exciting. There used to be dining cars with menus that we call Anglo Indian, like cutlets, roasts and so on. But Indian food caught the fancy of many Englishmen and it is said that curries (rather dishes called curries) started making its way into the menu.

Bengal, being the hub of British activities, it maynot be misplaced to assume that Railway Mutton/Chicken Curry might owe its origin to the famed Mutton Curry popular with Bengalis. But the hot fiery curry was a tough job for the British Bosses to savour and especially in long train journeys. The cooks, mostly local, were too used to cooking mutton/chicken with a set of predefined spices. Hence it was difficult for them to change the ingredients. They used to mellow down the heat and spices by adding coconut milk to the curry. Especially for long train journeys, they needed to ensure that the curry doesn’t get stale for the next meal and hence a bit of tamarind used to be added. Madras being another centre of importance in colonial era, for train journeys to and from Madras, curry leaves got into the ingredient list of this curry as well along with a bit of scrapped coconut  (photographs below).

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Madras Mutton Curry
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Madras Mutton curry with steamed rice and salad

The Railway Mutton curry was something which didn’t necessarily mean it had a fixed recipe. Senior Officers then had their own saloons, a coach converted to a house, with pantry and kitchen and their own cooks. As the trains criss-crossed the nation, the curry varied partially based on local ingredients. Hence, it might also be that Railway Chicken/Mutton curry was a marginal variation of the Madras Mutton Curry, that was famous for the way the spicy curry was moderated for the Colonial Bosses. Roasted spices, grounded were used in the same, the way it is popular in that region. Both thin and tick coconut milk was used to taper off the heat from the ground spices, used to cook it.

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Now that we are more used to packed food delivered from restaurants while traveling in train, maybe we have forgotten how the curry tasted. What I loved (don’t know if I really loved, but that was indeed remarkable) was that the chicken pieces had its own taste and not deeply inflicted with the taste of the curry. They used to keep the chicken partially ready by boiling it and then, they used the stock to the curry just before serving it. Hence the chicken pieces were dropped in the gravy later during the cooking process.

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Railway Chicken Curry

There are many stories to the origin of this curry like another one where a drunken Officer was hungry late at night and went over to the pantry car to find the Railway employees having their dinner. He wanted that and the hot spicy curry burnt his mouth. Later, the cook mellowed down the spices by adding coconut milk.

Doesn’t matter which story is true, but the fact remains that there are food which had their unique origins, like in the pantry car of Indian Railways, or the shaded corner of a ferry transporting passengers for long river journeys or traveler wanting a hot satisfying meal in the middle of nowhere in a Dak Bungalow. Can these foods be recreated in our own kitchen? Maybe yes. What can’t be created is the mood that such environments could create in bygone days.

Food · Uncategorized

Appetizing Assam

Chal Mini Assam Jabo

Deshe Boro Dukh Re

Assam Deshe Re Mini Cha Bagan Bhoriya

And it is not only Tea. It is so much beyond tea that this land of bounty represents. Her fertile valleys, mighty rivers, rich cultural heritage and strategic location with international boundaries with Bangladesh and Bhutan and state boundaries with West Bengal and all other six sister states of North East has created a unique impact on its culture, ways of life and of course food. Food procurement and its preservation are conditioned by the climate, varying seasons, community size, economic condition, infrastructure and technological knowledge. Traditional norms, religious belief and societal values also influence consumption pattern. While this place had cultural interactions with a number of tribes who settled in there, but the assimilation of food habits from outsiders has been a very slow process here. Food consumed in Assam has always been simple and healthy. There never was a wide variation in the food that the rich and poor had; it always focused on keeping hunger away and high on nutrition.

Paddy is grown in abundance in the fertile Brahmaputra Valleys of Assam. Hence rice is a staple here for centuries. In fact, use of wheat was unknown till pre-colonization days. Hence, all other culinary practices developed, keeping rice at the center stage.

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The trans-Himalayan tribes follow certain typical food habits. They take boiled, alkaline and sour preparations alternatively. Khar or alkali, tenga or sour and teeta or bitter were given prime place in Assamese cuisine. The ashes of dried bark and root of the plantain tree contain alkaline properties. The people used to preserve the ash-leach for its salty and alkaline properties. A dish seasoned with that liquid is also called khar. Far off from sea, both sea salt and brine salt was limited. That could have further led to use of Khar for its alkaline properties. Mati Dali Khar was part of the Assamese Veg thali that we ordered. One khar preparation will always be part of such thalis. Black Lentils cooked with khar and Taro root (kochu in Bengali) with green chilies, garlic and ginger, is a popular dish. Dried Bheem (a kind of banana) peel is burnt on fire and then soaked in water and then that water is used as Khar.

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The lush green foliage all across Assam meant availability of fresh vegetables which didn’t require additional and artificial ways of augmenting the produce. Hence the natural flavours of the main ingredients are always preserved and not camouflaged with layered use of spices. Preparing pulses with one or two vegetables is also common like the Masoor Dal here is made with raw papaya. Generally one will find one yellow and one black dal (lentil) as a part of a thali here.

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Intelligent housewives loved to select and serve dishes in such a way that they match each other in flavour and texture. Many women perfected in this art of blending and presentation. They handed it down to their successors. The vegetarian dishes included curries of mixed vegetables. The collective term for vegetables was Saak-Pachali. It covers ripe vegetables, leaves, herbs, tubes, roots, flowers and pods. The green vegetables used in the diet of the people consists more of leaves and tender stems than fruits and roots. If there are a couple of vegetables which are used in a curry, there will be some other vegetable which will be consumed fried. Potato slices formed the fried item in our thali.

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The sheer variety of leafy vegetable (xaak pronounced as Haak) is amazing here. At least there will be close to forty varieties depending on the season and the part of the state you are in. In frame below is Kolmou xaak (water spinach)

Discussing about variety, another item that has a wide variety in the cuisine of the state is Pitika. While the nearest term to it in Hindi is chokha and in Bengali “makha”, but the sheer variety of pitikas in Assam is a delight. It can be of potato, brinjal, flat beans or any other vegetables or even of fish. And within each, the condiments used, can vary. With just boiled potato mashed, we explored three varieties, one mixed with mustard oil, onions, a bit of green chilies and coriander leaves, another one had mashed boiled egg mixed with it and third one was with black sesame seeds.

And additionally, we didn’t want to miss the brinjal one, something which is prepared identically in Bengal as well by burning it directly on fire and then mashing it and mixing onions, chopped green chilies, coriander leaves. The natural freshness of vegetables and roots grown here, is amply evident in the love for the sheer variety of pitikas here.

The land is dotted with numerous water bodies (like ponds) and crisscrossed by many rivers. No wonder fish of a wide variety is consumed here since it is so easy to lay hands on a potful of them. It is the main source of protein for the inhabitants. Small fishes like moa, puthi, singora, kawai (list can go on) and larger fishes are all very popular as part of any meal. Tenga is a popular preparation here and therein also the souring source varies. Muwa (mourola in Bengali) is a popular small fish and muwa masor tenga curry was a delight. Like most other dishes, spices are kept to the minimum and the dish is cooked primarily with garlic-ginger paste and a bit of cumin seeds as the base. Kaji Lebu (similar to Kaffir Lime) is the souring agent and in the hot and humid summers of Assam, this curry is a delight for sure.

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The same tenga can be cooked with quite a few souring agents and for the larger rohu fish, we explored it with thekera. Thekera (Garcinia pendunculata) is soaked in warm water and then the same is added to the preparation comprising of just fenugreek seeds, turmeric, mashed boiled potatoes, coriander leaves and green chillies. Thekera has medicinal properties too for ailments like asthma, cough, bronchitis, cardiotonic and fever. Amora (Indian Hog plum) is another popular souring agent for making Tenga.

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The other aspect of fish, in Assamese preparations is the use of dry fish for dry curries and also pickles or chutneys. The fish chutney is irresistible for me in an Assamese meal.

Beyond fish, meat of varied types are popular but not eaten as often as fish is consumed. Pigeon, duck and goat meat used to be more common though in recent times fowl (chicken) and pork have also gained popularity. In many meat eating families of eastern part of the country, consuming fowl was a taboo.

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Preparations hinge on the natural flavours of the land. A Bhogali Bihu feast is incomplete in many households without a duck meat curry done with jaati lau (a local gourd). Preparing duck or goat meat with ash gourd is extremely popular. Paati Hanh (a type of mallard duck) is mostly used for cooking in Assamese households. Duck meat is popular from October to April. During this time frame, normally all domesticated ducks gorge on the freshly harvested rice grain residues and small fishes in the pond or bils (small lake) and become quite matured with meat and fat. In fact, in the villages of Assam, people used to select which duck to catch for dinner depending upon the speed at which a duck runs in its folk.

The simplicity of the duck curry with gourd was an eye opener for me, who has never combined gourd in a meat dish. This dish has usage of spices like coriander, cumin and pepper and is also popular with goat meat.

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Preparing meat with bamboo shoot is also a popular variety. If you are trying this dish outside Assam and North east, check out if the bamboo shoots are fresh or fermented. The smell of fermented variety is not often welcome by some. So request for the dry bamboo shoot in that case. I think first of chicken or pork when it comes to bamboo shoot and the dry fry of chicken with bamboo shoot can be such an appetizing starter for a fragrant meal ahead.

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Talking about pork, which is a much recent excitement in Assamese cuisine, the curry with Lai Shaak or mustard greens is a comfort accompaniment with steamed rice. Never felt anything else is needed in a meal like that. Yet again this dish balances so well with basic ingredients like Cumin powder, and onion-ginger-garlic combo.

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In 2007, Guinness World Records certified that the Bhut Jolokia or ghost pepper was the world’s hottest chili pepper, 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. And how can one not taste a dish with the same while exploring Assamese cuisine. Dry curry of pork with the fiery pepper was irresistible. The nice well done small pork pieces with satisfying infusions of bhut jolokia didn’t make me restless by the heat of the chili. The rich dark color that bhut jolokia imparted to the dish and the aroma of the pepper was a delight actually. Also tasted a chutney of Bhut Jolokia which wasn’t as hot as expected, maybe because it was made primarily from the skin of ghost pepper leaving out the seeds.

Desserts can form a whole new blog when it comes to Assamese cuisine. But rarely am I left with space for that after the variety and taste the main meal offers. However, couldn’t avoid a bowl of satisfying Cha Khao Kheer (Black rice pudding). This kheer is equally popular in neighboring state Manipur for its produce of black rice. Black rice also known as forbidden rice or purple rice has immense nutritional and health benefits. Some of which are – rich in antioxidants, natural dexotifier, good source of fiber, preventing risk of diabetes, preventing risk of obesity, richer protein content and better heart health. It is one of the healthiest variety of Rice, packed with the wide array of Nutrients. The unique flavor and a nutty taste and texture lends it perfect for a dessert like kheer.

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Unfortunately, there aren’t too many options of Assamese restaurants in most places outside Assam. Jaluk, near Sector V in Kolkata, is a place where you can try out most of the above dishes. Be it country chicken, or pork or duck, the meat quality is excellent and so is their preparations.

Food · Uncategorized

Khasi Hills in Kolkata – Shillong Point

When I first came to know about the place, about a year back, I was so keen to visit it. Not many places specialize in Khasi and Naga food in the city and that too with a decently elaborate option covering the key preparations. I am referring to Shillong Point.

Hence when my daughter visited the place with her friend about six months back, I told her to get something, that she feels is good, packed for me. She got back home with a plate of Momos. The fact that she has a discerning taste bud was yet again proved. First when I opened the box, second when I cut through the first momo with a fork and third when I helped myself with the first bite. It immediately pushed itself up to the topmost rank amongst the pork momos I have had in recent times.

Cut to present, when foodie friends decided to meet up, I proposed this place since most of us love to savour pork. The innings had to open with pork momo, since my friends wanted to savour what I was fortunate enough few months back. The outer wrapping of the momo is something outstanding here. It is thin, not overbearing with the taste and feel of flour and immediately allowing you inside into the minced pork meat, so perfectly balanced with onions. While there could have been some more filling, but I guess, that might have made them compromise on the thinness of the wrapping.

Pork salad is intriguing and especially in a place with expertise in cooking Khasi & Naga dishes. Confused between Wahan Mosdeng (A Tripura styled salad) and Dokhleih (Meghalaya styled salad), we asked the lady there for more details. While Dokhleih is predominantly of pork fat, Wahan Mosdeng was a balance of lean meat and fat. Pork fat is first boiled till it softens and then cut into small cubes. Round strips of onions, finely sliced ginger, bit of pork brain is mizxed together with salt to create Dokhleih. Wahan Mosdeng is done again by boiling pork and then cutting into cubes. Green chilli and garlic is roasted together till the burnt aroma comes out. After adding garlic, it is mashed along with lemon juice and then Coriander leaves and salt is added to it. A zero-oil recipe, the quantum of salt depends on whether you will have it with Jadoh or you will have it as a salad. If you want to have it as salad, tell them and they will prune down the amount of salt. Foor someone, used to Bhartas, it is more like a Pork bharta. If it was the momo some months back that surprised me, this time Wahan Mosdeng bowled me over.

Years back, when I used to frequent Shillong, there were a couple of places, where a meal was must, especially for the way they made their food; minimal use of spices and subtly bringing out the natural flavour of the ingredients. My love for bamboo shoot grew from there. And hence, not exploring any dish with bamboo shoot is difficult to digest when I am in Shillong of Kolkata. But, unless you are an avid fan of bamboo shoot, do ask them to make your dish with dry variety and not the fermented one. If Wahan Mosdeng was the folk of Pancham’s music with a boatman rowing against a setting sun, the pork with bamboo shoot was the rock n roll of his, and a chart buster. The capability of a cook comes out when he retains the natural flavours of basic ingredients and yet the dish is hot but not overshadowing the natural flavours. The dish balanced so well amidst a mixture of Sichuan pepper, dry red chillies, dry fish paste and juice of ginger added at the end. This dish can alone take me back to Shillong Point time and again. The chicken variant was marginally dull in taste compared to the pork variety. I would strongly recommend this dish with hot steam rice.

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The hills of Meghalaya produce some of the best black sesame seeds. Hence they are often part of the cuisine there, both for cooking veggies and for pork. The seeds are roasted nicely and then grind till it becomes very sticky as oil comes out, bit of mustard oil is added. Grind onions and chopped garlic and fried till it gets red. Raw meat is then added and after a while black sesame seed paste is added to the meat and cooked till it is done. Dohneiiong (as this dish is called) was nothing similar to any other preparation I have ever had.

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And pair this unique dish with the staple rice dish of Khasi Hills – Jadoh. Small pieces of Pork Fat is first heated till it releases oil in which onions, roasted bay leaf, garlic is added and cooked for a while till it is red and then water and turmeric is added.  Raw rice is added to the boiling water and then kept in low flame. Once water gets absorbed, a bit of ginger paste is added and then the rice is served.

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Khasi chicken curry wasn’t a lot different from one we have. Yet there was something different. Guess the amount of garlic is less, there was the kick and smell of black pepper and yet  there was an aroma that was slightly different. Came to know that tip of bay leaf is burnt, both sides roasted on fire and then added in the middle of the cooking process.  And this is a practice for many dishes and that’s how they use bay leaf every time. Just like adding ginger paste at the end is also a common practice in many dishes.

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We could call it a day only after a nice hot cup of Assam Tea and a slice of Black Chocolate Truffle. Tentative at first, the truffle performed like a tail-ender in a batting line up, scoring at a gutsy pace against all expectations.

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While I am going to be back there soon for exploring the Naga delicacies, you needn’t wait for your friends to take time out to join you here. Shillong Point have lovely combos of a rice/ noodle dish with one of the above side dishes, created for solitary visitors; maybe because it is not easy to convince many to join you for exploring Khasi and Naga cuisine. Let them wonder what they are missing out.

Food · Uncategorized

Bye Beeru’s

They say “all good things come to an end”. Depending on what the “thing” is, tenure varies. And depending on the “thing” repeat potential may or may not exist. People, who cherished those few hours of marriage ceremony often maynot have a chance to repeat that “good thing”. Durga Puja is for 5 days and we assure ourselves that “aasche bochor aabar hobe”. A delightful meal in an eatery comes to and end in an hour but repeat potential is very high, you can come back to the place in a few hours for a repeat experience.

But what if, the meal that you are having at a place which is coveted to you, and you know that could well be the last meal there. Recently I had an experience somewhat similar, when the famed cold cut shop Kalmans closed down, letting its clients know their last date of sale.

But for the first time, I chose to have a meal at a place knowing that from tomorrow, they will no longer be serving this delicious food anymore, something that their clients have cherished for decades across generations.

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More than six decades back, Beeru, a local person, thought of starting this eatery in a limited space on Ripon Street, food of a particular variant, at a price which allows the population in the aftermath of partition, have a meal which satisfies not only their hunger but also their soul, at a price that won’t burn a hole in their pocket. While he started Beeru’s Restaurant in Ripon Street, he also started lodging facilities for people, who were arriving in a city considered to be of hope. Beeru’s Lodge started operating in Janbazaar area (Rafi Ahmed Kidwai lane). Success of both these places made him start his second eatery attached to Beeru’s Lodge – Rashidia (named after his son Rashid, who now runs Beeru’s). While Rashidia had to close down years later staffing issues, Beeru’s Restaurant continued to become an icon for beef-lovers of the city and for many visitors to the city.

As you enter the place, the soft tawa rotis being made outside will immediately set your Ghrelin rush; more so since in many such similar joints tawa roti is often not an option. As you enter, the freshly fried Dal pooris creates a maddening confusion in your stomach as Ghrelin secretion gains new heights. Basic but clean single dining hall has benches laid out. You are not here to spend leisurely hours reclining onto a cosy comfortable chair. Attempt at doing to will be cut short by form back of a co-eater on the bench behind or a slow but impact-ful fall that might cut-short the gastronomic experience for which you are there.

 

Now what? Were you expecting a manu card to be handed over to you? You maybe in the wrong place. Either you are supposed to know what you want to eat, or pretend to know all about the place and ask “aaj keya hai”.

While Sufia always is a notch higher when it comes to Nihari, this place also dishes out heavenly Nihari. For those, whose experience at Sufia has always remained an early morning dream, Beeru’s is a welcome option. Till about 9 am, you get Nihari here. And if you want to explore more culinary wonders of the place, avoid roti/ daal puri with Nhari and just use the spoon to glide through the gracious gravy into your mouth. You can explore their roti/ Daal Puri with dishes that can’t do without them.

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If you are unsure of any future visit to this place, you shouldn’t depart without tasting their beef chaap (chanp). For someone, who psychologically never allowed chaap of any place come close to Royal’s mutton chaap, Beeru’s beef chaap broke that strong veil of belief, piercing its way deep into the root of my conviction and creating a stable permanent position, in terms occupying the same pedestal as that of Royal’s Chaap. The toothless Nawab, for whom Tundey Kebab originated, would have cherished the beef chaap here, the otherwise fibrous meat, being in a semi-solid state and upper jaw and tongue is enough to taste it and unwillingly push it down your throat. Paired with Dal Puri, this meal may well take a spot in the top 10 food you might have tasted.

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Considering that tawa rotis aren’t as common in similar joints, the guy outside tossing up fresh tawa rotis might seem a torture to your anyway filled stomach. If the temptation slips beyond control, fearlessly order a plate of beef Ishtew. The light whitish gravy dominated by poppy seeds and cashew paste, will not apparently, seem heavy on your stomach with a piece of hot soft tawa roti.

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To pair up their tandoori rotis, you may explore the classy dal gosht here, which often loses out to the charms of most other dishes at Beeru’s. While the city has some great dal gosht eateries based on mutton, this one with beef is a welcome variant.

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While Nihari is slow cooked stew meat on the bone (with marrow) having whole spices (pepper dominating), a bhuna curry is one in which the spices have been gently fried in a generous amount of oil, to which meat is added and then left to cook slowly in their own juices. This isn’t an overly saucy dish, but will have lots of deep, spiced flavour.

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At Beeru’s, they make both Sukha Bhuna and Geela (wet) Bhuna. Shukha Bhuna will almost have no gravy since most of the gravy, rich in spices and oil, will cling to the beef pieces. The geela Bhuna isn’t sautéed as much and the beef pieces will comes as islands in a viscous gravy.

 

 

For many, a landmark meal has to end on a sweet note, and Beeru’s knows that. Hence they have halwa as one of their prized items, which gets over quickly. The restrained sweetness and the smooth texture of the halwa will unfold in its glorious taste when it wraps itself up in the cozy folds of the hot poori in a cold winter morning and enters your mouth.

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I could never leave Beeru’s without a cup of their nice milky tea. However, this time, the tea tasted different. As I looked down at the tea, the surface reflected past memories of this place, a snapshot of dishes I have had here, and a place that addicted me to beef.

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Beyond tomorrow, this place ceases to exist, at least for one and half years. Will things change so much that Beeru’s maynot reappear here anymore or will it be that after the building is renovated, we will have Beeru’s in a new avatar, blending its illustrious past of 65 years with décor and innovations that may excite many more to cherish beefy bonhomie. Bye Beeru’s till then.

Food · Uncategorized

China Town in Hazra Road

It is still unclear as to why Mr Koo, hailing from China and settled for long in Tiretta Bazaar area, decided to open his eatery near Hazra Law College. But that’s how it is. Just beside this place was another old-era famed Chinese eatery Kim Wah.

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Started in 1992, this restaurant used to be the favorite Chinese eatery for people in South Calcutta, for whom, reaching out to Central Calcutta was not always an option. But after 10 years, Mr Koo sold this off to Mr Subert since age was catching up on him and to manage this place from Tiretta Bazaar was proving to be difficult. Lack of focus from its second owner led to the down slide of this place for the next 6-7 years till Mr Kwan (the current owner) bought this out and revived it to its past glory.

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Having tasted Chimney Soup (hot pot as they call in their homes), I must rate the chimney soup here as the best so far. The broth was a perfect balance of flavours emanating and tasted just perfect, neither bland, nor overwhelming. The thin noodles was a welcome addition to the meat and fish balls and shrimps & eggs.

What was elating was presence of fried eggs not dissolved in the soup, and to have the whole yolk slide into the mouth to occasionally enhance the taste. The crispy mustard greens and other veggies can make it a wholesome meal for you. If you intend to try other items there, do remember a small portion is good enough to feed 4. But if your focus is to concentrate just on the best chimney soup in town, two of you can fill yourself with a small portion.

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Boiled noodles sounds bland. Thin strips of cucumber on one side of that makes you wonder where I am heading. But when minced chicken cooked in oyster & soya sauce is poured on top of that mixed with expert hands on the table, it can make a dish magical. The intense yet balanced taste of the chicken with the mine retaining its granularity was a dish whose equivalent I have never had. Chicken Lo mein is something one shouldn’t miss at this place. One portion of this is good enough for two people assuming you are not having anything else here. And this doesn’t require a side dish to be ordered along with it.

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On your next visit here, order just some steamed rice and Pork Spare Ribs in Black bean sauce. The meat hanging from the bones, was firm yet juicy to the extent you can tear the meat off the bone with the fork. But…well the charm of taking the ribs in your hand a pulling off the meat with your teeth is heavenly. The tangy gravy emanated the flavours which black bean sauce lovers will love.

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The Chicken Hakka Noodles is just as good as it is anywhere else of repute. Paired with Claypot Prawn (Hunan style), it can be yet the combo for another day.

Food · Uncategorized

Piquant Pondicherry

On most of our family vacations, there brews a subdued stress amongst members about the venue and type of food we are going to have when on vacation. The trip is mostly planned by me and, hence, the other members are in stress as to how many meals they will be tortured through in terms having them in basic places and so-called not so cozy environment and a taste that may not gel with the bonhomie mood of the vacation.

This time, that stress wasn’t evident, our destination being Pondicherry. And beyond Ashram, Auroville and striking facades of White Town building, the other thing that comes to mind is French architecture and food and ever-popular cafés of the town serving French food.

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Pondicherry, with its thriving Tamil population, has some wonderful wonderful Udupi and Chettinad options but our exposure to Udupi food was restricted only as the first meal of the trip. Having landed in Chennai, our first meal had to be in an authentic Udupi joint in Chennai as it was nearing lunch time. My indecision with respect to having a thali or something else was put to an end moment I came to know Masala Bhat is part of the thali.

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My wife and daughters were not even half way through their butter dosa by the time my thali was over. And it included three varieties of rice – masala bhat, sambar rice and curd rice along with cabbage and another vegetable curry. The taste of authentic Udupi food is a distinct weakness of mine, especially the ones that form part of their lunch/ dinner. The crunchy masala vadas and the crispy pepper dosa clearly indicates how food of the soil varies from similar attempts elsewhere. And what makes some of these Udupi eateries of Chennai stand out are the taste of their sambar and the perfect blend of filter coffee.

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Now that was the last time we had Udupi food for the next couple of days. My eagerness was well aligned with that of my family for the type and venue of food in Pondicherry.

As I sipped my beer, and waited for the wood crust pizza to come out for me to snap a photo, I met Chef Suresh of Villa Du Orient (place where we stayed in White Town). Nice polite personality of his led us into discussions around food of Pondicherry. Knowing how keen we are to savor French food, he strongly suggested us to try out the restaurant at Hotel Promenade. He suggested we should explore the three top picks there – Coq-au-vin, Gambos Al Ajillo and Sole Meneuire. Coming from ex-chef of the place, we couldn’t ignore his advice. Luck favours the brave and we could get the lone empty table at the restaurant in The Promenade, one of the most popular places for tourists, considering its French food and location right on the promenade overlooking Bay of Bengal.

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We ordered exactly as advised by the Chef and I added one portion of Beef Bourguignon after I located it on the menu. I wouldn’t dare miss a dish known as “one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man” (As said by Julia Child).

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The beef stew (of Bourguignon) was perfectly braised in red wine and probably also in beef stock, nicely flavoured with carrots, onions, garlic and certain herbs and garnished well with pearl onions, mushrooms and carrots.

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The Spanish wonder, Gambos al Ajillo, which was all about tender shrimp cooked with garlic, sherry, parsley, red chillies and lemon pan fried in olive oil, disappeared from the plate within minutes.

Never knew before that it was Sole Meneuire that made Julia Child fall in love with French Cuisine. And surprisingly it is apparently a simple dish with the fresh fillet of a sole fish pan fried with simple flavours of butter (clarified, I guess), lemon, pepper and parsley. Having frequently devoured Bhetki Muneuire in Kolkata, Sole Meneuire seemed similar in approach but off course the Sole fish gave it a complete different twist.

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But for me, just as Chef Suresh had shared, Coq-au-Vin was the Man of the Match. Translated as Rooster in Wine, the flavour and taste of red wine was perfectly balanced with mushrooms sautéed in butter and the subtle aroma and richness rendered by sautéing fatty bacon with onions and garlic. The nicely browned chicken was hanging off the bone and was succulent inside the mouth. It was a classic and memorable opening meal at the erstwhile French colony.

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While the multi-cuisine restaurant of The Promenade is a strong recommendation, for some of your other meals, you should explore the various cafés located in the White Town. Les Saveurs on Dumas Street seemed appealing, not only due to their nice boutique appearance from outside but also because of the type of options for salads and breads. Some of their mocktails were appealing too. A late breakfast made me settle for Grilled Beef Salad as one can cherish good beef through how good it tastes in the salad. Juxtaposed with finely sliced radish, green beans and lettuce, the grilled beef, with a dressing of herbs like thyme etc. and cider vinegar, was just good enough for my appetite then.

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Baguette, Tartine and Panini kept us guessing for a while. Which ones we should go for. Baguette being a sandwich and often tired, we found the last two more intriguing. Hence, went for those. Unlike Baguette (Sandwich), Tartine is open and the sliced breads are placed side by side and topped with your preferred ingredients. We chose the chicken and mushroom option. What came as the ingredient on top was delightful for my family with a perfectly baked thick layer of chicken, mushroom and cheese that was deceptively crunchy on the top with a delicately oozing bottom-layer.

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Based on discussions there, what I could guess is that Baguettes were the sole domain of cafés in France and generally croque monsieur (slices of butter toasted bread filled with ham and cheese, topped with white sauce and gruyere cheese, baked and served) and croque madams (same as monsieur with egg) were consumed quickly by people there in a café as a hurried meal. A plethora of cheese that is available in France and luscious honeys, mustards, aïolis, tapenades weren’t used in Baguettes since those are enjoyed at leisure as third course in a well laid out meal. Maybe Tartine came in to converge these two. The savouries were poured onto the bread and, hence, it was kept open so that the ingredients can also be visually cherished before being devoured and topped off with as much quantity of toppings. Thus, squeezing them between two bread loaves wasn’t an option.

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The Panini is grilled Baguette. But the bread used is focaccia or whole grained one which stands by itself for the best results post being grilled. We chose chicken and sausages as the inner filling.

The taste of parsley, lemon zest and garlic differentiated the well crusted Gremoulata Crusted Grilled fish served with herbed rice.

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Take a slightly longer walk to reach Zuka on Mission Street. It is well worth the walk and walking back will help you burn of some of the calories that you will gain when you will fail to control yourself from the tempting desserts, chocolates and pastries of this place.

The sheer variety of Truffles, cupcakes, pakoras (not the fried fritters; here they are variety of chocolates), tarts, velvet, lava and caramello cakes will deeply distress you.

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Take your picks but don’t miss their hot chocolate here. It is strong and not diluted with milk and comes with a dark chocolate spoon, which you are supposed to dip in the hot chocolate and suck till it suddenly falls off (ensure you hold it over the hot chocolate cup to avoid losing out on that delicious bar due to pieces falling off elsewhere) with the liquid chocolate inside oozing out. A non-dessert person like me too felt overwhelmed once inside Zuka.

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Exploration for desserts further led us to a gem of a place, a small shop on the Promenade (Rock) Beach. In fact their name seems to be larger than the shop – Gelateria Montecatini Terme.

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Geographically, we crossed the border of France and stepped into Italy for one of their finest ice creams from Montecatini Terme a place surrounded by enchanting vineyards and olive grove hills, famous not only for its Spas but also for its culinary specialties and Ice Cream which are unforgettable landmarks in Europe. From this town their passionate ice cream master has introduced to India, for the first time, the heritage of the finest, truly traditional Italian Ice Cream Art. Considering you can have only that many varieties in one visit, you will need to revisit the place.

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Though i knew we have a late morning brunch plan, but the complimentary breakfast at Villa du Ocean pulled me up to their rooftop to explore the same. What i could figure out that wherever you are in the White Town, the basic food of croissant, salamis and sausages are bound to be tasty in most places, as is their homemade marmalade and jams. Also, in this part of the country, fruits are so wonderfully tasty and juicy.

I chose to walk down to Baker Street since that not only will augment my appetite but also will give me an option to explore the town. It is slightly away from White Town and you may hire an Auto-rickshaw as well. Yet again, this place will delightfully confuse you. It took us one visit to get confused and then another for the confusion to settle in. The variety of bakery items is awesome, more than any other place I have ever been to. No wonder, the French are also known for their bakeries and cheese, just like they are known for their wines, champagne and desserts.

You can just explore croissants here, such is their quality and variety. For someone who doesn’t savour chocolates, the Chocolatine (croissant with chocolate filling) bowled me over. The non-veg croissant with that tempting pork ham and cheese inside will delight you just by its sight.

The Escargots were superbly delicious inside as they were tempting from outside. My daughter fell in love with the vanilla and chocolate Eclairs so much that she almost wanted to pack home a few.

Apple and Banana Streusel disappeared from the plates like magic. Traces of chocolate filling remained on the plate after Moelleux Au Chocolat was ordered and consumed. The taste of the fruit was tempting and the crust was so wonderfully crunchy. The Sandwiches like the chicken olive one we ordered was deliciously cheesy with soft fresh loaf guarding that. Brownie and Hot Chocolate helped round off.

As you wander through the lanes of White Town, one thing bound to catch your eyes time and again in many corners will be Wood Crust Pizzas. That’s seems to be one of the most common dishes here.

When nutty buttery flavoured cheese is spread over a thin round of dough coated with tomato and herbs and then subjected to the relentless whoosh of heat in a brick oven, the result is a bubbling, molten masterpiece. Apart from Villa Du Orient, we tried the pizza at La Maison Rose on Romain Rolland Street, a boutique eatery with absolutely stunning French décor.

In your quest for French Cuisine, don’t miss out the snacks as you wander aimlessly on the promenade (Rock Beach). those were delightful munches just to ensure you taste the flavour of the land though your stomach feels full.

Our final meal at Pondicherry was at Villa Shanti – one of the many French colonial villas that have morphed into intimate boutique hotels. The restaurant too retains that old world French charm in its décor and the taste in their food.

French Onion soup was one of the more popular names attached to soups I had had as a child. While I don’t remember how they were, it will be puzzling in current times in India to know that it was a food for the poor during Roman times as onions were cheap as they were easy to grow. Unlike French Fries and French toast, the modern version of French Onion Soup, made of beef broth and caramelized onions, owes its origin to France. The croute topped with cheese and slow cooked egg arrived first in a bowl making us wonder if this is the first ever soup in our lives which won’t have any liquid. And then the caramelized onion broth was poured around to give a look of an island amidst surrounding sea. The croute softened as the hot liquid slowly soaked it.

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Dominant presence of tomatoes somehow doesn’t gel too well with my palate. That could be the reason the ‘ratatouille’ part of the Fish roasted with Ratatouille wasn’t as exciting to me. But the juicy roast fish and parsley potatoes and mushrooms accompanying it combined well. Ratatouille is prepared by heating onions and garlic and adding eggplant, red pepper, courgettes and tomatoes to it.

An yearn for red meat, that too in patty form, pushed me to order Crispy Beef Patties inspite of the obstructive unnecessary greens served with it. The onion-garlic-red pepper based gravy clinging to a well done mined beef patty called for some bread rolls to wipe of the gravy as a prelude before poetically biting and chewing the tender yet granular minced beef in the mouth. The pan fried potato, onion and mushroom cubes in thick sauce (fricassee) served as an interlude in that beautiful melody.

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The final meal needs to end on a sweet note. Hence, a French Crème Brulee (burnt cream) was ordered which the tongue cherished but an already filled stomach dreaded. It was interesting to know that burnt effect on it is done by torching evenly spread granulated sugar just before serving after the frozen dessert is taken out from the refrigerator and then again chilled for few minutes. The crunchy caramel topping on vanilla cream was a perfect swan song to this French expedition.

Want to know more about visiting Pondicherry? You may read my travel blog on the same.

Exploring Pondicherry

Food · Uncategorized

Darjeeling Delights

Food Tourism has truly evolved in the last few years. Thanks to social media and blog-sites, people are encouraged to share their experiences and that helps spread lesser known information about food of various places and which are the ones one should go for.

But there has always been some locations, which always associated itself with their culinary history or uniqueness among travelers for long. Cities like Kolkata, Hyderabad, Lucknow and so on had strong associations with the food of the land. And so is true for the “Queen of Hills” – along with The Mall, the Kanchenjunga, places like Keventers & Glenary’s have been recalled and talked about as many times. Movies of the past and present couldn’t avoid these places in their screenplay. Hence, for anyone traveling to Darjeeling, just like a visit to The Mall is unavoidable, so is a meal at Glenary’s or a breakfast or snacks at Keventer’s. These places have almost climbed to heritage fame not only for their years of existence and quality of food, but also the type of cuisine they have been serving, which, decades back, were not available abundantly. Moreover the cuisine helped connect to the colonial past in a terrain fresh out of colonial rule. But there remains quite a few more places in this town, whose food is slowly acquiring cult status in an era of pervasive social media.

The unfortunate delay of Air India flight to Bagdogra ensured that there is very little we could cherish on the day of our arrival in Darjeeling. It was past 8-30 pm and the day was completely wasted. Little did I realize that this delay ensured that I experience my maiden journey through Hill Cart road in the darkness of evening, for the first time. The Darjeeling station at night appeared spooky yet charming. 3 nights stay in Darjeeling (with day 1 lost) limits our scope to explore the eateries I have in my list.

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Reception staff at Central Gleneagles might have never encountered a guest, who, arriving at 8-45pm, immediately rushes out of the hotel after checking in, having traveled almost throughout the day. But I can’t miss the dinner on first evening at Glenary’s. It is too costly a miss with limited number of meals we are scheduled to have and also missing the dinner there meant a completely event-less Day 1.

To avoid taking any chances of losing out to a long queue or the eatery closing down for the day, I rushed and occupied a table as my family trudged in a while.

You can read about my Glenary’s experience by clicking on below Link:

Glistening Glenary’s

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Mornings in the mountains makes me feel far more rejuvenated, more so since I get the urge to wake up early and take a stroll out to capture moments of nature just waking up to the needs of another day. Hence the hunger pranks pinch me harder by the time others wake up. With half the family still in a sleepy state and having booked our stay on CP basis, we thought of trying out the breakfast at Central Gleneagles. It was a jolt to sit in the restaurant, opening up to the undulating slopes of Himalayas, and being served Idli with sambar (chutney still not ready) and some Poori Bhaji. Those who were feeling sleepy woke up due to this jolt and ones like me, who were fresh and well into the day, had withdrawal symptoms after the breakfast. Somehow managing to douse the hunger, we decided to have an early lunch and Kunga is best suited since during lunch-time, a long queue is something Kunga experiences every day.

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I reached earlier than my family members, yet again the worry of getting the table drove me to reach early and order a refreshing glass of Lemon tea with Honey. It warms you up before the serious hard work ahead.

 

Ordering at Kunga is easy, yet so very difficult. Easy because I will simply love to order steamed rice and chili pork. The small grained rice is so refreshing to the palate, not unnecessarily overwhelmed with the taste of chili pork, which comes cooked in light soy sauce with abundance of onions and green chilies and sparing quantity of capsicum.

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The constant jugalbandi of relatively bland rice and not-so-overwhelming gravy clinging to the pork pieces along with the onions and green chilies profoundly affects you. But that is only after I have satisfied my soul with a bowl of Phing Noodle Soup.

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The phing noodles per se is not having  a taste of its own but there is unique. Cooked in chicken stock, the thin strips of carrot, moderate addition of watergrass with pieces of chicken floating around is a delight one gets only here. Be careful if you are alone; a portion of this soup can be overwhelming in quantity for one person. In fact, quantities in Kunga are quite generous, in-line with their warmth. If you are visiting Kunga once again, Thenthuk soup, a delightful Tibetan noodle soup, is what you should attempt next.

Wondering how come I went to such a famed Tibetan eatery and am yet to write about momos? Steamed momos are something similar to what you get in many places – yes – but that’s what you feel when you see them on your table. Now once you bite them for the first time, the soft outer layer of flour seamlessly mingles with the loosely packed inner minced meat filling and it transports your soul through the streets to the undulating mountains and you seem to float in thin air till you open your eyes to see the stout strong beautiful Kanchenjunga in front of your eyes.

That’s what precisely happened when I closed my eyes and gave my first bite to the steamed chicken momos and by the time I savored and allowed it to leave my taste buds, I opened my eyes to see the stout strong fried pork momos glistening on a plate in front of me. Now even in appearance, the fried momos are something you wouldn’t have seen. Solid hard crust, you may threaten your friend with one, if he is not willing to pay the bill on your behalf for having hosted him in Kunga. But as is true for human beings, often the apparently toughest personalities have a very soft inner self, subject to you daring to penetrate through him. Same holds true here for the fried momo. A crunchy hard outer layer gives way to some amazing inner world of aroma and taste.

A small eatery which can accommodate a maximum of 20 people, Kunga, for almost three decades, have been serving blissful Tibetan (and Chinese) food to its clients. Wait can be long and you can assess that from outside through the glass panes which separates earthly pleasures from heavenly ones. Nicely done wooden panels and tables with colored cloths and topped with glass sheets create an ambiance of simple yet tasteful food at affordable price.

Just like in Kunga, at Dekeva’s, which is next door, you will need to write the order on a pad and hand it over to them. This one, I guess, is owned by the owners of Dekeling Hotel. Food is very similar at both these places in terms of menu options. Pork with bamboo shoot & mushroom and steamed rice is what I explored here since this was a meal squeezed in between two major meals as I was running short of meals for this limited duration at Darjeeling. This place, additionally serves breakfast though I could never stretch myself beyond Keventers and Glenary’s for the same. Do try out some of their soups like Mixed Special Soup or Talumein Soup. Want to try something different – check out their ChopSuey.

Tired of shopping and long walks around The Mall? Shangri-La Hotel, housed in a heritage building, has a gorgeous restaurant. It is a must for one dinner at least during your stay in Darjeeling. Distinct green outer frames gives way into tastefully wrapped inner woodwork adding grandeur to artwork.

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We skipped the soup in favour of liquors. And it is to be blamed on the ambiance. A perfect accompaniment was the Crispy Chicken Shanghai. How did the chicken pieces retain that crispiness inspite of being well coated with the sauce is still a mystery, or maybe I was tipsy.

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I dared to explore into the unknown by ordering chicken and veg steamed rice. I have always prefer Chinese food devoid or limited in usage of sauces. What arrived is Cantonese rice and it left such a lasting impression in me. Sauces can do wonders, but to make such simple dish devoid of sauce with chicken and veggies and retain the taste and aroma was indeed commendable. Don’t spoil it by ordering a side dish.

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I know a pork dish is beckoning you. Try out their Hakka noodles with a plate of Pork with mushroom and bamboo shoots.. You will appreciate the quality of both and the combo it creates. By the way, breaking out from the barrier of its name, they do serve Indian dishes as well.

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People visiting Malaysia often give Penang a miss because of limited duration of stay. But while in Darjeeling, you can’t afford that. Just like Penang loses out apparently in its attractiveness to more glorified locales of Malaysia, so does Penang with respect to the approach stairs leading upto it. And I was pleasantly surprised the way they have redone their interiors since my last visit in 2015.

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Operational since 1972, this is a place you must keep as part of your itinerary if you want to devour Nepali delicacies. And I was there just for one thing – Nepali Thali. As you munch on the fried wantons (slightly different in shape than what you are used to) as starters, your appetite seems to grow as the plate with bowls containing aloo bhujiya, soya chutney and powdered sesame & peanuts were kept in the table.

It was such a great teaser both for the stomach and the taste buds till the Kashar thala (copper plated bowl) arrived with the steaming hot white rice flanked by Rai sak (mustard greens) and aloo (potato) bhindi (ladyfinger) subzi on either side. Kali Daal (black lentil) with rice and seasonal vegetables is the staple Nepali food and that’s how I took off on my Nepali rendezvous in Darjeeling.

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Slightly slippery, the daal is similar to Bengali Kolai r daal but prepared differently. Rich in natural taste, both the aloo bhindi subzi and rai saag augmented the taste of rice-daal mix. The Radish chutney, which will be loved by even the greatest radish haters, added a wonderful punch when I chose to mix of that together and create an unanticipated riot of flavours on my kashar thala.

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How long can you withstand the sight of hot and tempting Nepali Pork curry without jumping onto it? The gravy, rich in oil and presumably because of pork fat, was mild in spices. With vast tracts of agricultural land, people in Nepal often bet on the natural taste of the produce of the land than camouflaging the taste with spices. The curry has typically pork pieces with almost 50% fat and is a delight for those who cherish pork fat as it seamlessly melts in your mouth. The natural aroma and flavours of the veggies, the tempting white steaming rice and the texture and taste of pork curry was the best swan song ever for me to Darjeeling.

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For the less adventurous, I ordered their Chicken & Pork Rice noodles with dry boneless chili chicken cooked in seasonal sauce. The flattened noodles was rich in taste because of the accompanying veggies and delectably done pork and chicken pieces. However, flattened noodles are something, I am not particularly fond of. Couldn’t figure out the constituents of seasonal sauces in an otherwise sensational yet humble boneless chicken dish.

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Into its 108th year, today Keventer’s is what connects the present with the past. A novel or a movie with Darjeeling as the locale, has rarely missed Keventer’s. How is their food? Ask any Keventer’s visitor. They will mostly answer how was there mood when they were in there.

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Where did Anil Chatterjee exactly sit? From where did Ray shoot the scenes? Why doesn’t Darjeeling look the same when one peeps out from the Keventer’s terrace as shown in Kanchenjunga, the movie? And how come Kanchenjunga still looks the same – the only thing that hasn’t changed in all these years. Sandip Ray too followed his father’s footsteps of leveraging the legacy and location of this place. And so did other movies and literature.

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Satyajit Ray did highlight their Hot Chocolate in Kanchenjunga. And so does generations thereafter. Not because Ray did. Because truly it’s unique. Asked my daughter, which one you liked between Keventer’s and the other famed café in Darjeeling. Predictably the answer was Keventer’s. They haven’t seen Kanchenjunga (movie). Asked them why. Answer was, “can’t say why. It was more balanced, more chocolatey”.

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For me, there can’t be anything more romantic than Keventer’s hot chocolate and linkages to Bengali literature. In absence of Pork Hotdog (they don’t make it during high season), which is unique here because it is not the traditional hotdog we are used to (it is minced meat in hotdog bread fried), rest all are offerings, which were once uniquely associated with Keventer’s are today available in so many more places. Yet, one doesn’t need to woo his/her companions like Ranbir Kapoor had to, in Barfi, to accompany them to Keventer’s since food here tastes delicious wrapped evenly with coatings of memories and romance.

Don’t forget to buy the Dalle pickle / vinegar/ whole dalle (Arpana’s Kitchen) on your way out from Keventer’s. Allow your kids to freak out on the softy cones on their way out as you pick the Dalle bottle.

 

If you have time, try to explore a local market and pack some churpi cheese for taking it back. Can be a great condiment when you cook leafy vegetables back home or add to momo filling.

There are many more delicious places in Darjeeling to explore for food. Only limiting factor is the duration of stay. In between all these overwhelming meals, if stomach permits, explore the street food along the lanes meandering out from The Mall. Awesome, freshly done meat tikias, steaming hot home-made momos, the Hakka Noodles, buns filled with minced meat, phuchkas as you approach the Mall Road from The Mall are items that your tongue will crave for. Check out your stomach and decide accordingly.

Been in Darjeeling and one halt is a must for unadulterated time with tea. Golden Tips or Nathmulls right on The Mall are my favourites. Come out of them, and you are greeted by the ever vibrant Mall. Sit inside and unending vistas of undulating hills make the tea taste so much more aromatic.

 

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Food in all the above places are indeed wonderful. But it is the location which adds romance and thrill to the delicious food. Hence a simple breakfast, common at our homes as well, of toast with butter, a soft juicy omelet and  aromatic Darjeeling tea also leaves lasting memories and a compelling desire to be back in her lap, as soon as one can again.