Category Archives: From the hip

Malvani Masalas, Fusion Cooking now on Word Press

I’ve shifted to Word Press.

Was a bit fed up with blogger. The difficult photo upload feature. The drunken cursor which would go all over the screen eating up words, hiking my blood pressure, causing very embarrassing typos. I tried various things including writing on word and uploading. Just didn’t work. Many suggested Word Press for a while as a more user-friendly interface. I held on. I was quite attached to the Blogger blog. It was personal. Then I gave up.

Urged and guided by Monika of Sin-A-Mom I imported finely chopped and faraway diaries (my dormant travel blog) into the word press blog. Looked very strange. In fact almost felt as if I was cheating when I did this.

Anyway the deed is done. There would be bugs for a while as I get to know the format better. The formatting went for a toss during the imports. The side-bar features are gone. Even I miss the old format. So do bear with me.  And who knows, blogger might get its act right. In which case I will be back.

My friend and fellow food blogger, Sassy Fork, gave us some Malvani Masalas when she visited us this Sunday. I got Banu to use one of them when she called me today at work on instructions on what to cook. Well it wasn’t a true ‘Malvani’ dish. Malvani cuisine , named after the coastal region of Maharashtra called Malvan, uses a lot of coconut … grated coconut as well as coconut milk. I’d asked K to call for a pack of coconut milk this morning but she was too sleepy. So one had to think beyond coconut.

I had to improvise when Banu called me. I asked her to saute curry leaves and mustard seeds and then add the chicken (boneless leg cuts) and about two teaspoons of the Malvani mutton (!) masala and stir and add some curd to it at the end. So was this Malvani cuisine or was it ‘fusion’? Well, I didn’t use coconut milk but I did use mustard seeds and curry leaves which are used in Indian coastal cuisine, especially in the West and the South. The curd gave it a bit of tanginess which often comes from tamarind which is often used in this genre.

The end result was pretty good and both K and I loved it when we ate the dish for dinner. Reminded me a a bit of my Moorg Mango Dolly.

The recipe was my own. I doubt if any Malvani granny from a respectable family would cook the meat this way. But I did draw on the cooking traditions of this region as I thought of the dish.

Which is where I have a problem with the concept of ‘Fusion’ cooking. The chettinad pastas, the shrikhand cupcakes, the Strogannof biriyanis and of course the Paneer Schezwan dosas and the Chicken Teeeka Sandwiches. I must confess that I haven’t tasted much of ‘fusion’ cooking. It is fashionable these days. Especially in fine dining restaurants. But I believe in respecting cooking traditions. Con-fusion cooking doesn’t appeal to me as a concept. And I am not just talking of the apocryphal and libel-worthy ‘vegetarian’ Thai curries.

If a mother in rural Bengal makes noodles with turmeric and potatoes and serves it as a side dish to eat with rice for her daughter then it is love. But if a ‘cult chef’ plays around with cuisines to bastardise them then there is something rotten in the state of Denmark IMHO.

As an uncle had once pointed out, people who really love their drink would never have cocktails…they would go for the real thing. Which, in has case, is dark rum and water.

Perhaps, I am being too heretical.

After all the first tomato alu bhaji in India would have been a fusion dish too. Both vegetables being brought into India by Europeans.

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Filed under Food musings, From the hip

>Some other time. Someplace Else. The Park, Kolkata

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I bumped into my childhood friend Rupu when I was at Kolkata this time. We were both visiting the city at the same time. He’d been in San Francisco for a decade and I had been at Mumbai for a little bit longer. We hadn’t met since the end 90s after having grown up together.
We chatted for a short while about our new lives and reminisced about the past including about how we could never stay out late during our college days. There was hardly any transport for middle class Calcutta those days in a city that slept very very early.
Then came Someplace Else the new discotheque at The Park Hotel at Kolkata’s Park Street in the mid 90s. They hit upon the formula of afternoon discs on Sundays. Suddenly the place was packed with sweaty teens and raging hormones, all packed together in a tiny dance floor, impervious to the supersonic sound system…the smoke…the crowds. As one used to jokingly say, you would enter as casual acquaintances and come out as an intimate couple. You were packed tighter than sardines in heat. The famed, bursting at the seam, Virar locals of Mumbai seemed child’s play after that.
It was a very basic disc which was Ibiza for a generation of Calcuttans.
Then I moved out to Mumbai, a city which never slept. I heard that Someplace Else had become a pub and that The Park had a new disc called Tantra.
I was close to the Park the other night at Kolkata when we went to  Oly Pub . Oly Pub apparently took its last order at 11 pm. We wanted desserts and went to Flurys early. Turned out that it was shut. It was 9.45 pm. Disappointed we headed to  Barista where we were served some very stale desserts. The Kolkata folks in our group disbanded but there were two of us Mumbaikars and one ex Mumbaikar who didn’t want to call it a night so early.
So we headed to Someplace Else. Turned out that The Park was buzzing with life. At night this time. It seemed to have two (!) discs now. Tantra. And Roxy. The crowds poured in well after Someplace Else shut down. In their Saturday shimmery best. Including an elderly sugar daddy with a tall nymph in a skimpy black cocktail dress who was definitely not his granddaughter. Or his nurse. He put his arm around her waist and led her into Roxy.
The three of us from our group were at the tamer Someplace Else. A pub now. 
A flood of memories hit me as we walked in. Nothing had changed. The sofas at the corner where you would rest after some fevered jiving were still there. The bar- counter where you would count out precious Rupee notes to buy a beer looked the same. The stained glassed ceilings which now reminded one of Apoorva, the humble Mangalorean joint at Mumbai. The sofas redolent of Geoffrey, the British themed pub of Mumbai. All had a very familiar feel.
The tiny dance floor where the youth of Kolkata once bumped and ground was now the stage for a live band. On asking I was told that the band playing that night was called ‘Saturday Night Blues’. Some powerful rock guitaring and some soulful serenading followed. The sort of music which made two of us in the group happy while the younger one declared the music to be ‘so boring’. But as all good acts do, it ended with a favourite of the Rock Nights at Milieu, the fest of Presidency College Kolkata, Roadhouse Blues.
We got up and I headed out of Someplace Else with my friends from my new life, my new city, walking with memories from across the years that blended into each other in a kaleidoscopic haze.
Pity that they never told us back then that life is not all black and white.

PS: The nostalgia continued as I was close to home at 1 AM in a cab when I got a call from my mom. “Where are you”? 

Beats Oil Of Olay

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Filed under Calcutta reviews, Finely Chopped Knights, From the hip, Watering holes

>Finely Chopped for president… log in on Facebook to vote

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Well Finely Chopped has been nominated under the best food category in the Blogjunta polls. Which means I have to canvass for votes. Which is a waste of time since I never win anything in any case. But if you do want to, hint hint, then you have to log in on Facebook and vote herehttp://apps.facebook.com/polldaddy-polls/?view=poll&id=4428371. Or vote directly on the side bar of the blog

I have no idea what happens if I win…

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Filed under From the hip, The world of blogging

>There is no business like the food business

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I went to the food blogger’s dinner at Mumbai last night. This was sponsored by the wine division of the folks at UB. Hosted at Olive at Mahalaxmi.

The chief wine maker of UB was there and held forth on wines to a table of Mumbai’s food bloggers through the evening. I reached late after I had my breath knocked out by the heartless Mumbai traffic while navigating meetings earlier in the evening.

I was seated at a little table beside the main table. Caught up with a couple of old friends, Rushina and Jyotika. Wouldn’t have made it but for the earnest urgings from both of them.  Met some new folks – couple of charming ladies from the agency that organized the evening and a Chino German animator who was marooned in India after the film she came to make got delayed. I missed out on the wine lecture though. Well, as they say bad boys have all the fun.

We tasted wines. Without the commentary to go with it. I must admit that I am a bit of a Bacchanalian philistine. Wines give me headaches. But some of the stuff did smell good. I made the appropriate motions of occasionally stuffing my nose into the glasses of wine. Hopefully, looked enough of a ‘connoisseur’ to not make the sponsors question the organizers for inviting me.

The food had its moments. Three courses. Managed to find a few shreds of smoked salmon in the smoked salmon salad. The lights were rather dim and some of the pinkish bits turned out to be tomatoes. Which, dear vegetarians, cannot be a substitute for smoked salmon. I selected the brie phillo puff for the next course. By a fluke of nature I got the grilled tiger prawns instead. Which was great as the prawns were huge and yet wickedly juicy. Wouldn’t have wanted to be one of the vegetarians around though when this happened to me. I chose chicken skewers with pilaf for the mains. The highlight of the chicken plate was the toasted pine (?) nuts which came on the side. Added a nice texture to the rice and meat. Had a bit from the beef that Irene from Germany went for. It was rather tough. Jyotika’s choice of lamb was more succulent…Moroccan and therefore fairly Indian in taste. I quite liked the rather strong cheesecake which was there for dessert. Overpowered the crème brulee that followed. Couldn’t taste the latter. Guess the conversations were the high point of the dinner.

These are interesting times for food in India and everyone wants a piece of it. So you have about three exclusive food channels being launched now. Every news channel has at least one food related programme going for them. You have recipe shows on TV, with pre Doordashan days production qualities, which are surprisingly good cures for insomnia. And restaurant reviews where every restaurant is the best in the world and where every dish is the meal of a lifetime.

Talking of TV, Master Chef Australia 2 was aired on Star World here and it caught the imagination of many. It suddenly had people who normally do not cook rush into the kitchen to make coriander enrobed pomfret or Crème Anglais. It democratized food and went beyond foodies, food bloggers, food snobs and critics. Suddenly food was cool. Till Star Plus blundered in with Master Chef India.

The food business in India draws inspiration from the West. If you have salivated over the French Laundry Cookbook and been enthralled by the prose in the Les Halles Cookbook then you have a restaurant cookbook in India too. The Mainland China Cookbook. If the Les Halles and French Laundry books are labours of love and passion then this is its antiseptic opposite. The same publishers have now done a book around NDTV’s Rocky and Mayur’s ‘Highway on my Plate’. This is a Lonely Planet like restaurant directory which thankfully has a touch of colour. I read the chapters on Andhra, Arunachal and Assam last night and went to bed with colourful images of yak blood sausages, rohu cooked straight from the pond, pigeon curries, duck curries and meals eaten at tribal huts. There is still hope.

Following in the tradition of movie and auto awards you now have foodie awards. There was one from a newspaper group recently where a majority of awards went to restaurants of five and seven star hotels. Seemed more like a ‘Fine Dining’ award list. The remaining scraps went to stand alone restaurants which are normally in the news. The unsung, non PR savvy restaurants which just focus on serving simple and honest food went unnoticed. Then there was another award from the Internet portal of an American news channel. They said that the ‘best’ place to enjoy street food at Mumbai was apparently Punjab Sweets at Bandra. I am sure that local vada pao and bhel lovers would have a point of view about the mineral water sanitized North Indian chaats trumping the Mumbai street food charts. The best biriyani here too was from a five star. So what are my choices for the ‘best’ restaurants at Mumbai? I won’t be vain enough for that. But here is a list of my ‘favourites’.

Food bloggers are everyone’s meat. There are web sites and even mainstream newspapers and magazine lifting photographs and content from blogs without acknowledging the source. And you have startups and even established sites and newspapers and magazines asking bloggers to write for free…dangling carrots of visibility. 

The carnival continues. Restaurants and food marketers have discovered food bloggers. Offers to send yogurts and olive oils flood are mailed in. As do invites to “come and try the food at our restaurant”. . And offers to host food blogger meets. “Would be nice if you and your food blogger friends drop in”.

Well, as the cliché goes, ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch and all that jazz. Why waste money on mass media, it is all about media efficiency. So would bloggers go the journo and junket way? Or would they remain an independent voice?

Only time will tell.

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Filed under From the hip, The world of blogging, Woes

>The Spirit of Mumbai

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Sri Lankan cinnamon sticks, gifted by a Maharashtrian. Pounded in a mortar and pestle from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Added to rui kaalia, a Bengali fish curry. Along with fish fried earlier in the day by a local Muslim domestic help. Put together by a Mumbaikar from Calcutta.

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>Of being ‘Fort Enchanted’

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Ustaad with his rangeen photos

 
I would often cross the sweet shop on my way to lunch. The smell of fresh jalebis inviting me from way ahead. I would always stop to wish ‘Ustaad’. He would extend his elbow to me to shake. Hands covered in jalebi mix. And then, from behind the swarthy moustache, the squeaky voice would say “aap mujhe rangeen photo dena”.

I had given him a black and white print out of the post I had written about him. But ‘pehelwan’ (or wrestler), as some called him, wanted coloured prints. Something we had forgotten in the age of Picassa and Flickr.

Today, on my last day at Fort, I fulfilled my promise.

I don’t know know what made me fall in love with Fort the way I did. Was it the approach to Fort? The poetry of Muslim architecture by the J J Flyover. The Victorian Majesty of VT, the BMC and Times of India buildings. The chutzpah of the art deco buildings by my office. An office building which was inaugurated by a certain Sjt Subhas Chandra Bose in 1938. Opposite a shop opened by Bal Gangadhar Tilak when he raised his cry of Swadeshi (self rule) against the British. The same British who had helped plan a charmed business district with enough trees or shade for the weary traveller to rest by. Was it the winding walks with each lane opening into a new wonder? Stumbling into a Garden of Eden one day. Also known as Horniman Circle? Or the parking lot guys who would park my car when chubby, my driver, was bunking. They were all from the same gaon or village apparently.

The friends I would meet, old and new? Amba, Kaniska, Gia, Mama, Ranjit, Viraj, Ashish, Berges, Andrea, Shaheen. Drawn to Fort like bees to a honeycomb. Or was it the many afternoons of getting lost? Of  ‘hearing one’s inner voice’ as Tony Bourdain once put it.

VT or CST

Bohri Masjid

Tilak’s Bombay Stores & the art deco buildings
Horniman Circle

An Irani cafe in Japanese building


Laxmi Building

Was it all the fresh, wholesome, honest food with prices from another century? Dhansak at Ideal Corner. Ironically my first and last lunch at Fort. Their atheli chicken pateta and gun powder pork. Ulundu and Mysore Sada Dosa, kick in the butt filter coffee at Swagath. The breads of Yazdani Bakery. Apple pies and Christmas Cake too. Apoorva’s stews, appams and Gassis. Banana leaf vegetarian meals at Deluxe with delectable Surmai  fries. Beef and paratha at Rahmaniya. Deepu’s sandwiches. Madhukar’s Lassis. Muzzafar’s palak bhajiyas. Puris at Puncham Puri and Mathura Sweets.

Ustaad’s jalebis

Suresh’s Palak Bhajiyas

Chicken stew at Apoorva

Chicken fry and parota at Garden Plaza

Those jalebis again

Banana leaf meal at Deluxe

Moti Lassi with malai

I had most of my lunches here

Ideal Corner’s dhansak my first and last lunch at Fort

Evenings at Swagath…Mysore sada dose

Yazadani’s breads

Puncham and his Puris

Bombay Sandwiches

Kick in the butt filter coffee at Swagath

Or did the spell of Fort lie in its people? Parvez Irani and Tirandaaz Irani of Cafe Ideal Corner and Yazdani Bakery who broke the myth of grumpy owners of Irani Cafes. Krishna, the owner of Apoorva who would often sit down at my table to chat with me. And hand out a ten per cent discount. Dipu the big hearted sandwichwallah who would wave at me every day. The last person I said goodbye to today at Fort as I handed him a printout of the post I wrote on him. The scion of Mathura Sweets, unshaven with an ear stud, wishing me in perfect English. Muzzafar and his colleagues at Suresh’s Batata Vada shop, smiling at me when I would go by. As would the bearded man at the counter of Fountain Plaza opposite. Or Madhukar the Maharashtrian lassiwallah at the Punjabi Moti Halwai, who posed for me one day.

My regular waiter with curly hair at Swagath Udipi. Patiently explaining to me the difference between set and ulundu dosa. As we got to know each other he would wrap my coffee glass with a tissue paper, the way I liked it, when I sipped on a hot filter coffee on the road. His colleagues at Swagath, all excited to see the blog post on them on their ‘Idea Mobile’ (no not a plug). The three waiters at Cafe Ideal who would always serve me with care. The waiter from Udipi at Aoorva who would take my order with a bashful smile, embarrassed when I shook his hand after new year. The waiter in the AC section at Deluxe who would meticulously explain each item in the Keralite banana leaf thali. Getting me steaming glasses of rassam on the house on days when I wouldn’t go for the full meal. “Have it. It is fresh”. The waiter at Puncham Puri who told us about the fact that the venerable Mr Puncham had set up his puri shop way before CST station existed. A rare breed in a city of restaurants with inept untrained staff.

With the Yazdani Bakery Gang. Photo: Shaheen P

The folks at Swagath read the post on them

Muzaffar at Suresh’s

Our man from Udipi at Apoorva

Intense discussion with Krishna of Apoorva on Thai food

Madhukar at Moti’s lassis

Tirandaz Irani of Yazdani enacts the Rin ad shot here

Third generation scion of Mathura Sweets

Dipu the sandwichwallah with the heart of gold

The every smiling Parvez Irani of Ideal Corner with his merry band

 
Or were it the bakers from UP at Yazadan Bakery? Posing for me not once, but twice when I came in for shoots.The earnest father and daughter who ran the humble Pradeep Gomantak? The cart owners at Khao Gulley who posed for me one day as I took photographs. Or the trips to Colaba? To Ling’s and Johnny and bacon pot rice and pork belly. To Olympia and its super fantastic kachhi biriyani and mutton masala fry. Or to Samovar and its parathas.

Biriyani at Olympia

The super sweet Johny at Ling’s Pavilion

 
Would it be the strangers I shared tables and conversations with at Rahmaniya, Garden Plaza, Deluxe, Yazadani, Ideal Corner, Swagath and Apoorva? Strangers who became lunch mates for a few magical moments.

Or was it just all about Ustaad and his fresh, hot jalebis?

Ustaad. AKA Pehelwan

Gosh, I must have done something really good to have deserved this. Maybe there is an angel looking after bloggers.

I bid my goodbyes at Fort today. To Ustaad. To the dhansak at Ideal Corner. To the folks at Swagath.

As Jim Morrison said,“When the music’s over … Turn out the lights”

When the music’s over

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Filed under Fort, From the hip, Mumbai highs, People, South Mumbai, Street stars, Vintage Bombay

>Joynagorer Moa Memories

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Photo Credit: Sudeshna Banerjee of Cook Like a Bong

Credits: Thanks to Sudeshna Banerjee of Cook Like a Bong for awakening some very sweet memories by sending me these spectacular photos

It’s not easy being a fat kid. Children can be very cruel as an author once wrote. Add to that shifting countries. And cultures. It was not even Calcutta. We were in a suburb to the South of Calcutta.

A world away from England and pre Islamic Revolution Iran where I spent the first seven years of my life. To start with, there was no Coke. Or Pepsi. Or rocket lollies (ice creams).  No television. No Muppet Show. The clothes were funny compared to my fairly swish wardrobe. The food was strange. My parents had to make fish and chips, chicken and chips, spaghetti and ‘Spanish Omelets’ for me. No daal, rice or Bengali food for me.

Everyone would pull my cheeks. Including the mosquitoes. I learnt about power cuts or load shedding, a strange concept. The people around me seemed different. We lived in comparatively smaller towns of England and Iran before this. My parent’s social circles were dominated by locals. My exposure to Indian culture had been minimal. I didn’t speak Bengali when we moved to India. I picked up Farsi in Iran a lot faster.

I missed my friends, my teachers. It took time to relate to even my own family. The local kids would mock my accent which was a mix of British and Iranian. And ridicule my chubbiness. From a four feet old’s point of view everything was strange – accents, languages, clothes, complexions (!).

I was unsettled.

The connections one makes at that age are strange. I can never explain why I clung on to a ragged yellow blanket every night. Or the soft corner I developed for ‘Joynagorer Moa’. Not in the same league as roshogollas, shondeshes, lyangchas or pantuas when it came to Bengali sweets or mishtis. Joynagorer Moas  were not ‘sweets’ in the truest sense. Not the usual cottage cheese or chhana based delicacies which Bengal is famous for.

‘Moas’ (Mow -aa-s) are rice crispies rolled into balls and held together with gur (jaggery). A popular snack in Bengal. Joynagorer moas were different from other moas. While regular moas were crisp, these were soft and as mushy as an Uttam Suchitra Bengali love story. These are, if memory serves me correct, made with gur (jaggery) from Joynogor, a suburb to the South of Calcutta. The speciality of this is that you get it only in winter. Come November and little stalls would set up in local markets selling joynagorer moa and patali gur. The latter is the most prized of Bengali jaggeries. Again a winter speciality. They would both slowly fade away as February ended bringing in Spring and Summer together.

The moa shops could be cigarette shops converted for the season. Or annexes of existing shops. You would traditionally not find Joynagorer Moa in sweet shops or ‘Mishtir Dokans’. Though they did make an entry into sweets shops in the late 90s. You would normally get two varieties. Regular and Special. The latter would be slightly larger and have a couple of extra raisins on them. They would be sold in white paper boxes. If you were buying a dozen. Else in paper bags made with newspapers. They used to cost 50 and 1 Re and then 1 Re and 2 Rs before I left Calcutta in the late 90s.

Joynagorer Moas were excruciatingly sweet. Appealed to the most unspoilt of taste buds. Had a touch of nectar to them. They were soft. Virginal and cherubic.You could almost bite them and then slowly swallow them barring the odd dry rice husk. Bite into them and you could only feel love, warmth and joy around you. Simple and pure pleasures. Plump, cuddly, little bursts of joy.

Joynagorer Moas were my constant companions through winters as I grew up under some fairy dramatic changes of fortunes. Winters meant incessant sneezing, cricket matches, vacations, Christmas, New Year, my birthday, Saraswati Puja and, always in the background, were joynagorer moas.

I never went back to Calcutta in winter once I left the city. Memories of wheezing through nights of its smoky and polluted winters haunted me. I had made it a point never to go back during winter.

It’s been close to twelve years since I have seen Joynagorer Moas. Or tasted them.

These excellent photographs kindly clicked and sent by Sudeshna who runs the very impressive blog, Cooks Like a Bong, brought back memories of a very dear old friend.

Photo Credit: Sudeshna Banerjee of Cook Like a Bong

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Filed under Bengali food, desserts, Food musings, From the hip