Nondon Bagchi, a Kolkata-based musician and food aficionado, loves Anglo-Indian cuisine because it was a style of cooking that embraced everything that was Indian and mixed it up with all that was European.
Chef Sharad Dewan of The Park, Kolkata, puts it a little differently: “It is an Indian cuisine of a certain community influenced by British, French and Portuguese cooking styles. It changes from one region to another, especially when it comes to spices.” So in the south, Anglo-Indian dishes tend to use pepper, cinnamon, cardamom; in the Goa-Mumbai belt, souring agents such as vinegar and kokum are popular, whereas in the east, the gravies use less spice.
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“However, you will notice that the basic recipes remain the same. The ingredients change in accordance to the availability of local items. For example, the Railway Mutton Curry made in Kolkata is likely to use mustard oil, while in Bangalore we will use sunflower oil. Or the aloo chop in Kolkata will be more like the Bengali kobiraji cutlet and use a lamb mince filling, while in the south or Goa, the chop will have a beef mince filling,” says Bangalore-based Bridget White-Kumar, who has authored six books on Anglo-Indian cuisine.
Be it Mulligatawny soup, mutton chop, Devil Chutney, veg croquettes, caramel custard or bread pudding, this cuisine retained a distinct entity as it evolved in different parts of the country, and retained a commonality that anyone familiar with old-style clubs and gymkhanas in India will find easy to identify with. “Walk into any club that has been around since the early 1900s and order the good old chicken roast. You are unlikely to get the British version which just uses garlic, thyme, pepper and salt. The roast will have turmeric, ginger and maybe even a garnish of coriander. While the technique of cooking is not tampered with much, at least in the earlier part of the last century, the khansamas (cooks) of the Raj most certainly did add local spices and ingredients to escape the blandness of European food,” says Delhi-based caterer Rajyasree Sen, who runs Food For Thought, which specializes in Bengali and Anglo-Indian cuisine.
Colonial hangover: Rajyasree Sen says Raj-era clubs serve the best Anglo-Indian dishes. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
“Perhaps the additions started when the cooks moved out of European home kitchens and started cooking at clubs. Here, they could experiment and add spices that were often missing and tough to include in kitchens run by British madams,” says Bagchi.
Among the common ingredients of this fusion cuisine are Kharagpur masala (common in the east), vinegar, tamarind or kokum used as souring agents, turmeric, Worcestershire sauce or ketchup, green chillies and ginger. “The Kharagpur masala is a milder version of garam masala. This one does not have black or green cardamom, and is named after the old Raj railway town Kharagpur. In the east, you will find people using this masala-mix for dishes such as the RailwayMutton Curry all the time,” says Dewan. White-Kumar says another significant departure from pure European cuisines was the accompaniment of rice and rolls (or chapati) with main-course dishes rather than sticking to bread all the time. “In fact, the famous mince ball curry or kofta curry is served with either saffron or turmeric coconut rice.”
Mutton Crumb Chops
4 mutton chops—ask the butcher to flatten them
2 tsp pepper powder
2 eggs, beaten well
2 onions, grated finely, with the juice squeezed out
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp parsley
Salt to taste
4-5 tbsp oil
Marinate the mutton chops in salt, pepper, parsley, ginger and onion paste, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and ketchup overnight, or for a couple of hours at least, in the fridge. Heat oil in a flat frying pan. Dip the chops one at a time in the beaten eggs and then cover with breadcrumbs. Shallow-fry in the hot oil on low heat until golden brown on each side.
Take a cup of raisins, add 2 tsp grated ginger, a couple of chopped green chillies, 2 tbsp tamarind paste, 1/2 tsp powdered red chilli, 1 tsp sugar and salt to taste. Add a glug of vinegar. Purée in the mixer. Serve with mutton crumb chops or with masoor dal and rice.
Recipes courtesy Rajyasree Sen.