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Food Pilgrimages | The united cuisines of India

Food Pilgrimages | The united cuisines of India
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First Published: Sat, Jan 05 2008. 01 45 AM IST

Workers preparing the meat for a wedding feast in Kashmir. (IndiaPicture)
Workers preparing the meat for a wedding feast in Kashmir. (IndiaPicture)
Updated: Sat, Jan 05 2008. 01 45 AM IST
38. A Wazwan meal, Kashmir
Workers preparing the meat for a wedding feast in Kashmir. (IndiaPicture)
The traditional communal feast consists of innumerable courses of meat that culminate with the gushtaba (meat balls cooked in a thin yogurt-based gravy). The Kashmiri Cookbook by the Kilams (self-published) explains the arduous process of beating the meat to a pulp. Using a wooden mallet called goshpar and a flat stone, boneless pieces of meat are pounded, while boiled suet (fat from kidneys and loins) is added at regular intervals. After repeating the process numerous times, a paste of arrowroot, garam masala, salt and water is added, creating an impossibly smooth texture.
(Mughal Darbar on Residency Road, Srinagar, serves Wazwan for Rs350 per person.)
39. Strawberries cream, Mahabaleshwar
There is only one right time for a trip to this hill station in Maharashtra—strawberry season. From November to April, berries are picked and pulverized into jams, juices, squashes and jellies, but that’s all secondary. Strawberries and cream are the real reason to visit Mahabaleshwar. A tall pilsner glass is layered with small, just-picked berries (sweeter than the larger variety), sweetened fresh cream and strawberry crush. Most eating establishments offer it, but head for the smaller shacks which have strawberry gardens attached. Often, the owners will take you through the strawberry beds and let you pick a few berries as your treat is readied. Mulberry and raspberry versions are also available, but your responsibility should be to the real thing.
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A glass costs Rs60-100.
40. Shrewsbury biscuits at Kayani Bakery, Pune
It is surprising how a biscuit that tastes like a little piece of heaven can be produced by a bunch of surly bakers. But if your shop was overrun at all times of day by desperate buyers, and if your daily production of 200kg of Shrewsbury biscuits was not enough to satisfy them, maybe you would be surly too.
Kayani Bakery in Pune’s Camp area is best known for that buttery golden circle known as the Shrewsbury; but if you’re not lucky enough to get a cardboard boxful of those, try the Walnut Chocolate Cake or the Currant Cake. If you want a savoury option, you can’t do better than the dome-like batasa or Elaichi Butter as they’re called. So the next time you’re in Pune, push through the crowd at Kayani. It’s so worth it.
Shrewsbury biscuits at Kayani Bakery cost Rs120 per kg.
41. A meal at a traditional Chinese eating house, Old Chinatown, Kolkata
Though its more recent and conspicuous cousin, Tangra, hogs most of the limelight, it is the old Chinatown around Torretta Bazaar that was chosen by the earliest Chinese settlers in Kolkata as their home. In the next lane off Ganesh Chandra Avenue (formerly Mission Row) is Eau Chew, a 70-year-old eating house run by the fourth generation of the original Chinese family. Josephine Huang, who runs the restaurant along with her husband, swears by her authentic steamed fish and roast duck.
The dishes cost Rs300-450 each, depending on the size of the fish or the duck.
42. Salty butter tea, Leh
In Ladakhi households, we make this tea once in the morning and keep it in a thermos for guests,” says Gulam Mustafa, owner of Hotel Dragon and Hotel Grand Dragon in Leh. The basic ras is extracted from green tea by boiling it for 2-3 hours once in a few days, and then taking as much as is required for the daily supply. The tea, called gur-gur chai, derives its name from the wooden mixer (generally 2-3 ft long and around four inches in diameter) in which it is pounded with milk, butter and salt. “Only then you get good tea,” says Mustafa, “since the fat does not float on the surface of the tea, but is mixed thoroughly with the liquid.”
Always remember to keep your cup half full to signal you’re not done.
Hotel Grand Dragon (01982-255266) can also do gur-gur chai on demand.
43. Kebab trail, Lucknow
Ghulam Qureshi, master chef at ITC Maurya, New Delhi, lists his favourite kebab haunts in his native city of Lucknow: Tunde Kebab in Aminabad for galouti kebabs; Chotte Nawab restaurant in Sagar International Hotel, Jopling Road, for kakori kebabs; Rahim Kebabwale in Kashmiri Mohalla for boti kebabs.
44. The original Hyderabadi biryani
There is a saying in Hyderabad which goes, ‘He who has tasted the biryani of Hyderabad or consorted with a Hyderabadi woman will always return for more’,” says Pratibha Karan, former bureaucrat and author of A Princely Legacy—Hyderabadi Cuisine. According to her, some Hyderabadi biryanis are richly blended with herbs and spices while others are understated and refined, with an emphasis on aroma.
Karan says biryanis are also served at Hyderabad weddings. “Almost as a rule, two biryanis are served in a wedding dinner. The popular ones are Zafrani Biryani and Katchi Biryani. A vegetarian biryani, called Tahiri, is also a must. It is the highlight of the dinner,” says Karan.
Karan recommends Paradise restaurant in Secunderabad and Nizam Club opposite the state assembly.
45. A meal at Wasabi by Morimoto, Mumbai
This Japanese eatery at The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Mumbai, is touted as India’s most expensive restaurant. Sous chef Sadik Khan recommends the following dishes from the menu:
Toro Tartare (prized tuna belly combined with fresh and fried shallots); Warm White Fish Carpaccio (sliced white fish rubbed with ginger, garlic and chopped mitsuba, topped with hot oil and yuzu soy); Black Cod Miso (cod marinated with white miso, broiled and served with su miso); Chilean Sea Bass (sea bass steamed twice; first in sake and then with black beans); and Newspaper Vegetable Beggars Purse (wasabi crepes stuffed with mushrooms and asparagus, served with yuzu vinaigrette and yuzu cream cheese).
A meal for two, without alcohol, costs approximately Rs8,000.
46. ‘Malpua’ and ‘Dalma’ behind the Jagannath Temple, Puri
This delicious breakfast option is available in the lanes surrounding the temple. Malpua is a deep-fried bread made from a batter of white flour, milk and salt or sugar. A plate of two medium-sized malpuas is served with a bowl of dalma, a gravy concoction unique to Orissa, made of lentils, pumpkin, brinjal and sweet potatoes, and cooked in ghee.
Outside and behind the Jagannath Temple, Puri. The dish typically costs Rs20.
47. Chai at Shiva Café, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala
The Bhagsunag Falls are approximately 2km from McLeod Ganj, and the walk there takes 20 minutes. Shiva Café is a small bamboo-encased restaurant on the side of the waterfall, with pretty paper lanterns and wooden stools. It is a welcome stop before you head down towards the falls to dip your feet in the ice-cold water. The high is coming back up for a quick chai after experiencing the freezing water. “Shiva Café is a definite must-do when I am in Dharamsala,” says Janice Pariat, project editor, Dorling Kindersly, who has just returned from McLeod Ganj
Cost of chai: Rs20, cost of walk: priceless.
48. Drinks at Dewar’s, Bangalore
One for the queen: Old pictures on display at Dewar’s in Bangalore. (Hemant Mishra / Mint)
Started in the late 1920s and modelled on the London pubs of old, this bar still carries remnants of a time when soldiers would congregate around the giant central rosewood table and the old furniture sourced from Singapore. Apart from the eclectic clientele, which ranges from construction workers to the well-heeled, the bar boasts a number of oddities. Placed alongside images of Hindu deities is a picture of Queen Elizabeth II. Owner K. Varadaraj says many years ago a bloke called Jackson, who was a regular at the bar, gifted the picture. The bar also refuses to entertain any requests from patrons for music. “A few days before my father passed away in 1990,” explains Varadaraj, “he told me not to change anything at the bar.”
Located on Cockburn Road in Bangalore Cantonment area, Dewar’s also serves a decent Western-style Fried Kingfish (Rs80) and Kheema Omelette (Rs40).
49. Juice at the Haji Ali Juice Centre, Mumbai
While writer Suketu Mehta was researching his book Maximum City (2004), he got a strong health recommendation from a gangster—juice at the Haji Ali Juice Centre. For Rs150, the Centre will puree pomegranates, smash strawberries or cut up coconuts for your refreshment. Bright stacks of fruits line the walls, and crowds block the register. While many flock here during the day after a visit to the Haji Ali Dargah, the place really comes alive after dark and doesn’t close shutters until 1am. Mehta writes, “The breeze that comes in off the sea from the west cools you, and the iced juice with a little masala refreshes you.”
50. Bun-‘maska’ at an Irani café, Mumbai
The quintessential plebeian breakfast of a liberally buttered sweet bun best glides down the throat with a strong, sugary, milky chai. Don’t scoff at the old man at the next table who’s drinking his tea out of a saucer. Don’t be put off by the legendary rudeness of the waiters, don’t nit-pick, don’t jump at the ants, and don’t compare. Just eat this slice of history and think about the time that once was.
At B Merwan and Co., Grant Road, for Rs6.
51. ‘Chenna poda’ and ‘rasagullas’, Orissa
On NH5—between Cuttack and Bhubaneswar—at a place called Pahala, local villagers have set up around 100 small roadside shops which sell chenna poda (baked Indian cottage cheese cubes) 24x7, and most of the time you can also get hot rasagullas. Bibhu Prasad, trainee, National Aluminum Co. Ltd, Bhubaneswar, also recommends Salepur near Cuttack for rasagullas.
Chenna poda costs around Rs100 per kg and rasagullas come in various sizes, for Rs1-10 per piece.
52. Hornet larvae delicacy, Nagaland
The following recipe is from the book Naga Ethnic Cuisine...a class of its own, published by Nagaland Women Voluntary Association:
Pfhidi-Calhe
Ingredients:
1kg choice larvae
2 ripe tomatoes
7-8 sliced green chillies
1 tbsp crushed garlic and ginger
4 tbsp cooking oil
2 medium-sized onions finely chopped
Salt to taste
Method:
Remove the larvae from the hive, put them in 1 litre of salted water and boil for an hour, or till dry. Remove from heat. In a frying pan, heat oil and stir-fry the onions. Add the garlic paste, chillies and sliced tomatoes. After cooking for 10-15 minutes, mix the larvae and ginger paste and continue frying for 15-20 minutes. Allow the moisture to evaporate fully. Serve hot.
53. Fish curry rice at a beach shack, Goa
Fashion designer Wendell Rodricks, who has also been trained in hotel management, recommends Joets on Bogmalo beach for its fish curry and rice. “Not only is their fish curry rice great, they serve an unique Goan sausage-stuffed naan. They have an excellent terrace that overlooks the entire beach,” says Rodricks. He prefers Joets over other shacks as its food “tastes home-made, and Selvie, who runs the place with his brother and sister, makes the ambience very family-like.”
54. Langar at Golden Temple, Amritsar
The langar (a community free kitchen) feeds about 40,000-50,000 people everyday, and is on almost 24 hours (except for an hour-long break in the evening for prayers). Each day, it requires 500kg wheat, 2-2.5 tonnes pulses, 350kg desi ghee, around 250kg rice and five cans of pickles.
55. ‘Makki ki roti’, ‘sarson da saag’ at a highway dhaba
Winter kick: A robust meal to keep you going on your highway drives. (IndiaPicture)
As you drive from New Delhi to Chandigarh, a little ahead of Sonepat on the Grand Trunk Road is a town called Murthal, known for little else than the profusion of dhabas that line the highway around this area. Gurgaon-based Rohit Bhalla, who owns a garment buying house, drives down this highway each winter looking forward to some makki ki roti, sarson da saag, a dollop of white butter and a glass of lassi at his favourite dhaba: Ahuja No. 1.
56. Parsi ‘lagan nu bhonu’
Tanaz Godiwalla, who has been catering for lagan nu bhonu (wedding feast) for more than 20 years, lists the pillars of a Parsi wedding feast: Saas Ni Machi (sweet and spicy pomfret cooked in a thick sauce and garnished with chopped coriander and cherry tomatoes); Patra Ni Machi (pomfret steamed in plaintain leaves and wrapped in a spicy green coconut chutney); Salli Marghi (chicken cooked in red tomato-based gravy, sprinkled with potato straw wafers); Kid Ghosht (lamb cooked in a cashew-based gravy) and Mutton Pulao. Don’t forget the Dukes Raspberry.
57. Meal at a Chettinad restaurant, Chennai
Gigi Mathew, managing director of business development in a software company and a self-confessed foodie, recommends Velu Military Hotel on Valluvar Kottam High Road, Nungambakkam, as an ideal place to sample some Chettinad delicacies. There is no menu here. In good old desi style, a large basin with whatever is ready is carried around the restaurant and patrons can choose their lunch, depending on what appears most enticing. Mathew’s picks: Rabbit Masala (less than Rs100, depending on availability) and Brain Fry (Rs55).
58. The smoked ‘hilsa’ at Kewpie’s Kitchen, Kolkata
Rakhi Purnima Dasgupta, owner of the iconic Bengali-Kolkata cuisine restaurant, says smoked hilsa is now available through the year and not just during hilsa season (July to October). The recipe is her mother’s, and a tribute to the city’s Anglo-Indian community. It calls for an iron girdle to be placed on high heat, layered with sand and sprinkled with khoi (puffed rice). The fish fillet is cooked skin side down on the khoi; then a marinade of Worcestershire sauce, anchovy sauce, tomato sauce and caramelized sugar is poured over it. The fish cooks while absorbing the aromatic smoke from the rice; it is carefully deboned after it is cooked using two knives, and served with juliennes of potato.
Smoked hilsa at Kewpie’s Kitchen costs Rs180 plus taxes, per portion.
59. ‘Pandi’ curry and ‘kadumbuttu’, Coorg
The spicy pandi (pork) curry has a signature black colour and tartness imparted by black vinegar derived from the kokam fruit. In addition, it uses a masala that is a mixture of cumin, cinnamon, coriander, cloves and pepper. Legend has it that the curry is closely related to the custom of karana kadupa, a special ceremony in which the ancestors are honoured by sacrificing a pig. It is served with kadumbuttu (rice dumplings), which is made from broken rice.
Restaurants rarely serve pandi curry and kadumbuttu. Get yourself invited to a Coorgi home or try it at a home stay in the Coorg area.
60. Pigeon (‘paro’) delicacies at Khorikaa, Guwahati
Try these traditional Assamese dishes at the popular Guwahati restaurant:
Pigeon with Pepper (thick gravy spiced with pepper, cumin seeds, onion, ginger paste and mustard oil); Pigeon with Potatoes (cooked with potatoes in a light curry);
Paro Kol Phool (banana flowers are boiled, the water drained, and then added to the dish); Pigeon Curry (a basic watery curry).
All these dishes are served with Joha rice (Rs30). All cost Rs100. Khorikaa is on GS Road, Ulubari, Guwahati.
(Text by Arjun Razdan, Sumana Mukherjee, Melissa A. Bell and Aarti Basnyat)
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First Published: Sat, Jan 05 2008. 01 45 AM IST