There’s a branch of desi food that has never received attention: how Indian food has travelled beyond our shores. It isn’t so surprising when you consider how much legwork the research would involve. So if you’re in Trinidad and Tobago, you’ll find Buss-Up-Shut; go to Malaysia and every last food court has Roti Canai, and in South Africa you’ll get to sample Bunny Chow.
Now here’s the inexplicable part: None of these dishes exist inside India, at least not in their present from. I would have never got to hear of Buss-Up-Shut had it not been for Manu Mohindra, a consultant chef for around 300 restaurants, including Shalom in New Delhi and On the Rocks in Goa. I spotted it on the menu of one of his client restaurants and was intrigued by the name. It turned out that a community of Indians who left centuries ago for Trinidad and Tobago made chicken, goat or potato curry with a thick gravy, poured it into a double fold of roomali roti and folded it over neatly so that it became a perfect triangle—just like a sandwich. It’s the ultimate meal-on-the-go, eaten piping hot with a can of chilled beer.
Meal-on-the-go: Buss-Up-Shut has different curry fillings. Photo: Manu Mohindra
Café Style in Noida had another one of Mohindra’s trump cards. This one was in the sandwich section and was called Bunny Chow, which I immediately put down to a chef’s prank. In response, I was solemnly handed a book called Curry by Lizzie Collingham, in which she has documented the origins of Bunny Chow. Apparently, it is a perfectly bona fide dish, more or less invented by the Indian community of banias who had settled down in South Africa. They weren’t allowed to open restaurants because of the apartheid law, but because nobody said that they couldn’t sell food at all, they hollowed out loaves of bread, filled them with curried mince, put the tops back on again and sold these meals-on-the-go.
Collingham hypothesizes that “bunny” is probably a corruption of bania, but my mind boggles at the thought of a strictly vegetarian community making a living selling meat.
Any visitor to Malaysia or Singapore would be familiar with Roti Canai and Roti Pratha. That they are the preserve of Indian settlers in the Straits in times gone by is clear because even today, it is the people of Indian origin who run the stalls. Roti Canai is a meal consisting of a flaky, fluffy paratha made of refined flour that is eaten with a curry that contains elements of south India (curry leaves) as well as South-East Asia (lemon grass).
It will be available soon at Lighthouse 13, a restaurant in Delhi’s DLF Mall being set up by Mohindra.
For the ‘roti’
6 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
Vegetable oil, as needed
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add butter and crumble into mixture. Add water slowly and mix to form a dough. Knead and let it stand for 30 minutes. Knead again and then divide into eight balls. On a flour board, roll out each ball as thinly as possible using a pastry roller. Spread some vegetable oil with a brush on a large flat griddle, or tawa, and place it over medium heat until the oil is hot. Place each roti on the griddle and cook for about one and a half minutes per side, coating each side with vegetable oil as it cooks. Tear the cooked roti into strips (the term buss-up-shutcomes from “burst-up shirt”as the strips resemble torn pieces of cloth).
For the vegetable curry
100g green peas (uncooked)
100g sweet potato
60ml vegetable oil
45g curry powder
15ml chilli paste or Caribbean hot sauce
30g raw mango chutney
Salt to taste
Chop the onion and garlic. Peel and cut the potatoes into cubes, the carrot into thick slices, the pumpkin into dices and the sweet potato into roundels (plantain and even unripe papaya can be added). Heat the oil and cook the onion and garlic. Add curry powder and all the cut vegetables except the green peas. Cook till the onion starts to brown, then add water and bring to boil. Cover and lower the heat to simmer and cook for about 7-8 minutes till the potatoes start to get soft. Now add the green peas and cook for 5 more minutes till all the vegetables are tender and the potatoes start to fall apart.
Cook till the gravy is reduced to a fairly thick sauce, and before taking it off the flame, season with salt, add the raw mango chutney and hot sauce. Place the curry at the centre of the roti and fold it from all sides so that it makes a neat packet, or alternatively, tear up the roti into bits and have them with the curry.
Write to Marryam at firstname.lastname@example.org