15 July, 2008

Food in Fiction - The Character Eats

Enough and more has been written about food by Chef’s , Dieticians, Nutritionists, Experts, Gourmet’s and all other pretenders ( "yours truly" included ) who would quite serenely address themselves under the ‘hip’ sobriquet “Foodie”. 

Here I would bring your attention to authors of fiction and the characters they have created and their taste in food. Authors through their characters display a distinct fondness to certain choice items in food and drink. This has been my observation.

When the bartender asked “What’s your poison?" & James Bond answered “One Large Martini. Very dry, shaken and not stirred” in Casino Royale, the Martini was never the same anymore. From that moment on, the Martini belonged to Bond.

Shakespeare the most prolific author of all times doesn’t look like he enjoyed food too much. All his characters lived and breathed emotions, they are not shown eating much. There are only Feasts , without too great an attention to the menu
( imagine the great bard being faulted for this.. ;-) and goblets of wine, but that’s all, nothing more does he write.

Hercule Poirot , created by Agatha Christie was made Belgian. This by itself is the key cornerstone for all his colorful eccentricities. Those that very starkly and charmingly stand out in the staid Victorian milieu of Christies London and English countryside. Poirot drank Hot Chocolate with much relish or asked for a measure of bitter Tisane and smoked dainty small Egyptian cigarettes while sitting inside heated rooms with his muffler on.

When Dashiell Hammett, the father of the modern detective novel & a former Pinkerton Detective himself, started writing, the detectives became real and earthy. He was the one who created the chain smoking detective.This was the norm until the nineties after which smoking wasn't cool anymore. Then the Cops and Detectives in books and movies started popping chewing gum, jelly beans and the like. They stuck to takeaways, bagels or doughnuts and lots of black coffee on their stakeouts.

But my prize for the most dedicated foodie author goes to Lawrence Sanders. No author has had his lead characters relish food and lavish attention on food as much as Sanders . He created three characters across his series of books. Edward Delaney- The tough ponderous cop in the Sin & Commandments series, Timothy Cone- The financial sleuth who cracks open wall street shenanigans and finally the dashing
Archibald McNally- The discreet enquiries investigator of a Florida law firm. All of Sander’s characters gorge on food. Supermarket food, street food and all else. They make all kinds of combo dishes as they go about their business.

Delaney favours huge wet sandwiches. He eats them while bending over the kitchen sink , as the relish would drip. His huge bites, through strong yellowed teeth and ruminous munching , is almost soul searching in its nature.

Timothy is a grunge eater. His food is not just messy; He and his neutered cat Cleo dig the same kind of food. Pizzas, strips of bacon, may they be hot or frozen ,stale and sometimes mouldy even are washed down with frozen vodka and Camel cigarettes.

The stylish gourmet is McNally. He has great food in equally polished settings. He dines at his club or at his residence. His family is really well-to-do and employ cordon bleu cooks who serve the choiciest of creations. His involvement and additions to the menu at his Pelican Club is not just funny but spectacular in its fastidiousness. His drinks are varied cocktails , His cigarettes English Ovals, Even his medium rare hamburger with accompaniments is a work of art.

“Eat and be merry for life is but a song
now that breakfast & lunch are over, I wait for the dinner gong”

11 July, 2008

Best Kheema Pau's of Mumbai

India is a cornucopia of culinary delights.

The same dish takes on a regional flavour as you go from north to south and east to west of the country. The Tomato soup ( a fairly mundane example ) takes on the form of a saar in the coastal regions of western India till it goes eastwords towards the four southern states of India and takes on the identity of Rasam. Adaptions sometimes creates altogether new dishes which then have its own identity. Like the absence of tomatoes would have the people used to having rasam substitute it with, another sour agent , like Tamarind . ( Here I am not going into what came first the Rasam using pulli :Tamarind or the Tomato its just to make a case on culinary identity)

So also has been the case with the mince. Kheema as a dish has been largely set aside as a staple in comparison to its more dynamic or romantic cousins namely the Kebabs and the Kofta's and the Biryani's. From times immemorial the various kingdoms of the Indian sub continent have had at their behest Maharaj's , Bawarchi's and Khansama's of phenomenal skills. Sampling the culinary delights of these kitchens would be an honour unparalleled that led to certain dishes being accorded a local speciality status. Thus we have the Hyderabadi Biryani, Kashmiri Koftas and the Kakori kebabs. In no small measure did the kebabs and koftas use mince , in fact it was an integral part of it. However on its own no province or community owned and made the kheema , develop its own standing in the culinary food chain , as the Irani and the Muslim restaurants of Mumbai or Bombay as it was known then.

Today we do not have many Irani restaurants present , fast track realty price upgradations and cost of living in the major cities have often had owners relinquish their superbly located corner commercial properties to high priced buyers. In the rush of economic progress a tradition is swamped and becoming extinct.

The best places for Kheema pau in Mumbai are

Hotel Naaz - Kurla (W) on LBS marg. Opposite the Mukand foundry campus nestles this quaint place which was earlier a taxi and transporters paradise. Now it has grown to have its own family and air conditioned sections and is worth a visit. Today it is a landmark by itself.

Gulshan -E - Iran : Opposite Crawford Market . Getting a seat here on even an odd week day is difficult . The air conditioned section used to be upstairs and was under renovation off late. But the kheema sampled with either pau or tandoori roti is superb. While here you can also try the other delights. Gulshan -E -Iran is exceptional with their chicken items.

Hotel Sassaniyan : This is another place near Marine Lines which is an authentic Irani restaurant , one of the surviving breed . Here apart from Kheema Pau the traditional parsi cuisine can be sampled . If u reach at times which are not meal times not to worry..even a simple chai-khari is heaven. The ambience is old world.

Hotel Kayani : This is another Bakery Restaurant Stores the other stalwart of the surviving Irani restaurants. Opposite Metro Cinema . Here after the kheema Pau , the meal should be rounded of with a Bun -Muskaa and Paani kum Chai.

Noor Mohammadi Hotel ; Bhendi bazaar, on Mohammed Ali Road close to JJ Hospital is this unique place. Kheema Pau is not the dish this eatery is famous for, however the one available is nothing short of excellent. The mince is beef. Here the options for meals are huge. The Nalli-Nihari for which this restaurant is famous across India is available in the evenings , Try the Shammi kebabs here, you shall be a convert to mince in no time , like I have been. This place operates on a very modest price tag so u would end up sharing your table with a hand cart puller, but all here for a common higher purpose..justice to food cooked and served with devotion.

Cafe Bostan : On the way to Goregaon serves some good kheema pau. But this one still has leagues to go before it achieves that cult status. But its mutton masala is truly nice.

Cafe Sahar : On the way to the International Airport beyond the Godfrey Phillips cigarette factory is another gem of a place. Kheema roti is what you order. Though the waiters would discourage you from having it,and instead would throw at u " try the arabi gosht, the lucknavi " all slightly high end and good . They would even go to the extreme of saying not available today. Kheema traditionally is staple simple low margin food and any waiter trying for an up-selling effort may be excused .

Jafferbhai's Delhi Durbar : Grant Road, the pride of this area. This place is known across for its ultimate Mutton Biryani. The Kheema here is quite phenomenal too. The place reminds you of VT railway station so much is the streaming crowd in and out of this restaurant. The aroma of this place would set your tatse buds flowing. Strictly for the meat lovers. The other restaurant by the same name at Colaba causeway is better suited for the corporate crowd, but the genuine foodie wont mind the walk down Grant Road enjoying the colourful apsects of Mumbai while he seeks his satisfaction.

This list is by no means exhaustive or complete. Please feel free to add your personal favorites and suggest places. It will only mean that there still are more places to visit and more culinary mountains to be scaled.

10 July, 2008

The Anytime Food - Kheema Pau

Kheema Pau: A whole blog space in this name? Then again why not?
Is this going to be a boring lesson on the history of kheema (lamb/beef mince)?

Is this a spectacular pinnacle of cuisine? Nope, mince is mince the world over till it becomes Kheema mutter at the hands of Bawarchi’s of Irani / Parsee restaurants.

Now it is transformed into a delight that can be a sizzling breakfast, a quick lunch or a leisurely dinner too. The vegetarians would be exempt from this account as they have not been done justice to here..

Story of the recipe’

Eating it often at a city Irani restaurant which is so famous, I got to know the owner chaacha ( uncle ) personally and asked him the recipe. Chaacha looked at me and said “ tumko kya lagta hai, hum bolega aur tumko kheema banana aa jayega” ( I shall tell u the recipe and u shall become an expert at it ) when I persisted he told me that a lot of factors go into making the perfect kheema . We also don’t hit the right note everyday, but when we do “poorey mohalley ko maloom padta hai ki aaj ke khaaney me jaadu hai”. ( the whole neighborhood is in the know that something magical is on the plates today)
The make of the vessels in which the mince is cleaned and marinated with a twig of mint are thick Aluminum, Hindalium is what he said , tumharey aeroplane is patrey se banaatey hai. In my quest for the recipe I didn’t dare doubt his claim.
Purists like the chaacha here would never make the mince in a grinder but it would be fine chopped on a wooden block with a sharp thick knife. The speed at which this process goes and the hand-eye co-ordination involved is a treat to watch. One blow missed by a millimeter and a complete finger would be lopped off. Doing it this way apparently preserves the juices in the meat than in a grinder which squeezes them out, hence the taste is never the same. Green papaya is sliced fine (so fine that you can see the other side thru the slice) and mixed with the mince in a pot to tenderize it.

The Recipe for serving 4

500 gm of lamb mince
50 gms green peas
1 twig of mint &
1 small green papaya
3 bay leaves
1 small ginger about 10 gms
3 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp saunf / fennel seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 coconut, dry and grated or ready 3 tbsp of gratings
2 large onions: 1 finely chopped & 1 for rings
1/2 a bunch fresh green coriander leaves
4 tablespoon of ground nut oil
1 tomato
1 teaspoon red chilli powder & turmeric powder
salt to taste

Preparation Method
Finely chop the green papaya and with the mint leaves mix it with the mince and allow mixture to stay for half an hour.

Take the bay leaves, coconut, chopped onion, 2 tablespoon garam masala, fennel and coriander seeds and roast them on medium flame for few minutes till they start to crackle and smoke. Remove it in a grinder and add chopped tomatoes to it and grind it into a fine paste. In the same pan pour in the oil and on a medium flame add this ground masala paste till it changes colour , now add the mince and green peas with the sprig of mint and papaya into this pan and stir well. Add a little water and cover the pan with a lid. Allow it to simmer for fifteen minutes to half an hour ( tenderized mince wont take long to cook ) . Sprinkle red chilli powder, a little garam masala and salt to taste from top if so desired.

While serving garnish with finely chopped ginger & coriander ( This is sprinkled on the kheema in the serving dish) , onion rings and slices of lemon. Accompanied by fresh Pau. A glorious meal awaits. Try it taste it and let me know ..those who find grated coconut a boor can add a tbsp of coconut milk instead..all allowable or can do away with it too..some who would find this too spicy can increase the fried onion content more rather than sugar..the sweetness that onions impart is natural and less cloying on the tongue. Enjoy.

08 July, 2008

The Spectator

He was a spectator.
He loved watching the game of life as it played, enjoying the skill displayed by its players. The strategies they implemented, swift and subtle, slow and deliberate. The cut and thrust of the action while seeing it all from a distance .

In the field of arts or sport, the line between the spectator and the player is clearly defined, but in the game of life the same is often blurred... He though could see it very clearly, almost crystal and would wonder why others could not. He kept his position.

Some people are born to the game and seek it, some have it thrust upon them not out of choice but circumstances while some reluctantly join it out of sheer frustration of the game not being played well. He belonged to this category. He had liked to watch but only when the game was played right, with those special skills that makes it a glorious spectator sport.

A passive spectator he never was and would never be. Like it or not one does get involved. So did he. He found himself in the ring of play, the first time, almost nudged by his will, and this did not stop with that one instance but happened time and again.

To his wonder he found he could play, was playing and playing it well. Now he had spectators who enjoyed his play. This became clear from the fact that his moves were cheered, his victories lauded and even when he stumbled he got support.

The rules of the game changed for him. Now he was a player and not a spectator. When the game threw curved deliveries, he parried them and deep inside he knew that he had grown; grown to play better, unafraid and bold. Like sport, life too plays differently for players and spectators.

It struck him now, on how far had he come and the closing lines of the Robert Frost poem came to him “Two roads diverged into the wood and I took the one less traveled by and it has made all the difference”