Photo- essay : ‘Shakahar pradarshani’ in Jain Group of Temples, Khajuraho

As we made our way through the Jain Group of Temples in Khajuraho we stumbled upon this gem – a permanent exhibit on vegetarianism.

An exhibition dedicated to vegetarianism

An exhibition dedicated to vegetarianism

Egg-talk

Egg-talk

Factsheet about death rate among egg-eaters and non-egg eaters

Factsheet about death rate among egg-eaters and non-egg eaters

Could not make sense of this !

Could not make sense of this !

World famous veg personalities !!

World famous veg personalities !!

Religion and Vegetarianism

Religion and Vegetarianism

Things to do and not to do - How to be a good child?

Things to do and not to do – How to be a good child?

Medicalisation, health benefits and much more

Medicalisation, health benefits and much more

©itiriti

Beyond Portuguese, Bengalis and Odiyas : in response to recent claims regarding origin of rosogolla

Legends of origin of sweets, as I have pointed out offers a fascinating way to understand ‘ecologies of production’ – a term I borrow from Heather Paxson’s work on artisanal cheesemaking. In an ethnographic work on artisanal cheesemaking in America, Paxson tries to map how each form of artisanal cheesemaking is shaped by the farmstead and local ecologies that contributes to farm labour and sensory qualities of cheese including its naming. ‘Ecologies of production’, in other words, allows us to understand that production of food commodities is a result of resource extraction as well as transformation of natural to cultural through cooking techniques that are a product of availability of resources, cooking methods and producers who work upon a material to produce a food. The food on our plates are products of foodways shaped by migration, exploitation and extraction of resources and hence it’s time to think of what we claim and call our own is a product of shared ecologies of production?
Any confectioner/ karigar/ homemaker who have prepared rosogolla would clearly testify that preparing this sweet is not an easy job. The primary ingredient of rosogolla is chhana and sugar syrup. A biography of rosogolla in other words needs to be located in the ecologies that produced chhana, sugar and a boiling technique which resulted in a moist spongy textured sweet that became synonymous with ‘Bengali’ sweets.

What is chhana? As most of us know, chhana is a soft mass of curdled milk. Sweetmakers resort to whey water of previous day to curdle the milk. After that, the water is strained through a muslin cloth to remove excess water. There are several claims to chhana’s origins as to do with rosogolla. Most of the legends of origin of chhana based sweets particularly that of sandesh takes us to few towns in Hooghly district. It is not a mere coincidence that origins of chhana can be traced to Hooghly district. Let me take you through some of the writings of food historian K.T. Achaya, food writings of Chitrita Banerjee as well as Chermaine O Brian who have explained this further in their work. ‘Chhana’ as Writendranath Tagore in his book Mudir Dokan writes can be traced to chhinna which means spoiled milk. Food historian, K.T.Achaya tells us of Vedic proscriptions around use of spoiled milk in ritual festivities and Banerjee and O Brien tells us of the Portuguese contribution in use of chhana in Bengali’s food culture. Both Banerjee and O Brien mentions that the local confectioners might have been trained by Portuguese. O’ Brien mentions that commodity laden Portuguese ships that left from local ports needed food that could be stored. This might have led to the training of local confectioners with the art of preparing chhana. In other words, the use of chhana as a food might have come into prevalence with the confluence of Portuguese influence that Achaya, Banerjee and Brien reports. Other than that, anybody with a taste for local cheese would be familiar with two kinds of cheese that is sold in New Market : Kalimpong cheese and Bandel Cheese. ‘Bandel cheese’ takes its name from Bandel, formerly the site of Portuguese settlement as well as part of the Hooghly district where three administrative towns were former Dutch(Chinsurah), French(Chandannagore) and Portuguese(Bandel) colonies. ‘Bandel cheese’ is a firm, smokey flavoured cheese available in few select shops in New Market, Kolkata. Two varieties of Bandel cheese are available in these grocery stores. Shoiab Danyal in his piece ‘Who deserves the credit for the rasgulla? Bengalis, Odiays… or the Portuguese?’ in The scroll points to another form of cheese widely available in Dhaka known as Dhaka paneer. In this piece, the author also refers to Francois Bernier’s travel accounts which mentions of sweetmeats, in the areas with a predominant Portuguese population.

In my own research on Bengali sweet industry, the legends of origin associated with two chhana based sweets : jalbhara talsansh sandesh and monohora point to experimentation of confectioners with chhana in Hooghly district. It is important to note that both these sweets come under the category of sandesh. Sandesh as is widely known is prepared from cooking chhana with sweetening agents to form a thick paste which is shaped into moulds. Sandesh, as many people during my field work recounted was one of the first methods of cooking that confectioners might have experimented with. A close look at the legend of origin recounted in K.C. Das booklets regarding invention of rosogolla also point to popularity of sandesh – a rather dry sweet compared to the moistness of sugar syrup based sweet – rosogolla.

Let me also clarify that there are many legends associated with invention of a sweet similar to rosogolla. Some of these legends and counter legends are discussed in Pranab Ray’s book Banglar Khabar (Food of Bengal). Why are these legends important? Without going into the specificities of these legends it would be suffice to say that most legends point to the eureka moment of dropping a ball of chhana in boiling sugar syrup. A close look at the industrial method of rosogolla preparation in K.C. Das and an artisanal preparation of preparing rosogolla would reveal two important ingredients in rosogolla preparation : consistency of sugar syrup and sprinkling of cold water when the balls of chhana are boiling in sugar syrup. In other words, it is important to dig into the history of sugarcane cultivation in Bengal, introduction of refined sugar and whether or not sugar syrup prepared from dolo chini ( the coarser variety of sugar) could be used for sugar syrup based items.

It would be important to understand that the consistency of the sugar syrup is important in rakam (sugar syrup based items are known as rakam) based items. Let me alert the readers to a bible of sweets in Bengali. Mistanna pak (literally meaning cooking of sweets) was written by none other than Bipradas Mukhopadhyay. It ran into several editions. The second edition of this seminal work was published in 1311 (1904). It has a section dedicated to sandesh and discusses recipes of at least twenty six kinds of sandesh. There is no mention of rosogolla except in the discussion on sugar and sugar syrup. It has a very interesting chapter on various kinds of sugar syrup and recommends use of refined sugar because it is much purer. It has a very interesting anecdote about proscription around use of refined sugar among the Hindus. The proscriptions around use of chhana and refined sugar calls for understanding ritual proscriptions around food based items in religious life across India. Even if we assume that these proscriptions were bound within Bengal, how are we to understand the resistance against Halwais in Gorakhpur in the late 19th Century. Historian Shahid Amin (1984), in his discussion on peasant production with reference to sugar and sugarcane in Gorakhpur cites an interesting case of resistance against Halwais in the late 19th Century. It all began with the import of cheap foreign sugar which was cheaper and less sweet than locally produced sugar . “The use of bone-charcoal in the refining of foreign sugar was initially a powerful negative factor against its widespread consumption” (Amin 1984:91).The confectioners were more inclined to use more foreign sugar and less khoya (coagulated milk) for preparing sweets. There was a strong opposition against the use of “impure” foreign sugar and there were censures against these Halwais( confectioners in North India).

Though rules of proscriptions around food ingredients and methods of cooking are unique to places its correlation in food cultures in India cannot be undermined. Given the strict rules of observance of ritual codes in preparation of temple food – a point I explore in a great detail in an entry on temple sweets in the recently published Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, it comes as a great surprise that a sweet prepared from chhana was offered in Lord Jagannath Temple, Orissa.

Most of the temple sweets across India are prepared from a combination of rice, pulses and flour and milk. In most auspicious rituals observed in households payasam, payesh or rice pudding is cooked and distributed. Ghee (clarified butter) – a milk product is a favourite among Gods and Goddesses and kitchen complexes across India use ghee. Chhana and its use in temple complexes remains to be explored. If chhana could be used as a sweet products, it remains to be explored whether it was used in curries and other dishes which were part of the offerings in temple complexes. The use of chhana based sweets in religious festivities across Bengal is of recent origin and many non-fiction writings mention refer to use of monda–mithai ( sweets prepared from crystallised sugar, flour and gram flour) in family managed Durga Puja in Bengal. In one of the oldest shops in Krishnanagar ( a town known for kheer -thickenned milk based sweets) -Bijoy Moira, monda is still available Monda, as the manager of the shop told me is made from left over cooked paste of kheer and gur and formed into lumps. Another shop in Krishnanagar sell a crystallised variety of sweet prepared from kashir chini ( a coarse variety of sugar) which is popular among devotees. The most widely accepted crystallised variety of candies in ritual festivities are nakuldana and batasha. This exclusive category of sweets that continue to be produced and sold in households point to a parallel tradition of sweets that were used for offerings and ritual purposes. Chhana’s limited presence in the ritual life points to a missing link in the narrative of offering and its ritual use in Jagannath Temple, Orissa.

© itiriti

Infusion and Sherbet in Boipara, Kolkata

The second food trail I would suggest if you are in Kolkata during summers is to hop around Boipara. Boipara is a neighbourhood of books. And Calcutta boasts one such boipara which bears the imprint of the colonial pasts, reform movement as well as the student movement that rocked the 70s. It is the epicentre of some of the finest schools, colleges and needless to say books. M.G. Road named after Mahatma Gandhi connects College Street to Howrah Station and Sealdah station, the two stations that hosts thousands of trains. As you walk by the lanes of College Street / Boipara, you will be welcomed into the world of books by numerous hawkers rattling off latest testpapers for Madhyamik/ Uchhamadhyamik, guidebooks that will help you sail through JEE/ PMT/IIT as well as I.C.S.E., I.S.C test papers. Stalls are painted with white, blue and yellow to announce the latest arrivals and the treasure house of most of these stalls lie in the stack of piled old books. Amidst these book stalls, there are some famous places to eat, chat and debate, perfect adda places.
One of the legendary institutions in College Street is the Coffee House. As one makes way through the stairs, posters of various student organisations lead you to the first floor and no trip to Coffee House is complete without a cup of Infusion. It will take you an entire day to taste what is available on the menu and my favourite picks are Chicken Kobiraji and Chicken Cutlet. In my last visit to Coffee House, I braved the rains and waited for a friend who was visiting the city. Both of us made our way to Coffee House and polished off the Chicken Cutlet and Infusion and after an adda which ranged from Malaysia’s politics to my careers I told A that we are going to Paramount.
interiors paramount

Paramount needs no introduction to my friends and colleagues from Kolkata. This legendary institution by late Nihar Ranjan Majumdar has been selling home-made drinks since 1918. A and I sit occupy one of the benches and we ask for a menu.
menu
The menu arrives and we are spoilt for a choice to have close to special drinks made from pulp of passion fruit, mango, tender coconut, strawberry, pineapple and others. For cream lovers there is cream rose, cream lemon, cream lemon and even cream lassi. Both of us settled for Dab Sarbat( a drink made from tender coconut).

dab serbet
Dab Sarbat reminded me of a custom of buying school text books in summer holidays in College street followed by a stop over at Paramount. I convince A to order Dab Sarbat. As we sip our drinks, an elderly gentleman walks up to us and ask us if we liked the drink. A tells him its her first visit and she really likes it and asks about the recipe. The gentleman sits down with us and shares a fascinating journey of Paramount. The gentleman is none other than Mrigendu Majumdar. He tells us that Tender Coconut Sarbat was created under the guidance of famous scientist Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray. He points to the framed picture of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray and tells that without his inputs this flavourful sarbat could not be created.
acharya prafulla chandra ray

He sources tender coconut from Basirhat for this special sarbat. Mrigendu Majumdar by training is a lawyer and has been instrumental in introducing a new drink that caught our eyes- Passion Fruit Drink. He recommended us to try out the signature Tamarind Drink to beat the heat. This legendary institution of drinks was also an important meeting point of revolutionaries who gathered here for meetings. Then, ‘it was known as Paradise’, tells Mr Majumdar. By 1937, British came to know of Biplobi Sammilani Samiti and Paradise was renamed as Paramount. Paramount has come a long way and as Mrigendu Majumdar prepares himself to leave for distant shores to take Paramount to non resident fans he shares of plans of celebrating 100 years of Paramount in a big grand way. Paramount will be 100 in 2018 and he plans to introduce new drinks as well as put on various memorabilia at display. A and I promise that we will be back in 2018 and wait for the new surprises.

paramount
Paramount
For bulk orders call Mr. Majumdar @ 9674215355
1/1/1 D Bankim Chatterjee Street, Kolkata 73.
Email : paramountsherbet@gmail.com
Website:www.paramountsherbet.com
Check Menu: http://www.paramountsherbet.com/our-menu.html

In the land of rolls and cutlets

I apologise to itiriti’s readers for staying away from blogging. Deadlines kept me away from blogging for few months. As I revive my plan to blog once again, I bring to you a series of food walks that you could undertake if you are planning to visit City of Joy. Let me confess that it is not the best time to be visiting Kolkata due to the increasing mercury levels as well the humidity. Still, the city’s lifeline lies in the evening strolls along the ghats of Hooghly river.
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On one such evening DP, SM and I ventured out to Bagbazar Ferry Ghat. The ghat is well connected to Sovabazar, Howrah Railway station through the ferry service. As we waited at the jetty enjoying the cool breeze, we tried out one of the wonderful street food that you can enjoy along the ghats- Ghotigaram.
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Ghotigaram takes its name from the heap of coal cakes that keeps the bhujia mix warm as the hawker carries it around in a recycled oil tin with several aluminium cups with chopped onions, cucumber, amra, chat masala, salt, chopped chillies and a bottle of oil. Ghotigorom is available for Rs 5 and Rs 10. Newest addition to add a crunchy flavour is chopped carrots.
Take a stroll, work on your appetite and head off to Allen Kitchen on 40/1 Jatindra Mohan Avenue. If you are a non-user of google maps and rely on landmarks I suggest that you use Sovabazar metro station as a landmark to reach this legendary place. If you plan to take a walk along Bagbazar ghat and walk down to Allen you have to cross metro station and keep on walking towards Girish Park Metro station. Another legendary place of cutlets (Mitra Café is on the opposite lane of Allen Kitchen). After you take a nice walk from Sovabazar metro station (towards Girish Park) you shall spot the blue board welcoming you.
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Allen Kitchen is known for its Prawn Cutlet. You should trek down to Allen to soak up nostalgia, skip the coolness of your air conditioner and dig into one of the many versions of cutlets the city has to offer. Cutlets are part of the colonial legacy and the city’s obsession with cutlets, steak and kabiraji have gave birth to many a legendary institution. Allen’s Prawn Cutlet is fried in a brand of ghee that many of us might be familiar with. Lakshmi Ghee is a well-known brand of clarified butter made from cow milk.
prawn cutlet edit
Usually synonymous with luchi this cutlet smells divine and we could not wait to dig into the juicy prawn coated in a nicely salted coating. This simple coating enhances the prawn and smell of Lakshmi ghee lingers on. Served with salad (chopped onions, cucumber and green chillies), kashundi ( mustard sauce indigenous to Bengal) prawn cutlet remains a stealer because of its simplicity.

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We also ordered steak (mutton) which comes with an interesting sauce high on ginger paste. While I leave to your imagination why and how this steak came to be served in Allen Kitchen, its time to get back to work.

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©itiriti

Mapping street food of Delhi with Anubhav Sapra

Today afternoon I met somebody whose job is envy to many of us who are in love with the city’s street food.  As promised we meet near Gate No 5 Chandni chowk Metro station. He orders five bottles of water puts them in the jute bags for the leg of customised food walk kick starting from 5pm and shares with me his thoughts on JFC , Natraj ki aloo tikka, best nahari, paya and much more.

Anubhav Sapra, the man behind Delhi Food Walks very graciously agreed for a conversation over his journey of Delhi Food Walks which has been in news  for the street food tours across Delhi and beyond Delhi as well. His transition from working for Centre for Equity Studies to being his own boss, bringing street food to the forefront and his journey from being blogger in 2010 to owning and running Delhi Food Walks, is a wonderful inspiration and I thought it would be great to wrap up 2014 for itiriti readers.

The anecdotes he shares is meaty and juicy for a small budget film if not a blockbuster. He began organising food tours for his foodie friends on Sundays along with a day job in Centre for Equity Studies. Slowly those food tours metamorphosed into Sunday walking tours as the numbers increased. And facebook played a revolutionary role here. Way back in 2010 Anubhav posted an event that he was going to organise a food walk in Paharganj. Thirty odd people showed up. It was a huge success. This response encouraged him to organise more such tours on Sundays mainly around Old Delhi.

Slowly by 2011 Delhi Food Walks was conceptualised and recently he has quit his day job and he works seven days a week from 8am to 9pm for Delhi Food Walks. Though he organises food walks around various nook and corner of Delhi, he loves to talk about the street food cultures of Old Delhi which as he endearingly puts it represents our syncretism. ‘Which place under the sun will have the best dishes made from vegetables, pulses and no onion and garlic and moment you walk over to another lane you can have the choicest pieces of lamb, goat and chicken?’ As I remind him of the best fried chicken, he remarks ‘oh yes, JFC you mean’. For all fried chicken lovers, it is a treat to get the best fried cuts from the shops right across Jamma Masjid and JFC rules!

He tells me that  old Delhi’s by lanes have a story to tell through food. I agree. He adds that each lane is a telling tale about food proscriptions practiced by community. One example he cites is the absence of onion and garlic in the condiments or stuffing of parathawallas of parathewalli galli. The owners, practicing Jains refrain from using onion or garlic and this is only paratha which is deep fried in ghee and I add, served with pumpkin curry and banana tamarind chutney. Nestled few yards away are the bakeries – a telling representation of cultures of bread making in India. As he recounts to me the bakeries in the by-lanes of Delhi he also recalls that in his childhood his mother used to knead the dough and send it off to local dhaba for rotis to be made. Our conversation moves to communal nature of making breads with the series of bakeries in Old Delhi still surviving by making rotis. No conversation of breads is complete without the famous kebabs and for kebab lovers Delhi Food Walks will soon announce a kebab and biryani trail in Old Delhi in January 2015.

As time runs out and he welcomes me to join him for aloo tikki at Nataraj (Chandni Chowk) he also shares a passionate project geared to make use of left over food from city’s professional kitchens.  Anubhav and his volunteers have done a survey regarding the  management of excess food across city’s restaurant counter-tops. In this project called Save food foundation, their aim is to collect the food and redistribute it to the homeless in the city.

As his guests arrive I join them for a piping hot aloo tikka chat at Nataraj and resist the temptation of joining them for the walk. On weekdays, he organises customised food walks across the city. Customised walks are tailor-made for your tastebuds and it can be a combination of Old Delhi, Majnu ka Tila and Kamala Nagar. Some of the food enthusiasts across the world and India also join his specialised by-lane walks (available on requests) which lasts for three to four hours in Old Delhi. Apart from food, there is a lot of food talk about the spices, the process, and the people involved in making the food.

On weekends, he organises community walks. These walks are listed  in facebook and anybody can sign the walk. Of late he is organising walks around specific food items. For instance in December 2014 he organised a chat trail in Old Delhi which I hear was a huge success. What is best about Delhi Food Walks is that they do not outsource the walks. So, Anubhav is here to guide you to have a taste of Delhi’s street food from 8 am to 9pm through city’s best kept secrets, and well known ones.

As I leave him with the guests and make my way through the metro station I add the kebab and biryani trail to my wish list  for January 2015 and head back home with food for thought.

Coordinates

Email : anubhavsapra@gmail.com/ delhifoodwalks@gmail.com

Webpage:  http://www.delhifoodwalks.com

To more food talk in 2015!

©itiriti

NASVI’s third edition of street food festival brings dhuska, puttu, chicken pitha and much more…

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National Street Food Festival has stepped into its third year. From its modest beginnings in Press Club in 2012, National street food festival is the most awaited event for Delhi’s food lovers.For the past two years, NASVI’s food fest has given us the best of the littis, puttus as well as award winning Chicken 65. With litti mutton, litti chokha, and litti chicken and taas kebab winning the hearts of food lovers over the past two years, this year’s pleasant discovery was Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh.

But we started our trail with our first love… Litti-Mutton.

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For all of you who are planning to hit the street food festival in Jawaharlal Nehru stadium during weekend I would suggest you to try out Dhuska. Dhuska are crisp fried discs made from rice and gram flour, with a hint of saunf and bay leaf.Perfectly seasoned this crisp discs are served with potato and green peas curry and bamboo shoot pickle.

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The bamboo shoot pickle is spicy and is a perfect accompaniment with another fried snack called gullele. Round in shape, this fried snack is prepared from wheat flour, salt, green chillies, crushed fennel seeds, bay leaf and a pinch of baking soda. A perfect snack in a winter evening.

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Next on my card was chicken pitha. Pitha as all of us know are  rice cake(steamed and fried). There are various versions of rice cake across Assam, Orissa, West Bengal, Bihar but chicken pitha was a pleasant surprise.  I waited for the other foods to settle down so that I could dig into chicken pitha.  If you are a vegetarian you can settle for mushroom pitha as well. Prepared from a mix of boneless chicken and rice flour the chef behind the oven, explained to me the recipe as she dished out one pitha after another with utmost care, and passion.

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As I watched her in rapt attention, my partner in crime already decided to settle for another snack from Jharkhand. Mutton liver fried with chana! Delicious! Must try.

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My final recommendation would be Sepu badi with rice from Himachal Pradesh.

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The grandeur of the festival has clearly caught up with the festive season. As it has stepped into its third year, it would  have been wonderful to have street foods from Kashmir,  Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur. I really missed the luscious crab curry from Orissa and wish the taas kebab was served with chura instead of roti. NASVI’s street food festival continues to be one of the most awaited events and incase you are planning your weekend lunch, head to Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium tomorrow and day after. The festival comes to an end on 28 December.

Time to grab my packed dinner of litti-chokha from street food festival.

Good night, gorge on street food and stay warm.

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Logistics

Entry fees: Rs 50

Venue: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Gate No 14.

Date :25-28 December

Nearest Metro Station : Jor bagh(yellow line) and Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium ( violet line)

Check NASVI’s facebook page for more details

https://www.facebook.com/events/609438772515333/?sid_reminder=1939903377458593792

©itiriti

Notes from my kitchen : Beetroot carrot soup

My fondness for beet root began while doing errands for my mother’s special treat in winter evenings. Beetroot chop. Anybody familiar with Kolkata’s chop, cutlets will remember the burst of colours in this vegetarian chop. One of the standard tasks that I was entrusted with was washing vegetables. Needless to say I hated it, till it came to running the beet root cubes under cold water and watch the purple water coat my fingers. Sigh…

The winter chill has set in the capital and food cravings are an all time high. In an attempt to stick to deadlines, I have resorted to cooking one pot meals for some time now and today as I wrapped up a section I decided to treat myself to beetroot-carrot soup.  Armed with a beetroot, one carrot, half a slice of onion, two green chillies, slices of ginger, two sliced garlic pods, coconut milk, half a tea spoon of olive oil I set out to make this gorgeous chunky soup.  Roughly dice the beetroot, carrots and pressure cook it. I do not add salt to the water while boiling. Once the vegetables are boiled, shift it to a blender or in absence of one (like mine) use the pestle to mash the carrots and beetroots.

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Take a pan, add half a tea spoon of olive oil. Add sliced garlic, onions, ginger, chopped green chillies and fry them till the onions are cooked.

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Now add the mashed beetroot-carrot to the mix. Fry them lightly. Add salt and a pinch of sugar. Fry it for some time.

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Add coconut milk to the mix and cook for a while. You might need to add half a cup of water in case you are using thick coconut milk.

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Bring to a boil and it is ready to serve.

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Let me tell you this soup is going to brighten up your day and lift up your mood. Time to wind up and get back to work. Drop me a line after you add your own twist while making this gorgeous soup.

Warmly,

Itiriti

©itiriti

Holy Food Trail: Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, New Delhi

My association with religious places begins and ends with food. Every religious faith has its own way of feeding the hungry but langar – a practice common to Sufi Chisthi and Sikh traditions remains special for several reasons. People across faiths, and backgrounds are invited to sit and eat a hot piping vegetarian meal in regular intervals. The hot piping meal comes from a community run free kitchen housed in Gurudwaras. Sikh-langar, or free community kitchen draws upon earlier Sufi Chisthi practices where people across faiths could eat hot cooked meals in Dargahs. Harsh Mander in an article “From langar, with love” ( The Hindu, 12 January 2013) draws our attention to etymology of the word ‘langar’ which in Persian means a feeding centre and a resting place for travellers. He mentions of the round the clock kitchens run by Nizamuddin Auliya Chisti – a sufi saint.

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Langar’ or any communal eating practices are particularly relevant in India as several registers of taboo prohibited people across caste groups to consume food together. Under such proscriptions, ‘langar’ as a free community kitchen challenges that social order. Though there have been reports of segregated spaces for homeless  in Gurudwaras across Delhi, the spirit of ‘langar’ needs to be uphold in the right spirit. With shrinking public spaces which are accessible to all, the idea of a free community kitchen accessible to all remains special.  My initiation to langar meal began in an all girls trip to Golden Temple of Amritsar and to this date I remember the fast pace and grace with which thousands of us consumed meal. The synchronised service between the kitchen staff and volunteers distributing food in the dining hall left me awestruck. A trip to Golden Temple of Amritsar will remain incomplete without an experience of langar. Closer home, Delhi, a langar at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in Connaught Place runs a langar at regular intervals.

Easily accessible via Patel Chowk Metro Station on Yellow line, the Gurudwara is teaming with devotees on a Sunday afternoon. As you make your way through the entrance you will be asked to leave your shoes at the shoe counter.

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A visit to Bangla Sahib as it is popularly addressed remains incomplete without the karah prasad. Walk up to the counter on the left buy your coupons starting from Rs 11 to whatever you wish to offer and walk up to the counter to offer some and relish the karah prasad. The generous dollops of ghee holds the whole wheat flour, sugar and ghee together. Check a fellow blogger’s link for the recipe.

After a tour of holy shrine, sarovar head to the langar to not only have a lovely vegetarian meal of piping hot rotis, parathas, dal, vegetable curry and lovely kheer ( rice pudding) but also to offer voluntary service at the community kitchen.

people eating

People across age groups ( from old and young ) make rotis and serve the devotees across faith who walk in queues for langar meals. As the devotees return their steel plates and another batch of people wait near the door to walk in, volunteers sweep the floor and welcome people in. Every partake of langar be it in Amritsar or here is an experience to be cherished.

If you are in Delhi or planning your next weekend halt, drop by at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib for a meal at langar, and karah prasad.

Check out the following link on karah prasad

http://a-hint-of-spice.blogspot.in/2010/03/karah-prashad.html; Accessed on 23 November 2014.

Other links and references on Langar and Gurudwara Bangla Sahib

For Harsh Mander’s article please click on http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Harsh_Mander/from-langar-with-love/article4294049.ece; Accessed on 23 November 2014.

And of course, The Delhiwalla for all matters related to the city…

http://www.thedelhiwalla.com/2012/02/01/city-monument-gurudwara-bangla-sahib-central-delhi/; Accessed on 23 November 2014

©itiriti

Season 4 of Indian version of Master-Chef turns “vegetarian” to promote healthy living!

Master-Chef India Season 4 has come up with a novel idea to make it an only vegetarian cooking show. Some of us who followed the show and constantly compared it to its Australian counterpart hoped it will get better. Little did we imagine that it will take a vegetarian de-tour? Some of us will remember that the three previous winners of Master Chef India had displayed an avid range of cooking techniques with vegetarian and non-vegetarian ingredients. Who would forget Shipra Khanna’s yam mousse, or Vijaylakshmi and Shazia’s challenge with scallop in Hong Kong in Season 2? Having watched, savoured Season 1 and Season 2, it was a dream to pick up and combine leaves, stems, roots, shoots, flowers with red and white meat and work a charm on marine life for many an amateur cooks.

The famed Amul Parlour which once saw home chefs struggling with unfamiliar veg and non-veg ingredients will now see the cooks honing their skills on vegetables. In defence this move one of the judges, one my all-time favourite Chefs of India chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s comments left me awestruck. He acknowledges that India is primarily vegetarian and we have managed to come up with a vegetarian counter-dish to almost all global non-vegetarian dishes1. Is the show’s intent to re-produce vegetarian counterparts from across global cuisines or to train a chef who will be skilled in all cooking related work from having an eye for the ingredients to cutting, chopping, slicing as well as developing new techniques. Dear Mr. Kapoor, every time you smiled and suggested a remedy in your Khana Khazana show aired on Zee TV I remember my mother and aunt meticulously taking down your advice. In other words, while substitutes ( ingredients, techniques or appliances) are one way of cooking, skills of a masterchef lies in familiarity of ingredients and cooking techniques and this was one such platform for amateur cooks to cook with caviar, scallop, snail as well as bamboo shoots, flowers and yams and the past seasons have beautifully showcased some of these ingredients.

The treatment of ingredients over fire, water and in conjunction with air has been the key to cooking techniques across ‘India’ n cultures. Let’s take air. Fermented foods across India have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Air does so much to our food. From dosa- idly batters, to fermented soya bean, fish and even the delicious pork fat which is used for cooking I hear. Fermentation is one of the age old preservation techniques and mastery over wheat crop as Michael Pollan in his work Cooked tells us is a telling tale of our tryst with bread and brewing. Cooking techniques involve a close association and familiarity with our ecology and ingredients. Such associations, in the age of TRPs can also be utilised to be familiar of vegetables, marine life, animals and insects eaten and consumed across Indian geography.

Why do we need to create a show for only vegetarian cooks? What is the urgency? The necessity stems from health concerns. Hang on. One of the officials ( Gourav Banerjee of Star Plus) “more vegetarians means less cholesterol”( see the article Economic Times).  Wow!!!  I understand the health concerns of industrial food giants and the recent packaging efforts to make us aware of the unsaturated fat we consume to the cleverly packaged probiotic products to Food Safety and Standards Authority of India joining hand adopting Codex Alimentarius guidelines and prescribing food safety guidelines to ensure microbiological count of various products do not exceed a certain limit so that we are safe. Clearly, we have come a long way. Food associated health risks have been created due to multiple factors and our complex work hours, lack of exercise coupled with erratic eating habits particularly of industrial food giant dependent comfort goods has increased the risk. Health concerns of a cooking show in that sense could bring forth these elements and promote a sustainable food supply chain.

No, such expectations from a show which has to meet a requisite TRPs to ensure its own sustainability is a little far-fetched. At least one of the sponsors of the two that has partnered with Master Chef India had a dream parlour to boast off(  which included non-vegetarian items). I have already mentioned about the famous Amul Parlour sponsored by Amul- a company with a strong foothold in the dairy market. Media reports suggest that there is a second sponsor Adani- Wilmar who markets Fortune Oil at play here. Media reports suggest Adani Group’s study has shown a move away from meat products and substituting with alternatives2. Do we smell soya here?

The linkages between health and vegetarianism are misplaced here. A cooking show should have shown restraint if not courage in coming up with a better explanation for being an only vegetarian show and by de-facto excluding a large section of amateur cooks who experiment with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. While the previous seasons celebrated fusion food through a combination of techniques and ingredients, the vegetarian move at the outset excludes a lot of recipes, techniques as well. It also restricts the show’s format to be experimental with ingredients. This year I was hoping a lot more variety ( a lot more surprise) in terms of shoots and flowers that would make inroads in Master Chef Kitchen along with silkworm, fermented fish and ants. May be I was hallucinating! May be I represent a minority of the population who has not switched to meat alternatives, not a vegetarian but enjoy leaves, shoots and flowers, eats fish and meat and sadly Master Chef India Season 4 you have left me disappointed.

References

1 For detailed comments read Vasudha Vengopal’s article “ Why did Amul and Adani sponsored MasterChef go all vegetarian?” http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-11-18/news/56222174_1_vegetarian-diet-adani-wilmar-star-plus; Accessed on 20 November 2014.

2 Rajyasree Sen’s “Dear Sanjeev Kapoor, no non-veg on Master chef is a terrible, stupid idea” http://www.firstpost.com/living/dear-sanjeev-kapoor-non-veg-masterchef-terrible-stupid-idea-1808965.html; Accessed on 20 November 2014

©itiriti

Shil-Nora : Prized possession of a Bengali kitchen

I dread my mother’s phone calls after her favourite food show: Ajker Ranna in Doordarshan. Though many of us have ditched Doordarshan my mother follows this show closely. I tease her that she should win the best audience award. During one of the stray mother-daughter conversations she mentioned with pride Sarmistha (one of the popular names in Bengali cooking shows) has advised to use shil-nora to grind mustard paste as mustard peels get separated in a mixer. The mustard paste tastes better when ground into a paste in shil-nora, concluded my mother as the mustard is pressed with equal pressure which crushes the peels and the seed. Shil- Nora is one of my mother’s favourite tool kits. She has resisted kitchen technology of mixers and grinders and no paste, crushed spice is complete for her without the touch of shil-nora. A very dear friend, a self-proclaimed short cut cook but a great baker swears by her shil-nora for her poppy seed paste (posto bata).

Bata or creating a paste occupies a special position in Bengali cuisine. Mrs J. Haldar in her book Bengal Sweets calls this technique as braying or grating. She points to two derivatives of braying/ grating; i.e., pulp and paste. She explains that shil is the stone slab and nora is the stone muller.  It has to be polished regularly so that its edges remain sharp. Some carvers often engrave fish or other designs on the stone slab. It is used widely in Bengali wedding rituals as well. As a child I loved watching the hawker engravers engraving beautiful patterns on the stone slab.

Though its use in most households has been limited to making pastes of poppy seeds and mustard seeds and its use in everyday kitchen like my mother’s can range from making a lovely grainy paste of coriander- cumin and ginger paste used in lightly spiced gravy of a thinner consistency called jhol to grinding spices. The coriander, cumin and ginger paste lends a lovely body and flavour to the daily jhol rituals in everyday cooking in Bengali kitchens. Another wonderful and limited use of shil-nora is extended to pasting leaves and peels. Leaves of the humble bottle gourd vegetable are made into a fine paste and eaten with piping hot rice it tastes heavenly. Similarly raw banana peel paste with garlic, chillies and a little salt tastes divine. Humble pudina chutney made from pudina leaves, chillies and salt is a perfect accompaniment with any fried snacks. Diced small tomatoes (of green and red colour) when ground into a paste with a little dash of mustard oil, chillies, and salt is perfect accompaniment to a rice on a rainy evening. Shil- nora can be also be used for grinding pulses. The beautiful ras bara made from urad dal / biuli/ kalai dal tastes much better when the pulses are soaked and ground into a paste. Similarly, the whiff of lightly soaked green peas paste on a shil-nora signals the preparation of green peas kachori (disc shaped fried bread with a filling of green peas mix). The uses of shil nora are clearly varied so are its looks. My mother uses two sets of shil nora: one for all vegetarian purposes including rituals to prepare coconut paste for chandrapuli ( a moon shaped sweet prepared from coconut and sugar) and one for everyday purposes.  Shil Nora in my mother’s kitchen is entitled to a two day ritual rest on account of ranna pujo. Technology’s non-ritual character becomes explicit in days like these when my sister in law and I brought out the mixer grinder to make a poppy seed paste to give a finishing touch to the prized hilsa. As hilsa fish steamed away in poppy seed /mustard seed paste, nobody protested our use of mixer grinder. May be such exemptions do not apply to kitchen tools of industrial giants.

My mother’s fascination for her prized shil-nora has translated into my penchant for stone mortar and pestle which occupies a special position on the kitchen top and it has been part of my culinary life for four years now.

Do you share such obsessions with kitchen tools? Do write in to share kitchen tools anecdotes. Till then happy feasting!

©itiriti