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

Michelin Stars and melting hearts: La Gramola at Tavernalle Val di Pesa

Sourav Roy intends to understand, write about, experiment on, engage with and above all enjoy life in general and the contemporary art world in specific through a lens of Indian history, while continuing to be a student for life. A three-week long  backpacking trip across Europe and a year-long Post Graduate Diploma in Modern and Contemporary Indian Art History put him on this path of  exquisite folly. 

In this piece he brings to itiriti readers his tryst with La Gramola at Tuscany.

 

Like all the memorable things in life, it was a serendipity which began with a disappointment.

It was September 2011, and we were on our luxury vagabond backpacking (meals in luxury, rest like bhikhari) trip in Europe. The train arrived at Florence (Firenze) from Rome and we were told the next day, the Monday, the day we were supposed to have a glut of museums, shopping, the fabled Florentine steak and Lampredotto (tripe sandwich), is a citywide strike, so we can just as well lock ourselves up and cry bitter tears until the Tuesday sunrise. Having come from Kolkata, where strikes (bandhs) are as commonplace as sweetshops, I realised that the bad karma, of being a bourgeois subidhabadi (opportunist) who had always welcomed strikes as extra holidays, had come back to bite me in the ass.

We had a bit of luck here though (which ran out soon). Covetous of a charmed Tuscan village life (in a Rupee budget), we had booked a hostel not in the strike-prone Florence, but in the idyllic Tavernalle Val di Pesa, a village which is a short ride away from Firenze. After managing to get a car, reaching the hostel, realising that the irresponsible brat of a caretaker had gone home for an early lunch and late siesta locking the office and switching off his phone, briefly panicking at my iPad malfunctioning, by the time we were checked in, washed up and ready to go out, our Sunday plan had also been ruined. So we made dinner plans with a vengeance and was ready to spend an obscene amount of Euros consuming a highly impolite quantity of delicious Tuscan food.  Because good food solves everything, right?

After prowling for a few minutes in the village lanes (the village is tiny enough to be covered in foot from one end to the other in fifteen minutes.) we discovered La Gramola.

La Gromola Osteria & Enoteca (Eatery and Winebar) Source : http://www.gramola.it/

La Gromola Osteria & Enoteca (Eatery and Winebar) Source : http://www.gramola.it/

The Michelin stars on the door seemed promising, so did the happy people going in and out. So without delay we went in and seated ourselves. No marks for guessing that after we have had the most accomplished pumpkin ravioli  (even my friend, a lifelong pumpkin hater, said she was a convert, but she rescinded on her return), we wanted our florentine steaks and we wanted them right then and there. The owner and the sommelier Massimo, who was waiting on us as well, ( because the two daughters, the only other waiters in the house were attending to the garden party ) smiled indulgently in a good-things-come-to-those-who-wait kinda way.

La Gramola Couple Chef Cecilia Dei and Sommelier Massimo Marzi Source: www.gramola.it

La Gramola Couple Chef Cecilia Dei and Sommelier Massimo Marzi Source: http://www.gramola.it

When the steaks came (medium rare, of course, they don’t do the travesty of giving you the option of well-done) and we dug in, many things were accomplished  atone stroke. It explained, to a beef-ambivalent wicked Hindu, what was the big deal about beef steak, what was the big deal about guileless Tuscan village cooking and what could be accomplished with a stellar cut of beef, fire, salt and pepper. Because that’s all that amazingly juicy, perfectly charred, confoundingly simple yet accomplished piece of meat had. With that giant piece of meat under our belts, we reached out for the dessert menu and decided to keep it light. But Massimo had something else in mind. He said that a large cheese cake had just been baked for the garden party (which doesn’t happen very often). So he recommended that  as dessert, very highly. We politely declined, saying we had no room for such a heavy dessert, and we would have a slice the next day if there were any left. Massimo shook his head woefully and said that after being kept in the fridge, it won’t be the same cheese cake any more.

When we were halfway through our eye rolling good Pannacotta, Massimo reappeared with two fat slices of cheese cake in hand, and determination writ large on his face. He said that the cheese cake has turned out to be one of the best Cecilia had baked yet (vouched for by their friends in the garden) and he simply couldn’t let us finish our meals without tasting these two slices, which were complimentary. We grinned and nodded, he left the plates, and we obliged. Our knees melted in unison, and we sat stupefied by the sheer simultaneous richness and lightness of it till the bill arrived. We were shocked once again at how affordable it was (as far as Michelin starred places go). That night we became Gramola-slaves and decided to have as many meals there as possible.

The road that runs through the village ends here

The road that runs through the village ends here

One can’t blame us trying to recreate the previous night at  the La Gramola dinner. But my friend made the mistake of ordering Peppa al Pomodoro or the Tomato soup for starter.

Next day was the strike day (in the village as well) so my friend decided to stay in bed longer. (she was very upset about letting go Uffizi, Museum, whose advance booked tickets couldn’t be postponed) So I went out foraging for breakfast. The tiny bakery at the village square didn’t disappoint and I had to stop myself devouring one freshly baked custard pillow after another (thin vanilla custard sealed inside pastry shells and baked whole). While I was leaving, Massimo dropped in to pick up some breakfast as well and I asked whether they would be open for lunch. Sensing the panic in my voice, he spoke in a reassuring tone. He said, he was going to the market right away and if he got good enough and fresh enough ingredients (unhampered by the strike) they would definitely be open. I wished him (and myself) best of luck before taking my leave.

More drama ensued.

My friend (up and ravenous for breakfast by now) was further delayed from her share of custard-pillow-bliss because the door lock malfunctioned and it could not be opened from either side. So she dropped down a bed sheet rope from our first floor window in which I lovingly tied the custard pillows, from the lawn. She retrieved them, unbruised, only to gobble them up, immediately.  After accomplishing this ingenuous fairy-tale feat, I fetched Declan the brat caretaker, who with his master key, opened the door effortlessly and gave us a supercilious smirk.

La Gramola was of course shut for lunch and despite having respected their integrity towards ingredients, we walked around the village shopping and muttering under our breath like disgruntled zombies on a brain withdrawal symptom. The lunch that day, the worst of the entire Europe trip, at the only lunch place that was open in the village, didn’t do much to lift our mood. (Yes, one can have a bad meal at a picturesque Tuscan village too.)

One can’t blame us trying to recreate the previous night at  the La Gramola dinner. But my friend made the mistake of ordering Peppa al Pomodoro or the Tomato soup for starter.

Utterly delicious, and salsa-like in its consistency, served in a voluminous pot, the soup could be a starter only for a Tuscan peasant stomach and even the one-sixteenth Italian ancestry of my friend was no match for it. But that didn’t stop us from ordering superlative pork chops. Being once smitten, we ordered the cheese cake for dessert again and though still utterly delicious, we distinctly ascertained how much more delicious it was the previous night, when freshly baked, and our palates had been recalibrated for cheese cakes ever since.

The next day was the last and only day left for Florence. So we could only visit our by-now-dearly-beloved La Gramola for our last supper. It was also a local tourism fair day, so streets were crowded, stalls were up and we had to sit next to a supercilious American group of diners at the sidewalk.

It would be a lie to claim that while writing this post, three years after that last supper, I remembered exactly what we ate and how I felt then. But it would suffice to say, I felt like a member of the family, even when nothing was said verbally to that effect, the way the American fellow-diners treated the waitress (the younger daughter) felt like a personal affront and when Cecilia laughed at my Vitruvian Homer Simpson T shirt while we said goodbye, I knew she meant it. These were the bonds made over a few days on nothing more and nothing less than serving the best possible food with an open heart and eating it with hearts and mouths equally open.

Coordinates:

Osteria La Gramola

Via delle Fonti,

1, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa,

Firenze, Italy

Tel.: +39 055 80 50 321

Fax.: +39 055 8077368

Cell.: +39 338 60 39 356

http://www.gramola.it

osteria@gramola.it

Lunch and Dinner

Disclaimer: Food, staff and restaurant images taken from the website.

Thukpa tales with Dilip Bhujel

For all those who have read my previous post, Dilip Bhujel needs no introduction. By profession, Mr. Bhujel is a cook and knows to dish out many a dishes and he decided to share with me one of his signature items – thukpa. Thukpa needs no introduction. A hearty noodle soup and one of my favourite mid-week dinner item in winters and monsoon. If you are a fan of one pot meals, I recommend you to try this dish, in Dilip Bhujel’s style.

The chef of the day

The chef of the day

Dilip Bhujel while sharing with me the basic ingredients   adds, “The trick is to use mustard oil”.  So, for food lovers, this is a Nepali style thupka. As I scribble that in my diary, he unpacks three pieces of chicken legs (with skin), gives it a wash and adds it to a pressure cooker. After that he adds a handful of salt, a dash of coriander powder and a lovely helping of pepper and rubs it gently over the chicken pieces and pricks the chicken with his knife. As he washes his hands to chop vegetables, he tells that its best to pressure cook the chicken pieces with bones and skin.

stage 1

He takes out his chopping board, slices two medium sized onions, dices up half a tomato and finely chops five to six tiny pods of garlic to the chicken. After a spoonful drizzle of mustard oil and two cherry tomatoes he pours boiling water and pressure cooks it for a good twenty minutes. Now the next stage is to dress up the egg noodles. He adds egg noodles to a pot of boiling water and let it bubble way as the lovely pieces of chicken get its due resting time in the pressure cooker. He takes off the lid of the pressure cooker and strains the beautiful glossy soup to a pot. He scoops out the shreds of boiled chicken and the shredded chicken looks juicy and tender, and smells of the goodness of tomatoes, onions and garlic.

stage 2

He settles to prepare the sauce. First he boils three tomatoes, and peels them. He takes a handful of mint leaves, two pods of garlic, green chillies. Manju Bhujel joins in and takes out the grinding stone to make a nice paste of mint leaves, mashed tomatoes, garlic chillies and salt.

thupka

Dilip layers the noodles, adds the soup and tops it with lovely shredded chicken, with his special sauce on the side and finishes off with freshly chopped lemon grass. This was one of the perfect one pot meal to celebrate a rainy day, end of a short trip and beginning of new friendships.

If you are planning to stay indoors to enjoy the rains, I am sure you will enjoy cooking and eating this comfort food in Dilip Bhujel’s style sitting by your window.

Enjoy the showers and keep cooking!

©itiriti

What’s brewing in Makaibari?

If you are a romantic who loves the mist, and rains in hills and never misses a chance to escape to the hills, here I present to you Makaibari. Makaibari is a popular a halting point for tea connoisseurs and tea lovers enroute to Darjeeling, a hill station nestled in Northern part of West Bengal and a favourite with Bengalis trying to escape the heat and humidity of Kolkata. This time, I decided to stop over at this sleepy place on our way back from Darjeeling and I suggest you to take a little de-tour and stop by at Makaibari, Kurseong.

photo 1

Makaibari needs no introduction for passionate tea lovers. Known for its signature organic tea, this was also the first tea factory in the world.  This factory was built in 1859 and as the brochure claims this is also “the only tea estate in Darjeeling to never have been owned by an Englishman”. Who was the founder? G.C. Banerjee was the genius behind Makaibari Tea Estates in 1859.  For a long time, till very recently this was a family run business under the leadership of Rajah Banerjee who has been instrumental in changing the economic model of tea plantation.  Makaibari was the official partner in Beijing Olympics and as one of the locals pointing out to the empty store proudly adds that it is being served in FIFA World Cup in Brazil as well. Makaibari, is much more beyond a cup of tea.  Under the leadership of Rajah Banerjee (the fourth generation of the Banerjee family) who spearheaded the concept of sustainable living through homestay and other initiatives, Makaibari recently has changed hands. Mr. Banerjee, as a newspaper article in TOI claims has sold off majority stake to Luxmi Group and remains the Chairman of Makaibari Tea & Trading Co. Ltd.1

photo 2

Rajah Banerjee has not only introduced a signature tea, but has also successfully introduced sustainable tourism with volunteers under a Volunteer in Makaibari scheme, offering homestay facilities in the area. Volunteer in Makaibari, as the name indicates is a community run homestay facilities provided by more than 20 households. Each household has a guest room with an attached bathroom. The host family not only provides the guests with housing but three delicious sumptuous meals, and endless cups of tea. Volunteer in Makaibari also arranges for guided tours along the Makaibari tea estates, tea tasting sessions as well as a guided tour of the factory. As our hired alto halted infront of Vounteer in Makaibari’s (VIM) office which is at a stone’s throw distance from Makaibari factory, Nayan Lama ( one of the frontrunners of VIM) greeted us and took us to Dilip Bhujel’s house.  I followed Mr. Raj Bhattacharya’s (http://www.darjeeling-tourism.com/)advice and had specially requested Nayan to give us Dilip Bhujel’s house.

photo 5

Dilip Bhujel and Manju Bhujel’s house overlooks the Kurseong valley. They were our hosts for a night. It was drizzling when we reached Makaibari. Our welcome drink was local Makaibari tea followed by a lunch spread of rice, dal, papad, bhindi subzi and omelette. After that we decided to call it a day and soaked in the mist, sun and warmth of the place. Soon tea arrived and as darkness set in glistening lights of the Siliguri town seemed like a million floating candles. It was time to settle for dinner over piping hot rotis, dal, chicken and fried potatoes. After such sinful indulgence it was time to cosy upto the warmth of the blankets and say goodnight to the Bhujel family.

photo 6

We woke around 6am to a misty morning. As soon as the sky cleared, we decided to have a quick breakfast and head for our trail to the tea factory and estate along with our guide Pranay. Pranay and Nayan are actively involved with Volunteer in Makaibari. In peak seasons, to cater to the demands they hire more volunteers. Apart from homestay projects, Volunteer in Makaibari is also planning to start a café with local delicacies ( momos, thupka and chang ). Pranay, our guide for the day took us to the Makaibari factory. He gave us a tour through the various stages of processing and then we headed for the hike towards the tea estate. The never ending, winding road led us to the lush tea gardens. Pranay was keen to show us how tea leaves are plucked. Despite the painstacking work the workers continue to be paid abysmally low.

As we walked through the pebbled path we could hear the construction activities of the much advertised Chia Kutir project of Ambuja Group2. As we struggled to make our way through the road, to walk through the tea bushes, I could not miss the noise of the construction work that enveloped the rather peaceful, green lush valley. The signs of change have seeped in. May be the road leading upto the gardens will be motorable for the tourists who will flock to this area to experience Makaibari through this upcoming boutique resort called Chia Kutir. Some things will never be right.

The only ray of hope and for all the right reasons; remain Volunteer in Makaibari with their homestay projects. If you want to soak in the rain, mist and charms of the hills and want to take a weekend break visit Makaibari with Volunteer in Makaibari. Enjoy the rains, brew a cup of second flush, pick your favourite book and pack a few clothes for your monsoon weekend at Makaibari.

photo 4

Notes

1http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/New-flavour-brews-in-Makaibari/articleshow/36365128.cms; Accessed on 21 June 2014.

2 http://www.ambujaneotia.com/hospitality/hotels-and-resorts/chia-kutir.aspx;Accessed on 21 June 2014.

 

Contact Details

Volunteer in Makaibari:  Nayan Lama: volunteerinmakaibari@gmail.com

How to reach:

Nearest Railway Station: New Jalpaiguri

Nearest Airport: Bagdogra

For other interesting places to visit in Kurseong, and Darjeeling visit http://www.darjeeling-tourism.com/

©itiriti

Unwind over Rampuri delicacies @ Rampur Kitchen, New Friends Colony.

After a hiatus, I present itiriti readers a place tucked away on the first floor of the India Mall, New Friends Colony Community Centre which I want to rename as a paradise of kebabs. For all those in Delhi, and for all of us who love kebabs, our share of  succulent mutton pieces in an aromatic gravy, time to settle for Rampur Kitchen, New Friends Colony community Centre. Last year, I was introduced to this place by Vi and Sa. Four of us trekked down to New Friend’s Colony, a place etched in my memory since college days for serving the best Shawarma (Al Bake) for Rs 20. The place has a neat, comfortable seating arrangement for a leisurely meal for family dinners, and quiet lunch and dinners as well.

“Rampur kitchen”, true to its name offers some of the prized dishes from Rampur. Where is Rampur? Not far away from Delhi it boasts of a royal past which cascades into its cuisine and it is a place known for the knives, as a centre for arts and academics, distilleries and much more. Anoothi Vishal in a piece “Royal Rampuri cuisine, a blend of Delhi’s Mughlai tradition and Avadhi food” (The Economic Times, 3 November 2013)1  points out that this court cuisine is a melting pot of Mughlai, Afghani, Avadhi and Rajput influence after it became a stable princely state when the Nawab sided with the British following the revolt of 1857. Rampuri cuisine, Anoothi Vishal points out is known for taar qorma, shambhal ke sheekh, home style urad gosht and lauki gosht.

In my introductory visit to Rampur kitchen Sa convinced me to order qorma. Dreading the overpowering smell of spices and the rich thick gravy that one associates with qorma, I decided to skip it. Sa ordered the qorma and when it arrived I polished it almost half of the qorma. Taar qorma a speciality of the region can be eaten when the weatherboards read 48 degree Celsius. The succulent mutton chunks in a nice rich gravy with a right amount of bite and balance of texture without an overpowering smell of the garam masala has become rare even in specialty restaurants. Taar qorma remains a favourite from the first visit and I never get tired of eating this dish. I would recommend you to order half a plate of taar qorma and I assure you will fall in love with it as much as I have.

What about starters? Hang on! There are ample choices. For kebab fanatics there is a wonderful chapli kebab. You can get an imagined sensual treat from Anoothi’s article, but you have to taste the chapli kebab with the slightly spiced mint dip. Kakori kebab tastes heavenly and galauti melts in your mouth. My favourites and recommendations for starters would remain galauti kebab rolls. The star of this roll/ wrap is the ulte tawa ki paratha which is sweet in texture and complements the mildly spiced galauti kebab which true to its fame melts in your mouth. The wrap is a mouthful of spices and the creamy light green dip adds the perfect kick start to your meal. The best part of the Rampuri food is the right balance of spices and the treatment of the spices and Rampuri kitchen lives up to that in its treatment of spices and texture.

Thankfully, neither the gravies nor the dips look or taste the same. Each of the dishes evokes a confluence of cultures and synthesis of varied culinary traditions which is a product of people’s mobility. The best food emerges as a confluence of traditions and Rampuri cuisine’s attraction lies in its ability to embrace varied traditions. This, in a way urges us to rethink of culinary traditions as torchbearers of our identity politics and instead treat it as a melting pot of varied cultures.

  1. For details visit Vishal, Anoothi.2013. “Royal Rampuri cuisine, a blend of Delhi’s Mughlai tradition and Avadhi food” The Economic Times, 3 November 2013. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-11-03/news/43611823_1_cuisine-taar-qorma; Accessed on 9 June 2014.

Cost for two: 2 starters, one main course and rotis ( 900 INR)

For address and menu visit

http://www.zomato.com/ncr/rampur-kitchen-new-friends-colony-delhi; Accessed on 9 June 2014.

 

©itiriti

Sunday neighbourhood whiffs!

As the sunlight created a collage of graphic prints on my wall, I woke up to a rather familiar smell of Sunday morning. The hypnotising smell of “kalojeere” nigella/onion seeds dancing in bubbling mustard oil before green chillies are added. Such pleasures of familiarity are some of the perks I enjoy staying in the Bengali neighbourhood of Delhi. Such familiarity also deeply saddens me to prepare my rather mundane breakfast of toasts and tea.

As I pull myself out of the bed I imagine cubed potatoes being fried with a dash of salt and turmeric and finally water being poured in. By the time I prepare myself  a cup of Darjeeling tea and browse through “Robibashoriyo” ( Online edition) the final nail on the coffin is here i.e., the smell of the luchi ( disc shaped flour based flat bread) being fried in Lakshmi Ghee.  I recognise the distinct smell from my Mashi’s household (Maternal Aunt) preference for Lakshmi Ghee and my mother’s preference for oil (supposedly healthy!) which led to many a world war in the kitchen.

The overpowering smell of luchi and alur tarkari lingers on and takes me back to some funny moments from childhood. My mother was known for preparing white fluffy luchis and was coveted by G an M for “sada luchi” as if luchis could be red, yellow, or blue. Once, B now a handsome young man then 5 years old made this brilliant comment in a roomful of strangers, “I think they are preparing luchis upstairs. Ma, let’s go and have some luchis”. To save further embarrassment his mother got B upstairs and he walks in straight up to my mother and says “Jethin, amake luchi aar chini debe”( Jethin (aunt, elder brother’s wife), please give me luchi and sugar).  For all luchi fanatics, the last luchi should be savoured with sugar. And yours truly embarrassed the Oh! Calcutta waiters by asking for a bowlful of sugar to be savoured with luchis… Such luchi anecdotes are precious and the overpowering smell of late riser’s breakfast menu continues to increase my craving for luchi as I pen down this post.  It’s 11 a.m.

The smell of luchi will soon encounter the Sunday staple of “mangshor jhol”. Puritans like my dad, uncle and jethu will tell you that mangsho or meat refers to kachi pantha ( mutton). The ideal kochi panthar jhol will have potatoes that will carry the flavour of mutton and the cracked edges from the “jhol” or gravy. Jhol is our answer to “curry”- a runny gravy with rightly flavoured spices. The pressure cooker whistles will soon create the symphony of a Bengali Sunday lunch and a mirage of cravings for people who need to finish boring dishes like dalia khichdi that has been lying the fridge.

There you go. I can hear the first whistle, and I bet it must be from the pressure cooker cooking succulent mutton/ chicken pieces with potatoes – the prized Sunday lunch menu. The background score of kabariwala(scrap dealer and buyer) – kabari, kabari meets the fishmonger who draws up his cart shouting “bhalo chingri, katla rui”…

Such distractions of smell will never find an acknowledgement in my thesis but they are part of the woes and joys of writing. Another whistle goes… and I can smell the perfect whiff of paanchphoron crackling… May be time to prepare “green mango chutney” (aam chutney) or “paanch mishali sabji”(mix vegetables). I leave you to guess as to what dish my neighbours are cooking with paanchphoron in oil.

Do write in and let me know of  whiffs from your neighbourhood that leaves an imprint in your food rituals?

©itiriti

Notes from a mid-week lazy lunch

Who does not enjoy a lazy lunch at a cosy café with a lovely company to lift your spirits?  Taking a break from blogging to concentrate on finishing chapters, and draft has hit a standstill. Self-confinement, not buying myself a new dress to celebrate New Year has proved to be futile.  None of these not to do lists include anything related to eating out.  It is that time of the year in the capital when you cannot think of venturing out in the afternoon. So if you wake up to a cloudy day, and if you are a fan of the song “Ei meghla dine ekla ghare thakenato mon” (song  from Film : Shesh Porjonto) you might want to get dressed and venture out to Café Lota.

Café Lota has been the talk of the town ever since it opened up in the National Crafts Museum, Delhi in Pragati Maidan. As you walk down the passage you will spot this wonderful outdoor café, neatly tucked away from the hustle bustle of the city- a perfect dining retreat.  Hang on! For all of us who love outdoors and are thinking of the summer heat; the café’s bamboo slatted roof is neatly arranged for the right amount of light and perfect canopy to beat the heat.  The seating arrangement is nice, cosy and unlike other outdoor café/s there is enough room and space between tables.  Simple and cosily done up interiors compliment the menu which arrives in clipboards- the boards I associate with my drawing classes.

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The menu has something to offer from some of the states across India and not too overpriced.  We skipped the “smaller plates”  and settled for two non-vegetarian items from “larger plates”. The café is no overpriced.  The smaller plates ( vegetarian and non-vegetarian ) has nine options ( with six vegetarian items) and three non-vegetarian items. What is interesting is the pricing! All the items under vegetarian and non-vegetarian items are priced the same across smaller plates and larger plates.  The larger plates has ample choices starting from sarson da saag ( mustard leaf preparation from Punjab) , to the staple kadhi (yoghurt and gramflour based gravy from Sindh) to Kerala veg stew and even the wonderful khichdi  from Gujarat and the non-vegetarian larger plates brings to us a taste from Konkan, Goa, Kerala and Parsi food.  The non-vegetarian dishes come for Rs 375 each and we settled for Goan Galinha Cafreal and Parsi Salli Boti.

The Goan Galinha Cafreal looked exactly what I expected from its description on the menu card. I enjoyed the crisp spinach pao with dollops of coriander chutney that came an accompaniment. The chilly coriander rub on the soft chicken pieces complimented the perfectly done sprout salad.

My friend ordered Parsi Salli Boti. Before I go on to describing the mutton based dish something must be said about the parathas. They were flaky and the ajwain seeds and coriander gave it a nice bite. A perfect accompaniment to the soft succulent mutton pieces that melted in your mouth.

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We polished off the meal with sips from Nimbu Pani. Refreshing with a hint of mint was the perfect cooler on a hot day.

Finally, the Bhapa Doi Cheesecake (Rs 125) – an interesting twist with Bengal’s bhapa doi (steamed curd) and cheese… Must try !

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After our lazy meal, C and I took a stroll around the Crafts Musuem . As I prepare my checklist for the next visit I would recommend Café Lota to all those who want to sample menu from some of the Indian states. I wish the owners are able to incorporate some more regional items which do not feature right now.

The place offers balanced vegetarian and non-vegetarian items from some of the states across India and is a welcome break in terms of an outdoor dining experience in the heart of Delhi.  For all those who want to sample regional specialties within India, make a stopover here before you explore the wonderful craft museum. Plan a day at the craft museum with a  lazy lunch break at Cafe Lota. And for all those romantic souls it is the perfect place to unwind as well for a silent cosy lunch or dinner.

To lazy lunches and cloudy days !

Name : Cafe Lota

Address: National Crafts Museum, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.

Nearest Metro : Pragati Maidan Metro Station

Photo : Chayanika

©itiriti

Spring feast over Qawali and Kebabs

As we approach the end of Winter Chill in Delhi it’s time to indulge amidst all the impending deadlines. As I write this post, the calendar and the deadlines that I have marked in bold stares at me with a mocking grin. Writing wishes feed into birthday wishes and much more. If you want to take a break from writing woes, take a break.  Such re-assurances are rare, and to steal a bright sunny MONDAY afternoon for such plans are some luxuries of being a student.

Last Monday afternoon, some of us decided to visit the newly renovated Humayun’s Tomb. Various sections of the historic Humayun’s Tomb have been renovated, restored in patches, blocks and columns. Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s team took six years to restore the complex and for more details on restoration work please read http://www.thedelhiwalla.com/2013/09/16/city-monument-restored-ruin-humayuns-tomb/. After a tour of the historic Humayun’s Tomb, we decided to walk down to the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah (the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, 14th C Sufi Saint). We had heard and read about the Basant celebrations at the Dargah. As we reached the Dargah dressed in our yellow clothes we realised that the celebrations have been shifted to the day of Basant Panchami.

Nevertheless, we were treated to wonderful qawali renditions by the qawals of the Dargah. Basant Panchami at the Dargah is a synthesthetic treat.  Poet Amir Khusro, whose grave lies at the complex had worn yellow to bring a smile to his beloved Hazrat Nizamuddin who was grieving after his nephew’s death. The tradition has continued and on this day, the qawals sing poems of Khusro. The spring festival of the Dargah is a visual treat as people are dressed in yellow and the mustard flowers and marigold flowers are offered at the shrine. For more details on Basant festivities at the Dargah visit http://www.thedelhiwalla.com/2011/02/08/city-season-%E2%80%93-the-basant-people-hazrat-nizamuddin-dargah/.  Do not miss the newly restored Mirza Ghalib’s Tomb on your way into the Dargah.

After the qawali, some of us headed back and some of swarmed through the serpentine lane and made our way to Ghalib Kebab Corner. Do not be misled with the poetic connection in the signboard.  It is named after Ghalib road that connects to the poet’s tomb.

The Signboard Photo : Hoda Bandeh- Ahmadi

The Signboard
Photo : Hoda Bandeh- Ahmadi

The signboard of the Ghalib Kebab Corner read that it had won the best kebab in the kebab festival hosted by Hotel Maurya Sheraton. Established in 1971, this place is a kebab lover’s delight. Apart from Paneer tikka and Paneer Tikka Roll, there are no vegetarian options here. The shop has a modest seating arrangement with six tables and benches and as soon as you enter you will be spoiled for choices with the cook spreading out mincemeat mix along the skewers… It is an appetizing scene in chilly winter evening.

The man behind the scenes Photo: Siddhi Bhandari

The man behind the scenes
Photo: Siddhi Bhandari

We settled for Beef Kebab Rolls, mutton shammi kebab, beef kebab and Sheer Mal.

Beef Kebab Rolls  Photo : Hoda Bandeh-Ahmadi

Beef Kebab Rolls
Photo : Hoda Bandeh-Ahmadi

The juicy kebabs rolled like a wrap in romali roti melted in our mouth, the mutton shammi kebab had a lovely spicy touch to the mincemeat and the sheer mal added the perfect sweet touch to every bite of spicy shammi kebab… A treat and must visit!!!!

Sheermal and Beef Kebab Photo: Siddhi Bhandari

Sheermal and Beef Kebab
Photo: Siddhi Bhandari

The kebabs are priced between Rs 50 to Rs 100. Some of our friends recommended Mutton Qurma  but itiriti recommends you to try out their Beef Kebab Roll, Mutton Shammi Kebab and Sheermal. I am definitely going back for a lunch / dinner treat after I finish my chapter. So in case you are yet to plan your weekend stopover at Ghalib Kebab Corner for kebab treats!

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Address: Ghalib Kebab Corner

Shop No : 57, Near Lal Mahal, Ghalib Road, Hazrat Nizamuddin, New Delhi-110013. Phone: 9810786479.

Nearest Metro Station to Nizamuddin: Jungpura ( on violet Line)

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©itiriti

Spice up your mid-week meal with Kancha Lanka Murgi/ Green-Chilli Chicken!

Vegetable vendors in Delhi are known to be generous with green chillies and coriander leaf. As the vegetables are piled on top of another, they push down a generous bunch of coriander and a handful of green chillies. This practice is unique to Delhi and does not exist in other parts of the country. This practice often results in an abundance of green chillies in my tiny fridge. I discovered two boxes of green chillies in my fridge which I had to put to good use.

chillies

Though green chillies are used in almost all “Bengali” dishes, and we have dishes dedicated to celebrate green chilli, the use of green chilli in Bengali cooking owes to the entry of green chilli to the New world, considering none of single dishes in Ain-i- Akbari mentions the use of green chilly.  K.T. Achaya in his seminal work A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food points out that chilli must have entered India soon after the voyages of Columbus and Vasco da Gama. The non-existent of chillies in Indian gastronomy can be linked to the use of vernacular words for chillies which is an extension of the word–pepper. Hence, he argues that in Hindi, green chilly is called hari-mirch, in Tamil it is referred as milagu, and in Kannada green chilli is harimenasu.1

The Bengali origins of lanka are unknown to me and I would be happy if somebody throws light on this; considering in Bengali one addresses pepper as golmorich. Despite its origins in the New World and its domestication in various regions of America and South Mexico, or in Peru, India too has its various versions of hot chillies available in Guntur, Coimbatore, Bombay (Mumbai), Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland. Each region has their innovative way of using chilly and West Bengal is no exception. One such popular Bengali dish (in restaurants and homes) is kancha lanka murgi – a simple dish which has flavours of green chilli to spice up a mid-week meal.

Armed with 7 pieces chicken (skinless) I decided to settle for kancha lanka murgi.

The ingredients are simple,7-8 pieces of chicken, one medium sized onion, twelve to fifteen garlic cloves, a slice of ginger (use according to your taste buds), and ten green chillies( the chillies that we get in Delhi are not that hot; the number should depend on the heat of the chilli so use it according to your taste), salt, turmeric, pinch of coriander powder ( adding coriander powder is a habit I have picked up from Delhi; my mother uses a combination of coriander and cumin powder) and mustard oil( I cannot think of any substitute; but for health purposes you can switch to your “healthy cooking medium”; in that case finish off the dish with a drizzle of mustard oil).

Marinating the chicken: To marinate use salt (please use your discretion; I use half a tea-spoon to begin with), turmeric (a pinch) and drizzle of mustard oil and coat the chicken pieces. Keep it aside.

Take out the mortar pestle and pound garlic cloves, ginger and finely sliced chillies. Pound them to a coarse mix.  Keep it aside. Use seven chillies and keep aside three.

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Take a kadai (wok) add mustard oil (one and a half table spoon). Once it starts bubbling, add a few (literally ten) cumin seeds, one bay leaf, a pinch of sugar (to caramelise), sliced onions and cook it well. Fry till the onion changes colour and add the ginger-garlic and chilly mix. Fry it till oil starts separating. (Increase the flame at this stage). Finally add the marinated chicken and stir it. Stirring is a very important component. As I write this recipe, I can hear my mother reminding me that the important stage of any cooking is kashano (which means cook the masala mix). Use your discretion to increase and decrease the flame at this stage of cooking. There is no need to add water still if you feel that the mix is sticking to the kadai add a small cup of hot water (one small tip rinse the mortar pestle where you have made your paste and add the water) just enough not to cover the chicken. You can make a runny gravy/ jhol but I love garo garo (which is neither runny gravy nor jhol nor shukno i.e., dry).  Usually I prefer cooking in medium heat, except while heating the oil.  As soon as the water starts separating, in no time your kancha-lanka murgi/ Green- Chilly Chicken would be ready. Season it well with salt (if required). Taste the dish before you pour it into a serving bowl. Finish off with slit chillies which you had kept aside and a drizzle of mustard oil.

Enjoy kancha lanka murgi with rice, or roti in the coming week.

There are various versions of kancha lanka murgi on other blogs.

My two favourites picks are:-

Pree’s Kancha Lanka Murgi:  http://preeoccupied.blogspot.in/2011/04/kancha-lonka-murgi-green-chili-chicken.html

(I love the idea of cardamom used here and Pree’s description of makho makho… Every post will leave you craving for more!!! Here’s a fan-confession)

Sayak’s Kancha Lanka Murgi :                 http://sayakskitchen.blogspot.in/2012/12/kacha-lanka-murgi.html.

(Sayak whisks a version with potatoes, and a uses a mix of cumin and coriander; for alu/potato fans this is a must try!)

Add your twist to this simple kancha lanka murgi and let me know… till then happy cooking.

Notes

1 Achaya, K.T.1998(2002). A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food.  New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

©itiriti