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.


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.


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


Charuibhati/ Picnic

As I was reading Robbar, the special supplement of Pratidin I recalled the picnic-calendar of my growing up years in Bengal. The arrival of winter and regret of its non-arrival would lie in the stapled packets of Band-Box or Shantipur Shawl Repairing House packets lying in the Godrej Almirah and the ultimate plan to organise picnics. The advent of winter would mark the task of writing essays on Charuibhati, Bonbhojon (Bengali words for picnic) in Bengali classes and to drawing competitions organised by local clubs on topics related to these. By December, calendar dates particularly Saturday and Sundays would be blocked for picnics.  Like one of my roommates commented, a green patch, a strip of water is all that a Bengali family needs to set out for picnic.  Geared with outdoor game sets of flying discs, badminton rackets and cricket bats, we set out for those picnics in matador vans, cars, buses, and trains depending on the nature of the organisation.

As children you tagged along with grumpy faces and the pressure of being well –behaved. In my case, my mother reminded me constantly not to take a second helping. Picnics in those days started with tiffin and ended with evening tea. Tiffin or breakfast on arrival would be slices of white bread sandwiched with a cube of butter, a boiled egg with shells on and a nice big singapori kala ( banana).  Depending on the budget and the urgency to retain Bengali-ness there would be a nalen gur sandesh  “date-palm jaggery sandesh” in the tiffin. Slices of cakes smelling of cherries ( this was pre- Monginis and Sugar & Spice Outlets – two brands that popularised confectionery items across Bengal)  and oranges accompanied a cup of milky “nescafe” coffee mid-way between “tiffin” and “lunch”.  Lunch would be Rice and Mutton Curry followed by tomato chutney. One had to dutifully put on the monkey-cap and sweaters while playing badminton for Bengalis are prone to catching cold even in temperatures which never hit beyond 15 Degree Celsius. Any outdoor activity in Winter (December – February) meant hand knit woollen gears. Such gears came in matching pairs and picnics were an occasion to dress up in those gears that our mothers, aunts dutifully wove the year before.

The torture and pleasure of being an adolescent and a little respectable came with staircases, lawns being given away to organise group picnics among your own age –group. This was the tasting time for all the observed skills of cooking you have acquired while being scolded for upsetting the order of cans and jars in kitchen. Menus of such picnics would be khichuri, chicken curry, rice and brinjal fritters ( beguni) .The group picnic site would be the terrace of a gentle kakima would come to the rescue when you have messed up or a gentle kaku who would negotiate on your behalf to the loud speakers that would blare out from the staircase. This was oposanskriti ( out of culture; literally).

Such defiance could increase if you became part of Tarun Sangha or Borun Sangha from your neighbourhood and took a matador ride with utsrinkhal chele ( indisciplined boys) for a picnic to a picnic spots. There are designated picnic spots across Bengal and to support what my roommate said, most of them are located against the backdrop of a waterbody.  Such matadors would have two speakers in the front and back blaring out latest Bengali and Hindi Film Hits. While men and young boys were allowed to join such picnics, women were refrained taking part in such activities.  Apart from the matador rides, remained family picnices by cars, hired buses or even train compartments.

One of my favourite picnics was an all girl’s picnic led by Pishimoni. Father’s Sister is called Pishi and Moni is an endearing way of addressing. To this date, I don’t know why we called her pishimoni except for the reason that my father called her didi ( sister) but she was my mother’s silaididimoni (craftsteacher). Pishimoni ran a shift crafts-school from our drawing room. On Thursdays, the sound of the singer machine would fill the air of the house and there were women across age –groups whom Pishimoni supervised with their needlework, knitting and craftwork. Except for the sound of the Singer Machine, there would be a pin-drop silence on Thursday afternoons.  Pishimoni’s  bag was a box of goodies as she would carry candies, nuts and other stuff from her regular train journeys to Kolkata, and other places. She took recourse to needle work and teaching women after her divorce.  While our mothers were scared she adored us and we waited for the seasonal gifts that she brought us. Pishimoni  used to organise a picnic and this was the best picnic. The kids (particularly I) had a say in the picnic menu and I loved the way she took take of the entire thing.  Once my father wanted to join us as we were visiting this newly discovered “picnic spot” she said , Bhai ei ekta jayga to amader jonno chchere dao ( Brother, leave this space for us).

Though I did not understand what she meant, looking back, I cherish this all girls picnic.  This picnic was Pishimoni’s way of teaching us to be independent of having our own tarun sangha and borun sangha with no matadors or blaring music but a space that my mothers, kakima called their own- a day to themselves.


Khichuri – labra to Soyabhog : shifting contours of Bhog cultures

Bhog is the cooked food that is offered in Hindu rituals in India. Traditionally ( and even now) people queued up to receive the blessed food (prasad). With time, the prasad was made accessible to devotees through advanced online bookings across various websites.  Most of these prasad bookings are restricted to items that are hugely popular.  For instance laddus of Siddhivinayak Temple, Maharashtra can be pre-booked and devotes can get a home delivery of  Aravana Payasam  prepared from jaggery, ghee and a special variety of rice called Unakkalari(red coloured raw rice) of Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple through DTDC. The temple economy has pervaded the net through advanced bookings of such offerings and attractive deals offering combinations of various prasad is also available in some web-portals.

Like other regions bhog has been an integral component of Bengali Hindu rituals. Mandar Mukhopadhay in his article “Jogbiyoggunbhag” published in Robbar, Pratidin1  recounts several bhog which were particularly famous – bhog offered in Radhakanta temple , ras-bhog ( food offered during ras, a festival celebrated in the full moon night of kartik/ October- November, an annual festival celebrating  Lord Krishna’s desire to dance), “nanda-bhog” and “pancham doler bhog” (bhog offered during Holi-the festival of colours). Bhog, as Mandar Mukhopadhyay recounts was not only prepared in temple complexes but also prepared in households. Notions of purity and pollution and codes of preparation were rather strict. Reminiscing about bhog preparation in households, Mandar Mukhopadhyay mentions that the cooking area was splashed with cow-dung water and mopped neatly before cooking. Bell metal cookware was washed with tamarind pulp and ashes from the clay oven used to cook vegetarian food.  Women were responsible for bhog preparation. Usually senior women were in charge of bhog preparation probably to maintain notions of purity associated with food offered in Hindu rituals. In Bengal, women during their menstrual cycle were refrained from taking part in Hindu rituals, so I am assuming similar practices were followed in bhog preparation as well.

Annabhog or rice based bhog is cooked in Brahmin households.  The codes of prohibition around food prohibited a Brahmin to consume anna / rice from non Brahmin households hence there existed a practice of  preparing luchi ( round discs of fried fluffy bread from flour) in non-Brahmin households. Mahendranath Dutta in his book Kolikatar Puraton Kahini O Pratha (1929) recounts experiences from his childhood days when Brahmin households served rice-based meals because everybody could eat at Brahmin households2.  Similarly Kayastha household n Dutta’s account served Luchi- based meals.

Each household had their own speciality. For instance I loved the jora ilish and rice bhog that was offered during Lakshmi Puja in a neighbouring household.3 Similarly, I  miss the Luchi- Suji ( Semolina prepared with ghee and sugar) bhog that is offered in Janmasthami in our household . One item that is commonly associated with bhog across festivals is khichudi (one meal dish prepared from rice, pulse and vegetables eaten with fritters and chutney).

With Durga Puja around the corner, bhog is one integral component. The journey of Durga Puja from household to community-centric has re-shaped bhog preparation and distribution as well. In Kolkata, Puja organisers arrange for home delivery of bhog in neighbourhoods. Some bhog staples are khichudi, labra (a mish mash of seasonal vegetables) and chutney( a tomato based tangy preparation). Some organisers have replaced labra with alur dom (a potato based curry). Runny khichudi and labra are my favourite.

In Delhi, Mumbai, the puja organisers serve “bhog” on Saptamai, Ashtami, Navami. Special arrangements are made for senior citizens so that they don’t have to stand in the long queues. Hence it is of no wonder that the food giants are making their way to sponsor such initiatives. If you are in Kolkata and your puja committee has collaborated with Nutrela you might find Nutrela products blended in your puja bhog. This year, Nutrela has started a new initiative: Nutrela Mahapujor Mahabhog with a vision to introduce “soya bhog” in Durga Puja palate. They have selected 26 clubs across Kolkata and will award “Nutrela Mahapujor Mohabhog” title to  the Puja committee who manages to whisk up a delicious bhog using Nutrela products. This is a new dimension of corporatisation of Durga Puja and bhog-culture.

Time will tell if soya bhog can go along with labra and alur dom!


1          Mandar Mukhopadhyay (2013) “Jogbiyoggunbhog” Robbar, Pratidin, 6 October 2013. Pp 28-31.

2          Mahendranath Dutta (1929) Kolikatar Puraton Kahini O Pratha . Kolkata: The Mahendra Publishing Committee.

3      This practice was common in Bangal (East- Bengal) households. In some households, raw Hilsa was offered and later cooked and distributed. Some offered cooked hilsa as well.


Cooking shows on Indian Television

People bond over food. A nice meal brings people together and a wrong delivery fosters friendship between two strangers.  The film The Lunch Box is an account of dabbawalas (lunch box carriers in Mumbai), a wife’s trials to restore communication with her husband by cooking his favourite items and a heart rendering tale of Despande aunty who helps out her neighbour with her spices and tips J. Well I am not going to review The Lunch Box.  Instead a scene where Ila listens to a radio show on recipes kept me thinking of how food shows have changed on Indian Television.  It would be really nice if some researcher works on this area.

We have been witness to the success of Chef Sanjeev Kapoor who appeared on ZEE’s food show Khana Khazana which is now a channel in itself hosting an array of shows on food and cooking. Khana Khazana’s success as a cookery show paved way for the vernacular channels to have their own shows.   Zee’s Khana Khazana was an eye –opener for many of us who depended on recipes from magazines, newspaper columns or recipe books. In fact, I was surprised to find a recipe of ravioli in my mother’s recipe book few years back.  When I asked her from where she got the recipe she said “Why Sanjeev Kapoor?” Sanjeev Kapoor’s kitchen tips were hugely popular among my aunts as well.  They also discussed fondly the neat table top where Kapoor chopped his vegetables, and the latest kitchen appliances used in Kapoor’s kitchen were an instant hit, particularly non-stick frying pans and pots.

While Kapoor’s kitchen gave a peek into the “professional” side of kitchen activities, shows like Ajker Ranna ( What to cook Today) on DD Bangla are an evidence of the camera travelling to the households and documenting the recipes from the homemaker’s hearth.  Viewers had to write in with their recipes and the lucky one would get to dish out the chosen recipe. Unlike today’s designer sponsored sets the shooting mostly took place within the premises of the kitchen or the kitchen set-up would be re-created in a room perfect for shooting.  The personalised setting of this show appealed to the viewers. While formerly viewers had to write in specially designed “competition postcards” sold by the Postal Department for Rs 3; now viewers can mostly email, and send videos of recipes to production houses.

Post Khana Khazana success, vernacular channels realised the potential of cookery shows. Cookery shows not only tied up with food products, kitchen appliance companies but also encouraged the spread of modular kitchen. One such show on Bengali Television has been Kutchina sponsored Rannaghar in Zee Bangla.  Literally meaning “kitchen”, this show invited the viewers to contribute recipes and the lucky one got to cook and share his/her life story in this show. The kitchen in its former years (before the spread of modular kitchen) was a dream place to cook. Apart from the neatly hung pots and pans to various kinds of serving bowls (in one of the episodes anchor recalled instances when viewers  sent in notes of appreciation for certain kinds of serving bowls), the “kutchina chimney” which was the point of attraction.  People from all walks of life are invited to cook in this show and these shows have become sites of film promotions as well.

Cookery shows were taken to new levels with introduction of  24 hour food channels on Indian Television, particularly Khana Khazana and Food Food . Round the clock cookery shows not only specialise in regional cuisines of India but international cuisines as well. Innovative formats of the shows; coupled with availability of ingredients (thanks to our supermarkets!) have made these shows popular.

What is your favourite show? Do let me know. Till then, cook like a star.

Some interesting articles




Magic Charm of Jharna Ghee…

No Bengali kitchen is complete without a bottle of Jharna Ghee.  I was sharing with S, anecdotes of my encounter with this favourite brand of ghee (clarified butter) that adorns my kitchen and comes of use when you want to make an aromatic and creamy mashed vegetable. One of my summer favourites is to boil potato, parwal, pumpkin, mash it and add finely chopped green chillies and a dash of salt. Drizzle ghee and have it with hot piping rice. Another way of relishing Jharna Ghee is to enjoy it with Gobindobhog Rice (a variety of short grained and aromatic rice found in Bengal) with mashed potatoes and a boiled egg.  Jharna Ghee continues to be my comfort food till date.

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What is Jharna Ghee? Jharna is a popular brand of gawa ghee ( cow milk based ghee).  For an interesting discussion on ghee read the following thread http://www.gourmetindia.com/topic/342-ghee/page-3.  It is an integral component of Bengali cuisine as no Moong Dal would be complete without a drizzle of Jharna Ghee or no Niramish tarkari (vegetable curry) would taste good without a fresh dose of ground garam masala and a dash of Jharna Ghee. Jharna Ghee is also used in restaurants catering Bengali food. For instance, one of the articles on Bengali Restaurants outside Kolkata mentions along with fish even Jharna Ghee is sourced from Kolkata.1

Jharna Ghee is a product from Sundarban Dairy and Farm Works, Kolkata and probably several decades old. Though several articles recollect their associations with this favourite brand, I have not come across any article on the producers of Jharna Ghee or Sundarban Dairy and Farm Works. As I polish the last helping of Khichdi (with a generous helping of Jharna ghee), I feel a cosmic connection with B who braved the Mumbai traffic, pending work schedules to reach home early to enjoy her comfort dinner of piping hot rice, Jharna Ghee, salt and green Chilly or the frantic call of the mother to buy a bottle of Jharna Ghee as a remedial measure to her son’s weight loss. Such is the magic charm of Jharna Ghee  🙂

Notes and References


1Bagchi, S. “Bengal on the Menu”. The Telegraph. 8 October 2005. http://www.telegraphindia.com/1051008/asp/weekend/story_5315005.asp


Food Trail @ Landour

LandourLandour continues to be one of my favourite getaway destinations from Delhi. Nestled far away from Mussorie it enjoys the advantage of  the greatest views, pines dotting the walkways, pleasant landscapes and some unforgettable  trails if you like to explore hill station on foot.  Landour takes its name from Llanddowror, a village in Carmarthenshire in Southwest Wales.  It was built in 1825 as a sanatorium for the British Army Officers and presently this quaint hill station is house to  Ruskin Bond, Tom Alter, Victor Banerjee and many others. This hill station till a few years back boasted of few guest houses, and home stays. Our favourite hault was Devdarwoods located at an uphill near Sister’s Bazaar (interestingly the name owes to the nurses who stayed here during colonial times) where P and I stayed for a rent of Rs 600 inclusive of a complimentary breakfast spread which included toasts with an amazing range of preserves (apricot, plum, gooseberry), and peanut butter.

Cut to 2013. K and I settled to stay at a beautiful homestay of Bhatty’s which is a good fifteen to twenty-minute hike from the Main gate of Woodstock School or from Sister’s Bazaar.

Study Corner of our room @ Bhatty's

Study Corner of our room @ Bhatty’s

We were welcomed over a breakfast of crisp toasts and preserves from Prakash. Prakash’s store @ Sister’s Bazaar sells a variety of preserves, chutney, jelly, peanut butter and  I strongly recommend Apricot, Plum and Gooseberry preserve. The store also boasts of baking fresh breads and banana walnut cake.

We had a list of places to try out. Mrs Bhatty recommended us to try out Chhaya Cafe and DP has been insisting to try out their Chicken Pot Pie ever since her trip to Landour. K and I walked down to Landour Bazaar to place order for a pair of hand crafted leather shoes. Instead we placed orders for a range of colourful shoes. While K bagged two pairs of yellow and red shoes in her kitty, I settled for beige, and blue coloured shoes. The shoes are priced between Rs 350-700. If you are staying in Landour for two to three days please order yourself a pair of these hand crafted leather shoes and sandals available in a variety of colours.

Chhaya Cafe

After that we settled for a lunch at Chhaya Cafe. Chhaya Cafe is located at Malanghar Hill. You can enjoy a sunny afternoon lunch of Chicken Pot Pie, some Fresh Lime Water and a good array of freshly bakes in this small cafe managed by women.

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie is a Chhaya Speciality and is served with a fresh salad. Other options include Mediterranean Platter, and Sandwiches. The Cafe is wi-fi enabled; to avert free wi-fi users, there is a request to order dishes within every one hour use of wi-fi facilities. Interesting indeed! We enjoyed the decor of Chhaya Cafe. True to its name which means shelter, the cafe has a huge tree painted in the ceiling and tree motifs adorn some of the tables. A box of chalks are kept in some tables for enthusiastic artists.  A meal for two would be a little over 500 INR.

Table Chhaya Cafe

After wrapping our lunch here, we walked up to St. Paul’s Church and settled for a coffee break at Emily’s- the restaurant of newly restored Rokeby Manor. Emily’s is a new addition in Landour’s landscape with Rokeby Manor being transformed into a pretty place. Such “pretty” transformations in quiet hill stations like Landour have invited quite a few intruders in terms of increase in traffic in the road leading to Sister’s Bazaar from Landour Bazaar. While I secretly wanted the calm and peace one enjoyed the steep walk from Landour Bazaar to St. Paul’s Church I cherished the welcome change that Emily’s have brought in Landour. Emily’s is a must visit. The smell of freshly prepared bread welcomed us as we entered Emily’s.


To begin with we ordered a Sticky Toffee Pudding and Coffee.

Sticky Pudding

Next day we settled for Shepherd’s Pie, Penne in Pesto Basil Sauce and Cappuccino. While we have no complaints about the food, interesting bit was a charity amount of Rs 5 that we were charged in the bill. Interesting Initiative! A Friend suggested that we should have tried their Indian menu as well and if we had our way we might even settle for their Dinner. Compared to other eating out options, prices are a little steep. The main courses are from Rs 350 onwards. So a meal for two with coffee, and taxes will cost Rs 1000+ for two people.

A trip to Landour is incomplete without a tea/ coffee break at Char Dukan adjacent to St. Paul’s Church. Literally four cafes offer a variety of options from pancakes to waffles to piping hot Maggie. The icing of the trip was some beautiful kebabs ( shammi, sheekh ) we had at dinners at Bhatty’s. The best surprise was potato shammi kebab with freshly made mint dip and some lovely spinach dal. While I will try out my version of spinach dal this weekend, to reminiscence about the good times in Landour last weekend, if you are planning to take a weekend break with some great food you have to explore Landour.

How to Reach Landour from Delhi/ New Delhi:

By Train : It is an overnight journey from Delhi/ New Delhi to Dehradun. Either board The  Mussorie Express from Old Delhi or settle for The New Delhi- Dehradun Express which leaves New Delhi Railway Station at 11.55pm.

By Bus: Volvo Buses to Mussorie can be booked from ISBT Delhi. Taxis are available from Mussorie to Sister’s Bazaar.

Dehradun- Landour, Sister’s Bazaar

Book yourself a taxi from the prepaid taxi booth near Dehradun Station. It costs us Rs 1010.


Lost in Translation

It was way back in college. I self invited and piled on with a friend for one of the wedding feasts of her cousin. Tired of varieties of gourds on offer in hostel menu, the thought of some protein in my diet was appealing. While I settled for mutton curry my “Bengali” soul ached for “Phish” (The Bengali tongue often confuses Ph for F ). A little disappointed my flat mate sprung a surprise next day when she came back with a box of sweets. She said how did I find the Jhinga? Jhinga in Bengali is a variety of gourd, a summer vegetable we cook with poppy seed paste or add it to Moong Dal. I did not even see any merit in this question. While I was struggling to see a point a friendly neighbour who was used to my “Hindi” chipped in. She asked me if I liked the prawn curry. To my shock, I realised there was some confusion. My friend added, Jhinga means Prawns. I realised I had missed out on tasting the “Jhinga Curry” because I thought it was bottle gourd curry. I gathered my composure and told myself that one needs to learn the names of non-vegetarian items in Hindi. Similarly, a friend went to Kolkata and ordered Jhinga Posto thinking she would be served a dish made of prawns/ shrimps with poppy seed paste. As the green vegetable peeped from the poppy seed paste she realised that there has been a miscommunication. Another friend of mine migrated to Kolkata and was placing an order for his tiffin. After bored with Fish and dishes over a week he decided to order “Dim” thinking it would be some Bengali exotica. To his irony when two eggs peeped from an oily red gravy. He realised that it’s best to pick up some Bengali words.

I am sure such adventures are part of everybody’s food trail. Every time I look through City of Joy’s (a Bengali restaurant in New Delhi) Menu I wonder how food metaphors could be translated as it is steeped in one’s cultural sensibilities. For instance under the section on Breads/ Rice they have something called Maa er Hather Roti. While in Bengali it sounds fine, for any non- Bengali speaker, and particularly in English it would sound ridiculous if one were to literally translate this item. It would mean “Flattened bread from your Mother’s hands”. Thankfully City of Joy does not translate such metaphorical usage of words and leaves it to your imagination but recently I received links of two news items from B which adequately explains how such adventures can turn out to be linguistic mis-adventures. In other words, how food metaphors find new meaning in such cases of appropriation and translation.

Have you ever ordered “Chicken without sex life” or “beancurd made by women with freckles” in a Chinese restaurant in Beijing? These are the literal translations of some of the dishes and the book published by Municipal Office of Foreign Affairs aims at helping restaurants to avoid what the news report calls such cases of “ bizarre translations”1. If the translations of 3000 odd dishes on offer are used by the restaurants the English speaking audience will no more hear dishes like “Chicken without Sex life “ which has been translated to “Spring chicken” or “Red burned lion head” which would know be known as “braised pork ball in the brown sauce”. The translators according to this article translated the names of dishes using four rubrics : ingredients, cooking method, taste and name of a person or place.  The book aims to solve the confusions that English speaking food lovers encounter when they hear the bizarre translations. While the translator’s efforts might have saved the food lover’s confusions in the near future what’s the harm in retaining these metaphorical translations of everyday life with a description of food… The best in this series of translation was relating Fuqi feipian which used to be called Husband and Wife’s Lung slice. Now it will be called Sliced Beef and ox tongue in Chilli Sauce… For a visual treat of these dishes with how the lexicon takes over food metaphors please visit the following link on the book of translations (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2012-03/15/content_14837721.htm).

So next time you are in Beijing you might be told how Ludagunr is not Rolling donkey but glutinous rice rolls stuffed with red beans and paste. 2


1 For details see “No More Chicken without Sex Life” in http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2012-03/14/content_14833808.htm.

2 For details see “Cuisine Lexicon Offers Tasty food for thought” in http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2012-03/15/content_14837721.htm.



In Memory of P.G.W. Canteen

I have been thinking of writing a post dedicated to P.G.W Canteen that was an integral component of my everyday life as a student in Delhi University from 2000-2007. Yesterday, a friend called me and she fondly exchanged notes over how she has managed to crack the recipe of Chini Parantha (Parantha layered with sugar) that she and I used to have in P.G.W Canteen. P.G.W Canteen is the abbreviated version of Post Graduate Women’s Hostel Canteen. The Canteen once known for paranthas, tea and was the lifeline for many female students in that vicinity if they wanted a packet of biscuits, Maggie or even Sanitary Napkin has died a slow death.

The slow death of this canteen calls for a closer self reflection of the ways in which spaces in Delhi University have been subject to surveillance and how rationing of food in girls’ hostels is part of the University Culture. Rationing of food in the name of wastage has always troubled me.  My first tryst with a Chicken meal in a P.G. Accommodation in North Delhi was somewhat like this. Two pieces of Chicken stared at my face from a bowl that could have been used to serve vegetables and a bigger serving bowl brimming with gravy… It was not only aesthetically unappealing but also reflects how public eating cultures assume “women” to be small eaters. This pattern continues in the university hostel rationing cultures where there is a cap regarding the number of slices of bread one could take, to a person dedicated for serving Milk to ensure “equitable” (?) distribution and a choice between fruit and egg? I wonder if our male colleagues in Hostels for men are subject to such rationing in their mess halls. Some hostels do not allow women residents to carry food to their rooms and special permission is to be sought if one intends to do so.

Such surveillance run deep and the food rationing practices is one of them. So, for people who felt hungry and want to skip meals in their respective hostels ( Meghdoot Hostel, Miranda Hostel, DUWA hostel) and female students and teachers dropped by in P.G.W Canteen for their daily bites which could have been breakfast, lunch or an early dinner. Since it was within a girls’ hostel premises where there are timings of entry and exit for visitors and residents; female students were supposed to leave by 8pm. Yet, we did not complain because of lack of “canteen” facilities in our respective hostels as P.G.W Canteen was our saviour.

P.G.W Canteen was a legend and institution and for reasons best known to the authorities it closed down. The owner of the canteen whom we fondly called Dipu Bhaiya shared a love-hate relationship with the students. The Canteen best known for parathas with various stuffings (potato, cauliflower, onion, radish, potato-onion,) served with a spicy pickles of cabbage and onions was a hit among students from North Campus. The Chchole Batura of P.G. Canteen was also a favourite and if the people at the kitchen were in a good mood they would also give a helping of the Chchole with paratha. The parathas priced between Rs 5-10 were cheap and affordable. The vegetable toast and their special tea was the evening snack most of us gorged on. For some of the students, their bread roll was appealing as well. Most importantly, if you did not want to trek down to Kamala Nagar or Kingsway Camp you could walk down to P.G.W in your shorts, and pack food for dinner.

When I was in college we also got food packed for our 24 hour journey train ride. The food never went bad. Everyone of us had their own favourite pick. And anybody who frequented the place would remember the famous Maggie they served. A friend told me that she has managed to recreate “P.G.W Maggie” and it’s a favourite with her family. Most importantly, it was a place where a student could indulge in comfort food within Rs 20.

Many such memories haunt me every time one sees the closed shutters of the P.G.W Canteen. Such closed shutters dot a University space that seems alien to people like us who stepped in this university a decade ago. With the familiar spaces gone, what remains are such anecdotes…


Rendezvous with Smita Singhal, Head Pastry Chef, Cupcake&Co.

Trading for livelihood, designing for love and baking with passion sums up Smita Singhal , the owner of Cupcake &Co. 


Smita’s story is inspiring as she wears many a hats- that of a single mother, a successful entrepreneur and of course a prolific baker.  Itiriti brings to you the profile of a baker, anecdotes from her life at Le Corden Bleu and much more….

Smita’s journey before and along with Cupcake &Co…

As soon as I meet Smita at her office overlooking the GKII market she kicks off the conversation by sharing her professional journey. After Graduating in Commerce, Smita went off to pursue her studies in FIT, New York.  After an eight year long stint in advertising, post pregnancy she quit her job and joined a section of her father’s Chemical business and is in charge of the trading. She also has a small Company called Raya which she kicked off in 2007 where she designs costume jewellery. She retails her products through exhibitions. She also works as a freelance designer for an export house. And seamlessly she also had a passion for baking. She recounts the days when her mother used to bake.

“My mother influenced me a lot” and baking for son…

She is a self proclaimed foodie and loved to bake. She started baking in college and it used to be primarily for fun. She recalls Mala Bindra’s influence who was the first successful home-based baker in Delhi. Till 2009, she did not consider baking seriously till her son wanted to have a chocolate cake. From then one she went on to preparing chocolate cake to banana cake and carrot cake.

red velvet

No one was doing cupcakes …

No one was doing cupcakes back then.  She is a self confessed you-tube student. She recalls fondly her fondant learning lesson from youtube. While she was self tutoring , she also felt the need to learn some skills as her housewarming gifts of cupcakes  and small catering orders ranging from requests from family and friends to a Christmas party was gaining popularity.  She even received orders for a Christmas party and the collaboration continues this date. At this juncture she was using techniques which was self taught, and depending on fancy supplies which friends from abroad got for her. She felt the need to train herself beyond her “ How to …..?” lessons

Life at Julia Child School…

After a review of the options available to her, she chose to apply to Le Corden Bleu Paris.

In July 2012 she got selected for the one month programme which specialises in pastry making in the prestigious Le Corden Bleu, Paris. She weighed her options of studying in Bangkok and settled for this course.  Out of a class of 40 odd students there were 35 female students, 5 male students.  Smita was one of the five Indian students ( two were Chandigarh, one from Bombay and one from Bangalore).  And of course the students were from diverse backgrounds. “Average age was 27 and I was oldest”- recalls Smita fondly.

She recalls being part of the group of ten from diverse backgrounds. Most of them were backed by food industry. Some of them were food stylists, some were taking the course as part of extended programme etc. One has to submit a business plan along with the application form.  She also took a five week home tuition on French from somebody at the French Embassy in Delhi.

“I hardly saw Paris…”

Can you imagine it was a three month programme squished into one month. “Our days began at 8.30 am and we wrapped up by 9.30pm.  We woke by 6.30 am and we had to get ready by 8.30 am in class. We had lockers where our uniforms were kept”.  We had to wear the uniforms and be seated in class by 8.30 am. The school, she recalls had a microscopic gaze and they kept a check on every move of the students. Points were deducted if one did not cover their head or wore an untidy uniform to the class.  Apparently two students were thrown out before their completion of the programme because of their late attendance.

Le Corden Bleu, Paris houses 4 kitchens two dedicated to cuisine and two dedicated for pastry. A batch of ten students took turns to do practical and theory classes on rotation basis to accommodate 250 students.

On an average, 3 recipes (theory and practical) were taught to the students who undertook the programme. In practical classes, French Chefs came in to demonstrate a recipe and a translator used to translate his demonstrations to English.  Smita recalls, “You had to be attentive. Since they never repeated any step, if you missed a step it was your loss. You had to take notes while you were watching. You had to keep a close eye. During the course of these classes I learnt a lot of French words for ingredients like butter, sugar etc…”.

“I hardly saw Paris. We did the bakery scene. We explored the restaurants, bakeries. Food was on the go. We did not have time to cook after we got over with our classes at 9.30pm. It was very intensive . Worth it”.

Smita was one of the top 12 students in her batch. She graduated in August 2012.

Life after Le Corden Bleu.

She interned with Olive Beach at Chanakyapuri. She was interning in the pastry section. He stint here helped her to understand how a kitchen works. She recalls with full admiration the kitchen staff she encountered in Olive who learned on the job. She recollects her colleague who taught her to how make breads and was self taught and learned on the job. After her stint here she formed Virtual Bakery in September 2012.

christmas 2

Cup Cake &Co… And the concept of virtual bakery

“I wanted to see the response of my products”. She emphasises that while she knew her skills, it is important to know what your clientele want and if there is a clientele for your products. Virtual bakery concept provided her with an option to explore the first stage of business with no over head costs.  Within ten days orders started pouring in…

Life as a baker…

“Starting from batter to baking, I do it all”. She proudly points out that she has been trained in a school which emphasises using hands on skills. “In my school, we were taught baking with hands. That’s what French tradition is about …so from preparing batter to whipping cream it had to be done with hands”. She is in charge of stocking up supplies, following up on orders to preparing the deliverables. She says “ Thanks to my stint in advertising I know how to multitask. You had to handle 6 different portfolios, different clientele..”. She has recently bought food processor and added an oven to her kitty of kitchen appliances. While we share our mutual admiration for old ovens we move on to discussing the varieties that Cup Cake & Co. Offers.

Menu on offer

As she gears up to bake two deliveries she shares with me her experience of having a savoury stall at Australian Spring Fair: Sun Dried Tomato Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting, Sumac Spiced Potato Puff Pastry, Cajun Ham and Cheese Puff Pastry, Chicken Taco Tart, Mushroom and Caramelised Onion Cheese Tart.

French Apple Tart

Her favourite recommends:-

Apple Walnut with brown sugar butter cream

Caramel Fudge Cake with white chocolate

Carrot Cake

Future Plans of expansion

She dreams of opening her retail outlet with a “rolling and loyal clientele”. She says her kitchen floor would be clean and she would not offer more than two to three formats in her shop. It is important to have less to maintain quality, taste and loyalty. She plans to hire a kitchen space and shift out of her home.

Vanilla with lemon and vanilla frosting

Collection of books related to food…

She is an avid reader and has a collection of 250 books starting from cookery books to fiction. She tells me two to three fiction where the authors have woven recipes with the narrative…

Favourite Movies

Chocolat, Ratatouille and The Feast

Baking tips for Itiriti Readers!!!!

  1. Always measure to the “T”.
  2. When you want to layer your cake, please refrigerate for sometime before cutting.
  3. When you are making a dough for pastry, refrigerate it for half an hour before rolling it out.

Contact Details :

Cupcake & Co: A virtual bakery based out of Delhi.

Since the baker works on the miracles on her own you need to order 48 hours in advance.



Photoes : Smita Dhingal


Tasting cultures along the Indian coastline

K and I on our way back from a play on a bright Saturday afternoon stumbled into a bookshop. As soon as I entered the bookshop I quietly escaped into the travelogue section and started flipping through the pages of “Following Fish”. True to the title, the author Samanth Subramanian follows the fish across the Indian coast and takes you on a tour from Bengal to Gujarat.  Each chapter is devoted to the ways in which fish is much more about gastronomic delight. While it is as much about taste of fish, it is also about tasting cultures. This is why I would recommend this book to every readers of this blog. You don’t have to eat fish to love this book; you have to be curious about tasting cultures that dot the Indian coastline to enjoy this book.

The trail of fish begins with Bengal – and its most prized fish – Hilsa with a subtle indication of how this fish is much more than food. It is also about identity of East Bengal and West Bengal. Samanth Subramanian takes us through a whirlwind tour of the various fish markets of Kolkata before stopping and stumbling on the Ganga Hilsa. The author’s self reflexive account makes the book an interesting read. This is particularly so in the second chapter that documents the Bathini Goud’s festivities on thrusting live fish with secret medicine – a treatment for asthma that has become part of the state calendar in Hyderabad as it attracts thousands of people who come for this treatment.The chapter documents the medical treatment that is offered to thousands for free amidst belief and scepticism.  Each of the chapter seamlessly weaves in local history, politics into the making and survival of cuisine. Samanth Subramaniam takes us through the world of Tuticorn to discuss in detail the history of conversion, the tension between the church and chieftain to tell us how Tuticorn, despite being the strong Portuguese stronghold  retained their distinct cuisine.  The gem dish of the region is Fish Podi- dried fish powder which is eaten with rice and dollops of ghee. The spicy trail of fish has just begin as  the author takes us through the  Kerala’s toddy shops and their treatment of fish and I already have my eyes set on the Alleppey shop mentioned in the book in my next visit to Kerala, followed by the stunning revelation of the President of the Managlore Fishermen’s Cooperative,  Secretary of National Fish Workers Federation and of the Coastal Karnataka Fishermen Action Committee that he does not eat fish as the author is treated to the Mangalore fish curry in his house. The author then winds off his fishing trail through his accounts on angling, and his accounts of fishermen in Goa who has taken to other professions because of depleting fishes in Goa’s coastline due to overfishing. The author then takes us to the hustle bustle of the Sassoon Dock in Bombay with his guide Yeshi followed by a stopover at the shrine of Mumbadevi Temple in Zaveri Bazaar to a nice hot meal of fish curry at Anantashram ( one of the remaining khanawals) , a peep into the culinary affair in a Koli household and finally taking us through the markers of Gomanatak and Malvani cuisine. The final chapter stops with the crafting of fishing boats in Gujarat- which supplies much of the fish that finds its way to fish markets across India and in our kitchens and is also renowned for crafting fishing boats.

The book manages to unravel the history, geography of “fish” beyond its gastronomic qualities which makes it an interesting read.

Book Review: Subramaniam, Samanth. 2010. Following Fish: Travels around the Indian Coast. New Delhi: Penguin Books.