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Sunday, December 18, 2011

food - great tastes


IN SEARCH OF TASTE - A TALE OF FOUR CITIES
A food aficionado’s mouthwatering journey over the years in cities he lived. Read  Rana's memoir with food.

Cooking has been regarded as one of the greatest of arts right from the time of Julius Caesar. Although elements of art of cooking are easy to define, I have discovered over the years that the tastes which still linger on my tongue are the tastes that mattered. In that respect my nanny still remains unbeatable as the greatest cook in my life. We called her ‘nannabhai’ derived from the Bengali word ‘ranna’ for cooking. Be it a simple Hilsa egg fry or peas pulao or stuffed chicken or bater roast, mutton or chicken stew the food always used to be a gastronomical delight. My mother inherited some of her skills and tickled our senses with dishes like Tomato fish, Mutton kofta curry and Pudding. Now its my wife who has mastered the art of tickling my senses. Her talent for improvisation has created a new type of Shammi Kebab which is a fusion of Lucknow Shammi Kebab and Tunda Kebab. The effort has paid her – like the saying goes ‘a man’s heart is through his stomach’.

Believe me or not I have been able to identify and remember only a handful of eateries during my mouth watering journey. Some unheard perhaps to this generation, some ordinary and all of them without any five star classification.

LUCKNOW         ( reminiscence of sixties )

‘TUCK SHOP’, La Martiniere College, Lucknow
Tucked away in the extreme corner of the left flank of the majestic Constantia building, at the other extreme of ‘Lat’ was our school canteen known as ‘Tuck Shop’. During our lunch time there used to be a beeline and flurry for ‘Puri sabji’ rolled out by Tuck shop. Simple but delicious is what endeared it amongst us those days.



‘BENBOWS’, Hazratgunj, Lucknow

Way back in sixties this confectionery had become an important landmark in Lucknow. Whenever I got my tooth extracted my father used to take me there for an Ice Cream treat. Wow! the flavor of vanilla slab with a wafer dipped in or Tutti Fruity served in a tall glass was simply heavenly. With mushrooming of so many Ice Cream vendors and confectioners I am yet to discover that flavor.



‘RANJANA’, Hazratgunj, Lucknow

Adjacent to the twin cinema halls Filmistan / Prince, it is remembered for its unique Mutton Dosa.



‘CHOWDHARY SWEET HOUSE’, Hazratgunj, Lucknow

A very popular joint for veggies the taste of its vegetable keema curry still lingers.


'Quality', Mayfair Cinema, Hazratgunj, Lucknow
This used to be my favorite joint. The dish I enjoyed most was Mutton Jhalfrezy with naan.I also remember the mobile van outside Christ Church School which used to make delicious Shammi kebab of ‘geeli’ type and roomali roti in the evenings. And last but not the least was a shop near the park facing CDRI, Lucknow.I enjoyed their shammi kebab and mutton biryani.

CALCUTTA

Biryani originated in Persia, and Lucknow Biryani which is also known as ‘Dum’ Biryani because of its cooking process made its mark when the Nawab of Oudh introduced the cuisine meant for the Royal family to the common man by arranging to serve it to gatherings in the premises of Imambara. In 1856 the Biryani moved to Calcutta from Lucknow along with Nawab Wazid Ali Shah who was deposed by the British. It entered Calcutta since the cooks also moved with the Nawab. In Calcutta it also entered the poorer homes which could not afford meat everyday, and so the meat was replaced by potatoes. Today if you order for a chicken or mutton Biryani in any of Calcutta’s popular restaurants like Aminia, Shiraj or Shabirs you will find that they have stuck to the tradition of including potatoes in the Biryani. Tastes little different but is quite close to the taste of Lucknow Biryani. My recommendation for food lovers includes Pasinda Kebab of Aminia, mutton Rezala of Shabirs and beef roll of Nizams. But the true palate pleasers I experienced in Calcutta are ‘Kasha Magso (mutton)’ at Friends, Gariahat or Golbari at Shambazar 5-point crossing; Dal Kachori of Shree Hari,Bhowanipur, Mixed Fried Rice at Jimmy’s Kitchen, Theater Road, Fish Grille at Indian Coffee House, College Street., Sausage roll and Darjeeling tea at Flury's and apple tart and plum cakes at Nahoum and De Gama..At this point I must admit that I am an avid tea lover., and that has turned me into a connoisseur over the years.Be it tea from Darjeeling, Assam or Nilgiris I feel proud to claim that I can tell the difference - it is like whiskey, difference between malt, blended, scotch or single malt. Like Scotland, a country in Europe, earned fame and name by producing world's best whiskeys , a much tinier Himalayan region of Bengal 'Darjeeling' boasts of producing the finest of world's tea. I also never believed it is so famous till I saw a huge board at the concourse of Amsterdam Central Station saying ' DARJEELING TEA AVAILABLE HERE'.

DELHI

Like the Mughals left their footprints in Lucknow and Eastern part of India, Delhi can boast of being the originator and hub of some of the most tantalizingly delicious and appealing Mughals cuisines. The symphony of taste, aroma and colors which Mughals left for us can be found in the Jama Masjid and Nizamuddin areas of Delhi. Notable, both historically (as it was started in Red Fort) and also for maintaining the tradition for over a century is ‘Kareems’. But if one wants to get a quick taste of good Biryani (reminiscent of Lucknow Biryani) one has to eat standing on the narrow lane of Ballimaran, close to Mirza Ghalib’s Haveli. Ghalib is regarded as the greatest lyric poet during the times of Bahadur Shah Zafar,the last Mughal Emperor who himself was a profound writer on Sufism. I would also like to include in my favourite list Peshawari at Daryagunj where I have had the tastiest of chicken preparations and Kake de Hotel at Connaught Place, although I have not been to these joints for years. Amongst the restaurants closer to my house where I prefer to eat out are Embassy,United Coffee House, Connaught, Gola Sizzler, Pind Baluchi, Drift at Epicenter.

BOMBAY

Yeh hain Mumbai Yeh hain Mumbai Yeh hain Mumbai meri jaan

The above line is from a very popular oldie which aptly paints the image of Bombay. And once upon a time in Mumbai there were many Iranian restaurants owned by the Parsi community of Bombay. The Eateries were presentable with well laid comfortable wooden chairs and tables neatly decorated. In other words newcomers to Bombay had an urge to try out one of these typical looking joints which lent a unique character and look to the city. It happened to me when I first landed at Bombay with a job in the late seventies. During my stay there as a bachelor I tried many out of which the one on Hill Road opposite the Talkies where I used to have Pudding –it tasted great; mutton chop and keema masala rice at the one adjoining Purohit outside Churchgate station; prawn curry rice in the Fort area and keema curry rice near Wadala station need special mention. While frequenting these joints I came across a few celebrities like Maqbool Fida Hussain, Shahir Ludhianvi and young Sanjay Dutt who was yet to make a mark in Hindi movies. Although I remember the location, the surrounding and the food for their unique taste, I don’t remember the names of these restaurants because they all had typical and almost similar names like ‘Light of Asia’ etc. etc. It is only after the terror attack of 26/11 which started off in Leopold Cafe at Colaba, did I remember that I sometimes used to have evening refreshment there while walking down from Churchgate to Cuffe Parade where I was staying during the first six months of my stay in Bombay. Then there are some small and big Mahrashtrian eateries where one can enjoy a combination of Ussal Pao and Sira—a very delicious combination which you would love to have repeatedly once you taste it. I remember the name of only one such eatery due to its immense popularity ------ Mama Kane just outside Dadar station on the Western side.

Most food columnists keep their likings confined to restaurants located in five star hotels. By doing so they tend to promote the professional chefs who are well versed on ingredients and their measure required for a particular recipe. There is nothing wrong as the approach adopted by most chefs is scientific in nature. But the foods I have tasted at most of the five star hotels have really not appealed to my senses. Believe me or not I don’t even remember any of the palates I had taken at any of these hotels. That is why I believe that cooking is an art. That cooking is an art is known since the days of Homer and Horace who sang of its virtues and its pleasures. A good cuisine tickles your senses and stays embedded during ones lifetime. When you try to recall a taste, cooking no longer sees a common place. Remember the food has to be tantalizingly delicious and appealing to win your heart. In other words one should express with a great spontaneous feeling of satisfaction like Narain Ganguly's Tenida who could stepped out straight from the pages of his book exclaiming --- De La Grande Mephistopheles!!!’



Some Gastronomic Delights !!!

Payesh - prepared by Ruby

'Payesh' prepared from milk and rice with sprinkling of raisins and bay leafs is one of my most favorite sweet dish. A delicious sweet dish from Bengal it is generally not available in bistros. Normally prepared in Bengali houses on festive occasions like birthdays, bhai phota, annaprasan, etc. it is also regarded highly auspicious. It is served chilled or hot and its taste can pin down any of its counterparts like firni or pudding or ice cream. Simple to make but it calls for a magic hand to maintain the right proportion of milk (cow's milk), good quality rice, almonds, raisins and sugar to bring out the yummy flavor in it.

 The processes consist of boiling the milk and when it thickens add rice (Bengalis use Gobindo Bhog rice for its characteristic aroma). Also smear little ghee on the rice to enhance the taste Stir continuously and add sugar when rice gets 3 quarter boiled. One has to keep medium flame till rice is cooked. By that time milk also thickens. Sprinkle dry fruits before serving. Some houses also add jaggery and cardamoms to give it a different flavor but to me no other variety can beat the taste of simple white 'chaaler payesh'. The above image is of Payesh prepared by my wife on my birthday.

What still remains a mystery to me is as to why this culinary delight has not been able to find a place amongst the globally popular Indian cuisines.
CAKES & ALES - (Champagne not Ale): Baker- Mandakini



Apple cake from Mandakini's bakery tastes superb. No exaggeration though it can beat hollow likes you get at Delhi's oldest confectioner Wegners at Connaught Place.



Home made Shammi Kebab. Creator: Ruby to suit Rana's taste


A unique combination of Lucknow Shammi Kebab and Tunda Kebab is my wife Ruby's creation. From her repertoire of creations.





Sizzler
Home made Fish Sizzler


Salad with Honey Mustard


-          A truly delicious and wholesome food, which at the time serving makes a hissing sound and emanates smoke as of something frying. I came to know more about sizzler after my marriage to Ruby. We got married on the 7th of May 1980. Sizzler makes me look back to a very special eating out episode with Ruby way back in early eighties. We had gone to see an evening show at Bandra Talkies in Bombay. After the show we decided to dine out at Gazebo on Linking Road Bandra. Ruby wanted to have sizzler but I suggested that we have something gentler instead. All the noise and smoke a sizzler belched out while being served always gave rise to an embarrassing feeling that attentions of all diners get directed to your table.  I don’t remember what we ordered out that night but I could somehow convince Ruby to go for something else in place of sizzler. Coincidentally someone else had ordered for a sizzler and when it was brought in with all noise, fumes and whiffs of aroma it drew everyone’s attention to it and I could sense the embarrassment those diners were going through of being stared by others. Perhaps that was because very few people ordered for sizzler those days. Times changed and if I remember correctly my wife had her first sizzler almost after a decade at Kwality on Park Street Calcutta as sizzler had gained popularity by then and no one really bothered about being stared down when it was being served. Not only she got her long cherished desire fulfilled, she also broke the ice that day for me. The love for sizzler I acquired after that make us frequent Gola Sizzler at Connaught Place Delhi, which happens to be one of  the oldest sizzler restaurant specializing in sizzler and serving a wide variety of sizzlers. Nowadays she prepares it herself in the house also after having bought a sizzler tray in a wooden container. The main ingredients she uses are cabbage for wrapping the vegetable mix, fish, prawn or meat which are stir fried ; butter , water and sauce to produce the sizzling effect. The pic shows my wife bringing the sizzler to the dining table. 






'SHORSHE ILISH'-Hilsa prepared with paste of mustard seeds.Ilish (in Bengali) is an exquisitely delicious fish that titillate the palates of most Bengalis, particularly the 'Bangals'. Cook: Ruby

 Bangals as distinguished from 'Ghotis' (locals of West Bengal)are immigrants from East Bengal before and after Partition. Although I was born and brought up in places like Benaras and Lucknow I am considered a 'Bangal' by virtue of my forefathers' connection with East Bengal even though they had crossed the border to India much before Partition. Bangals possess a different style of cooking in contrast to Ghotis. Any Bangal, young or old, can easily make out whether the host is a Ghoti or a Bangal. In other words Bangals are both great cooks and great foodies.Ilish has always played a major role in lives of all Bengalis. It is prepared on all auspicious occasions and also whenever Calcutta's major football club East Bengal emerges victorious. Ilish is an oily fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids and available in abundance in the lower Ganges (Padma) and lower Brahmaputra (Meghna). Since both these rivers are located in East Bengal Ilish has been given the status of National Fish of Bangladesh. Partly because of its natural beauty and partly because of Padma Ilish a visit to Bangladesh was always my cherished desire since my childhood. Finally my dream came true in 1987 almost 16 years after a new nation Bangladesh emerged after breaking out from the shackles of East Pakistan. Since I went by road on my first visit, our bus had to be ferried on huge ship like barge across river Padma before entering Dhaka city. Crossing took over an hour and during the course of that journey I was awed by the waves and magnitude of Padma. I was convinced as to why so many proses, poems and folk songs have been woven around Padma. I remember it was a winter night and reflection of the moon on the waters of Padma sent strange romantic ripples through my timbers- a feeling which remains indescribable. At Dhaka we had Ilish curry and rice, not at Gulshan but in the busy lane of Sakharipara. The pieces were small but the fish tasted out of the world. Perhaps this is the only fish which has its own characteristic taste. That is why one has to have an eye for the right selection while buying Ilish from the market. I always feel that if one tastes the roe of Ilish he or she will never go back to caviar which is considered the costliest delicacy all over the world. Because of its characteristic taste and free from any fishy smell an Ilish is a frienno e mannammo - frying and eating - affair (as simple as that).



Recipe of Shorshe Ilish:

Hilsa Fish in mustard sauce

Ingredients



4 Ilish pieces;50 gm hung curd;4 green chilies;1 tbsp ground mustard;1/2 tsp turmeric powder.1/2 tsp cashmere mirch powder 2 tbsp mustard oil, salt to taste.2 pinches of sugar 1/2 cup water

Mix all the ingredients together with Ilish pieces in a kadai. Cover with a lid and slow cook in medium flame for 10 minutes, give 10 minutes standing time .Serve hot with rice & gandharaj lebu( a special aromatic lemon available in Bengal in abundance) on banana leaf. Caution: Do not fry the fish pieces.



Mutton  Kofta curry and Aloor Dum - Dum Aloo  Cook: Ruby 


Recipe of Mutton Kofta Curry:
Ingredients


1/2 kg finely minced meat;200g hung curd;1 tsp finely chopped onion;2 green chilies chopped to small pieces;1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves; salt to taste.



For the gravy

250gm onion paste.25 gm ginger pate, 10 garlic pod paste.200 gm hung curd.

Mix all the ingredients with minced meat with 200gm hung curd and marinate for one hour. Heat oil and then add 1 tsp sugar for caramelization, 2 pcs cloves, 2 pcs cardamom.1pc cinnamon Then add garlic, onion and ginger paste and sauté in pan till onions turn brown. Add 200g curd and keep stirring. Add water and salt to taste. When the curry starts boiling, make medium sized meat balls manually and add them in the gravy one by one. Cook in low flame for 15 minutes. Give standing time 15 minutes. Serve hot.



VANILLA PUDDING 
 
Pamper-er: Ruby
Photographs : Arundhati Sengupta


2 comments:

warren cox said...

I was excited with the report on the eating places in Lucknow. I remember many of them on my visits to town. Benbows was always a favourite owned by the parents of Mohun Singh, one of the boys from school. Ranjana's was the place for good eating in a hurry, The Mayfair Cinema boasted "Kwality" where we took the girlfriends for a triple Sundae. Chowdhury's sweethouse was a must on our way back to Mart. I wondered if the "Salaam" hotel is still functioning. It was a little place on Shah Najaf Road. When I became a school teacher I introduced my teacher colleagues to this excellent eatery. Arthur Flynn, Henry Roderigues and the younger folk like Edgar Tuck , Mel Greene and Bryan Cooke also accompanied us.

warren cox said...

My home was in Bandra and I recognised the New Talkies on Hill Road. Of course I used the local BBCI train to get into the city stopping off at Churchgate station where Purohits was a tempting place. Some of my friends used to live in the Cuffe Parade area and in Colaba and we used Leopold's cafe a lot and especially enjoyed the fish at Faletti's . We used to order for home delivery into Walton Road and it used to be served in a large silver dish. Beautiful!

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