Thursday, November 27, 2008

Minor Diners

San Francisco is a curious American city- that sports a long-standing queer comfort zone (now sitting up at the recent referendum banning gay marriage), old left-bastion-cafes, uphill-n-downhill-ever-twirling roads. Comfortably temperate, this city has a culture of diners to articulate the San Francisco mood. These are little spaces (some big ones) around the bustling part of town, that serve chitter-chattering old maids and their boyfriends. Hash browns and pancakes and maple syrup. And french toast, mushroom-n-cheese omelette, cranberry juice. The food settles in slowly. Making way for more coffee chatter. They are abuzz with pancake-hungry children and Uncle Bobs in the morning. At twelve in the night, they are still talking Obama to Mrs. Mayfair. The odd gold-chained hispanic couple drop by for butter on their pancakes. The lone bespectacled out-of-town woman in a corner digs into an omelette and mulls over hermeneutics of subjectivity. Hip balding journalists discuss credit crises.

The diner looks like an informal club. Of hats and scarves and chitter and chatter. Bacon eggs and pancake batter.One of them had a rather stern lady chef feverishly tossing out quiche and omelette, to pen down her impatience with our giggly indecision.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Politics, and Piyush

I was in Shivaji Park for a meeting when my friend Jal, a pucca Parsi, surprised me by asking me if I would have lunch at Prakash,which he explained was a spartan vegetarian eatery in the heart of Shivaji Park. He wasn't sure if I'd like the food or not, but I was always eager to experiement.
His partner, Kishore, who grew up in Shivaji Park, rattled off a history of Prakash while we looked for parking in the bye lanes of the vicinity. Prakash actually has quite a controversial history, it was rumoured that the proprietors, hardcore Maharashtrian Chitpavan Brahmins, distributed pedas upon the assasination of Mahatma Gandhi at the hands of one of their caste brethren. The restaurant was torched in the ensuing riots. Quite like the pheonix, it rose from the ashes, the food compensating for the radical ideology of the patrons. As we entered the joint, I noticed that it was much like the typical Marathi "Khanaval" or eatery - sunmica benches and tables where you sat where you could and relaxing after lunch wasn't an option.
We started off with what he recommended - the sabudana wada. Sabudana is a typical "fast food" item in Maharashtra - not competing with burgers and fries, but one of the few permissible food items during a fast. Sabudana is the vernacular for the starch extracted from the Sago Palm which and made into the commercial product of sago pearls. There are two popular ways of making Sabudana during fasts - one is the khichadi, which is steaming the pearls after tempering them with mustard, curry leaves, groundnut powder and chillies. The other, is the wada, which like all wadas are deep fried. Mashed potato acts as the binding agent. Unlike the usual sabudana wada, which is flat and brown and crisp, this wada was round, almost white, not very oily and soft on the inside. Served with a lightly spiced coconut based chutney, it was good enough to make me want to fast more often.

It didn't take us long to debate over the main course - the menu is short and we were squished between enough patrons to peek at what they were eating and decide what looked good. One of our companions, Kishore, immediately said that he was having the "usal" which is any preparation made out of sprouts. He was referring to the "dalimbichi usal" which was a gravy, again coconut milk based, made out of sprouted field beans. They are also called "vaal". They have a slightly bitter taste, which is what makes them stand apart rather than jar on the senses. The gravy was creamy and the beans were just cooked right, just like home. I half expected them to be soggy from having been made many many hours ago. Though the beans were bitter, the gravy was sweet and eating it was pure fantasy for those with the acquired taste. We also ordered a batata bhaji which is a potato preparation without a gravy - tempering chopped potatoes with mustard, cumin, green chillies, curry leaves and garnishing it with freshly grated coconut and corriander, with a lemon wedge to suit your tastebuds. Enjoyable, but standard.
(Below: clockwise from top: dalimbi usal, batatachi bhaji and pooris made of 100% whole wheat flour)

To wash it down, we didn't have the option of cold drinks, but Kishore insisted that I try the Piyush, which he told me was a kind of Maharashtrian Lassi. Piyush is yoghurt based, like a lot of Indian drinks. The yellow tinge comes from the use of saffron, and the drink was cold and its sweetness and the flavours of jaiphal (nutmeg) and elaichi (cardamom) were a brilliant end to this meal. For dessert I had actually opted for Dudhi Halva which was slightly disappointing.

In conclusion - if you are in Mumbai and if you want to do the whole foodie binge, write Prakash in bold and make sure you get to Gokhale Road and have a meal there.

Don't let ideology stand in the way of fine cuisine!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

She's a Mall Wonder

I'm not the biggest fan of the new food phenomenon of "food courts" in Malls, particularly because you get sub standard food at high altitude prices which you are forced to eat in the most cramped up and loud circumstances. Hunger and boredom, however, led me and few friends to the food court at the Orchid City Centre Mall, Bombay Central. Besides the usual food court suspects, Madras Cafe, some Shady Chinese etc. I had a pleasant surprise in store for me - Hakim's, which sells unabashedly non vegetarian mughlai food had a delectable menu as well as reasonable prices. As I was scanning the menu, I was shocked to find Chicken Sanju Baba as a starring member on the cast of the gravy items.

The Noor Mohammadi Hotel has been known for decades for its quality of food, though many a prospective patron would find the ambiance slightly lacking, especially when compared to its extravagant neighbour, Shalimar. Nevertheless, the Noor Mohammadi Hotel has its loyalists who make sure the highly divine Nalli Nihari (a rich gravy dish featuring tender mutton and loads of bone marrow) disappears by 9am every day. Celebrities including most of the Khan boys order from here with a vengeance and Sanjay Dutt struck up such a rapport with the owners that one of their signature dishes, Chicken Sanju Baba, is a result of some recipe sharing from the superstar's home cauldron.

(Courtesy the Noor Mohammadi Website)

What does this have to do with a mall food court? Well, if you want the good stuff but don't want to deal with the Bhendi Bazaar/LJ Road traffic, have no fear. Hakim's is "Haute Moghlai Cuisine" (oh yeah, baby) from the house of Noor Mohammedi, as I found out when I confronted the cashier.

"We get the food from there only, madam. We don't cook anything here except the kababs."

He obviously knew what I needed to hear.

So I packed up a Chicken Sanju Baba and a Roomali Roti for dinner. Bombay Foodies are obliged to have Chicken Sanju Baba on their "to do" list, and I needed to score a tick off.

Chicken Sanju Baba has earned its share of hype and prominence, particularly when the owners of Noor Mohammedi cooked and distributed vats of the dish to the poor every day during the pendency of Sanju Baba's bail application before the Supreme Court. However, it doesn't make for a mindblowing food experience, something which even the owners silently acknowledge by not mentioning the dish on their website. I excitedly unpacked the plastic container to find a gravy of a slightly waxy consistency. Puzzled, I popped it in the microwave, and one minute later I discovered why - there was a layer of pure desi ghee, now liquefied, on top of the gravy. Tough pieces of chicken swim in a thin gravy populated by sliced onion and a large number of red chillies, which is highly misleading, as the product is pretty bland. It does have an interesting tartness, but in the end it's a rather amateur piece of cookery which does no justice to the legend that is Hotel Noor Mohammadi.

One day, however, I am going to wake up early and take the Harbour Line to Dockyard Road and trudge over to Noor Mohammadi, and get me the grub that has tantalized patrons for 110 years. The description is on their website which I have no reason to disbelieve (except for the part about the Pepsi):

You can eat anywhere but for authentic "nalli-nahari"you have to visit Noor Mohammedi.It is very tender and just melts in your mouth.You'll have to go early, the nalli nihari finishes by 9 a.m., even earlier. Cooked on slow coal fire for 12 hours, till it becomes so tender that a toothless customer can eat it. That is the boast of Mr. Khalid Hakim, proprietor of the restaurant, and it is not an empty boast. It is just meat, boneless, one nice chunk of it. And it comes with a spicy gravy, quite sharp with garam masala and pepper. In the gravy, somewhat thick, you will spot bits of nalli, eat it fast, before it melts. Order a fresh roti, a tandoori, or a softer chapatti, 100 gms., weigh it in your hand, feel the weight. Dip the roti in the gravy, break the meat with a spoon, and eat. Yes, it is spicy, for your Bombay palate, that is. But if you are from Northern part of India, you will eat it with a sort of a pickle. A combination of thin strips of ginger and chopped green chillis. They call it nihari ka masala, and it is put on the table in front of you. Help yourself to it. One warning, if you find it too spicy, don't drink the water. Order a Pepsi instead. Who drinks Pepsi at breakfast? Those who eat nalli nihari and kheema roti at breakfast.Most of the food is available throughout the day, but for nalli nihari and paya it is early morning and late evening.

Ambiance may be one thing, but wolfing down a dish which celebrates the delicious bone marrow of mutton, is quite another. My sister and I still fight over who gets the 'soo soo bone', as it is refered to in my family, coined on account of the sound one is forced to make while extracting the tantalizing mass from the back of a highly unco-operative marrow bone.

While Noor Mohammadi is at Mahim and Bhendi Bazaar, Hakim's Haute Moghlai Cuisine can be found at the City Centre Mall, Bombay Central, and the Inorbit Mall, Malad.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Of Meats and Mugs

The nice things about non-vegetarian menus in Bangalore is the variety of dead animal on offer. Unlike Delhi where the odd prawn dish acquires the status of a delicacy. I was satudying the Mojo menu while waiting for a friend the other day and the thought struck me. For the uninitiated, Mojo is the slightly more snazzy cousin-beerbar of Pecos (which is a historic ruin off Brigade Road today) near the Brigade Road and Residency Road crossing. It attracts mostly yuppy rock type youngsters in Guevara T-shirts, peeping Boxers and goaties and appropriately hot arm-princesses. There is a grey-haired, poytailed gentleman planted there all the time, I think by the owner, so as to be able to lay claim on some anti-establishment type authenticity. On my recent nightout there, a group of old-left or staunch-right looking men in white dhoti kurtas appeared suddenly. Coming back to the menu though, it boasts the Mallu-Mangalorean-influenced beef curry, prawn curry which are accompanied by crisp dosas. The chilly beef and chilly prawn are commendable too. The menu displays various other concoctions based on squid and crab, once you get bored of beef and prawn. I would think no meat-eater will order chicken here, once they have they have gone through this resplendent list of dead animal. The Sunday English breakfast (of Pecos fame)comprising bacon eggs and mashed potatoes is highly overrated, I have concluded after digging it for years. But appams and stew are definitely worth a try for Sunday brunch.

The other dead animal menu that corroborated my thoughts on Bangalore meat-eating cultures is at the Windsor Pub. An excellent brain and onion fry. And a beef fry (which is sort of lie alu bhruji in beef, super) and the fish fry and the keema something.The liver preparation with too much curry patta was a disappointment but can be washed down with beer. Like Mojo, Windsor (potted in a deceptively un-pub building next to some Bank, near Cantonment Station, off Miller's Road)is home to the boxer-peeping, headswingingtotheDoors, ponytailed boys as well as some Kannadiga moustached macho men.

Meat-eating in Bangalore is definitely recommended to indiscriminate meat-eaters.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Koshy's fits all

Koshy's in Bangalore (the non-AC section) is a quaint picture containing groups of check-shirted-moustached men drinking rum, balding man-in-the-corner reading Mallu newspaper over coffee and yuppy-alternative-twenty-somethings engineering sexual chemistry over beer.

What is interesting other than the fact that it serves chai-coffee and alcohol under the same roof is its food menu. You get a a most gratifying prawn-curry-rice and beef-curry-rice here. And an interesting mushroom toast (saute'd mushroom and onion on bread). And the typical alcohol accompaniments like french fries and gobi machurian. With a distinctly Mallu fragrance, it also carries the stamp of the old lackadaisical Bangalore of endless ups of coffee.

It is a rare one-size-fits-all place. You could have breakfast here, and lunch, and tea and finish with rounds of beer. You could go for a date, a work-meeting, an old-friends-catchup, a quiet solitary read. Bang opposite the new Hard Rock Cafe, Koshy's stands at one end of St. Mark's Road in solemn fortitude.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Eating down the menu

Zalgirious is not only the name of a popular basketball club or the street where I lived, but was also the name given to the restaurant where I earned a few frequent eater kilos - simply called the Zalgirious Kavine. With indoor and outdoor seating options, pretty waitresses, nice drinks and great food, I have no shame in admitting that close to the end of my Baltic sojourn, I had consumed - patiently and with stealth, every single item on that five page menu. Most often I did not know what I was getting into, with English translations and bilingual waitresses hard to come by. Most often, the results were simple, surprising and pleasant.

One of the simplest, the "Mother-in-law dinner", a meat and potato preparation, was simply excellent.

Quite naturally, I was very excited to know there was a carp grill (L) on the menu, but the experience of eating it did not match up to the anticipation. Not that it was bad - it was more than decent, but served with rice and fancy salad, it seemed tame in comparison to everything else they had to offer. The chicken kiew (R), for instance. Avery juicy cutletish thing, served with fries and salad, it is a a very popular meal throughout Vilnius, and Zalgiriuos Kavine clearly makes one of the best.

But it wasn't all good all the time. I was looking for a pleasant breakfast when I ordered the harmless sounding ham pancake. Little did I know that these pancakes would come swimming in, and be filled with butter. I felt giddy in a not so good way after I ate this.

I could go on about Zalgirious, but I'll restrict myself to the pictures I have. And I will leave you with some nice dessert. This wheat thingie with a creamy filling is called the Napolean snack.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Paella at Barcelona (not the city)

Paella, a Valenican rice dish, seems a distant cousin of the biriyani, and I enjoyed a fantastic meal of it at Barcelona, a restaurant tucked away among the maze of unmetalled roads between Zalgirous Avenue and the Europa mall.

Flavoured with saffron and what else, and embellished with all manner of seafood including prawn and mussel, I was told that that the bit of ever-so-slightly burnt rice sticking to the metallic pan in which it is cooked (and served) is considered a delicacy.

The meal started with some nice ham served on melon, but it paled into insignificance as soon as the paella appeared and invaded the senses with its colour and aroma.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Read this rant from Manuel over at Well done fillet.

...Foodie. Oh sweet Jebus and all the other super best friends can anyone save us from foodies? There are people who go out for dinner who can tell if the meal is good or bad. Then there are people who appreciate good food and can tell the difference between sea bass and sea bream and can pronounce everything on the menu properly. Then there are the foodies. They can name the farm the meat came from. They know the captain of the boat that caught the fish. They know which fucking field the kale was grown in. Fuck they know what kale is! They talk about the scene in Tokyo or New York right now and drop names, first names, of celebrity chefs like they were personal friends. The foodie is always middle class. They have a vegetable patch in their garden that they never shut the fuck up about and no meal would be complete without them telling you about the simply gorgeous salad they made the day before. They are bores. Talk about sucking the very life out of something that should be enjoyed not made into a chemistry class. I love my food, hell given the chance I would love yours too but lets keep things in perspective. I'm sure Gordon would agree.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Creamy mushroom soup served in a loaf of bread.

Yes, you read that correct - served in a loaf of bread. What you are supposed to do is - understand the piece of bread that serves for a lid as a spoon, and proceed to use that to have the soup. And once the soup is over, you can eat the loaf of bread as well. If you are very hungry. At this point, I must stress the quality of the Baltic bread - excellent at every restaurant I have stepped into.

For someone like me with limited entries on the passport, it was shocking how much the humble bread can augment your meal. But even the better heeled companions insist it has something to do with the Baltic weather and agriculture.

I had the soup at the Cili Kaimas on Pilies, part of the Cili empire one sees all over Vilnius. Watch out for twin stewardesses Aliona and Margarita.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

C R Park holes-in-the-wall

I had only heard the popular folk tales about holes in the wall in CR Park, which serve Authentic Bong Food. Since I am packing up from Delhi soon, the Delhi Nostalgia trips had to include a visit t one such how-in-the-wall. This one is opposite CR Park Market No. 2 and is called Ma Taara.

Maa Taara is a large canteenesque hall in a basement. With Mashimas, Boudis, Poltus,Tutukis, Dilli arty kids looking for subaltern food, Cal artsies looking to simulate Ghar ka Khana. The specials on the day are mapped in bold bengali letters at the back. It is presumed you know the script when you walk in. The menu shows up names of myriad fresh-water fish other than rui, ilish (hilsa), chingri (prawn). You will be familiar with the full range only if you have been brought up in a predominantly fish-eating family. Which I am. So I knew the jargon. And felt very jingo and in-the-loop, especially in the company of my Cosmopolitan Bong friend, who knew nothing.

We went there once last week, and had tried Tangra Maach and Muri ghonto. With alu bhaja (potato chips basically). The main courses were greasy and spicy. Ghar ki yaad aane wali types.
We returned to prove our loyalties, last night. And ate prawn malaikaari.

The food evoked a particularly Bong relaxed afterburp sensation. Like the cares of the world became more trivial.

It's also easy on the pocket. If a no-frills eating place is your thing, and you yearn for fish sometimes, go there. Preferably, take a Bong along. I am wondering if I should go tonight as well.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Svyturys beer and smoked salmon snacks

Having hardly spent two days in Vilnius, it is difficult to proclaim with any confidence that Torres is the best place in the city for an afternoon beer. What I can say is this: if there is another place in the city that can do this and more, I will be a very happy man.

It is not about the quality of the food or the excellence of their beer. Good, no doubt, but what gets Torres my certificate, is simply their real estate and the extreme relaxation one feels in sitting under the sun with a beer, contamplating the wonderful view of the parks and woods and streams and what not. I needed constant reminding that I was still in the middle of a capital city.

I had never had fish in any non-cooked state previously, but any apprehension that I had vanished soon after I placed the first morsel in my mouth. Forget the smell, forget the lack of spicy embellishment, it is all about the fresh taste and smooth texture - served with cheese and olives. Someone like me would find it difficult to appreciate any culinary dexterity in it, because the dish never appeared to be more than the sum of its parts. But I guess it was a leap I was not adventurous enough to make. Perhaps my continuing love-hate affair with European cuisine also played a role. Best enjoyed with Svyturys. Of course.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

China Garden, again

One of Bombay's newest hotspots, C.G. 83, is Nelson Wang's resurrection of his own famed China Garden of yesteryears, the hub of celebrities who loved their Chinese. Unfortuntely Chin Garden faced the wrath of illegal constructions. In its new avtaar, C.G. 83, located at Om Chambers on Kemp's Corner, is the new "in" place for Chinese.

At our quaint table for two, we get off to a bad start with an Ivy Zinfandel which tasted more like Vinegar. Once we were reassured with two glasses of Sula Chenin Blanc, we asked for a starter of Red Pepper Chicken. The delicately moist chicken was fiery and well marinated, but our head waiter was not amused. He admonished the steward attending to us: "Why have you got them full portions?"

To our surprise, the "half plate" concept was not limited only to oily biriyanis. C.G. 83 have recognized the importance of not inflicting singles or couples with the arduous task of getting through entire portions of meals. Being a single or even two diners means that your ability to sample different dishes goes down drastically, and any attempt to order a vast array often leads to a very big doggy bag accompanying you out of the restaurant. Yahoo!

Enthused, we ordered a "half portion" of ginger fried squid (thick slices of squid batter fried and lightly spiced) and some prawn wafers (which were very different than the white puffs with pink rims that you usually find in restaurants and/or big bazaar). The Kimchi on the table (we had eaten two plates in just-got-outta-office hunger) and the Chicken had stuffed us up (it was so good that we really didn't mind) and so we moved straight to a dessert of honey fried noodles with vanilla ice cream, which was perfect in every way, especially the size (the full portion is absolutely huge).

Reasonably priced by Mumbai (and Malabar Hill) standards and especially for the outstanding food, C.G. 83 is a must visit on the Mumbai foodie itinerary. Reservations are recommended.

PS: Sorry for the lack of photographs. My N72 has met an untimely end at the hands of opportunistic pickpocketers. :(

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Delhiwallah shares a secret

Visit the Delhiwallah to read about a city secret - where do you find good ground coffee in Delhi?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Product Watch: Parampara Starter 2

The food watch blog hasn't gotten on the product placement bandwagon yet, but I felt the need to endorse a product that has changed my views on 'instant' food. Parampara has introduced a line of instant starters - just add a few basic ingredients and chicken/paneer, and you're all set. I decided to give it a try:

The packets of masala are readily available at most supermarkets and cost about Rs. 30. There's Chutney Chicken and Chicken Achari, I decided to take the spicier option.
You need 500gm boneless chicken according to the packet, we took about 250 gms boneless Godrej Real Good Chicken, cut into small pieces. Tip: Take 'mixed boneless' over the breast boneless - its much more flavourful.
Add the packet masala, which looks like a dry paste, to the chicken. It's best done with an hour of time for marination. Remember that the masala has all the required spices and salt so be a little circumspect in adding ingredients.
It may be instant, but you need a few helping hands - one being 100gm of fresh curd. Make sure it isn't very sour.

Now that the masala and curd have been added, use your hands and knead the chicken and its masalas to make a good marinade. Remember to break up the lumps of Masala.

Use lemon juice or about a tsp vinegar for some tang. As a improvisation, I threw a tablespoon of my mom's mango pickle in the mixie and added it to the paste.

The mix should look like this and be allowed to marinade before you start cooking, for best results.
Heat up a Kadai and add a tablespoon of butter. The mix contains oil so you just need the butter for the flavour. For the health conscious, a buuter substitute or plain vegetable oil works fine.
When the butter begins to sizzle (don't let it burn) add the chicken mix and give it a good stir. Make sure it doesn't stick to the Kadai surface. Take a little water to clean up the residual masala in the bowl and pour that along with the chicken.
After that, turn the heat to medium and let the chicken simmer. You'll soon see the fat leaving the sides of the pan (the oil will be seen floating to the top and bubbling along the sides of the pot), which is the cue to cover the chicken, turn the heat to very low and let it cook. Boneless chicken takes about 10-12 minutes to cook thoroughly. The cooked paste and chicken will take this colour, turn the heat up, stir around the chicken until the gravy comes to the consistency that you need. Dry the water off completely for a starter, else leaving a slight gravy like in the pic will serve as a great main course.
The verdict : great, easy recipie and makes a great change from ordering in, without the headache of obtaining complicated ingredients and complex procedures. A must try for the budding cook.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Wok and Roll

As far as VFM Food experiences go, All Stir Fry at the Gordon House Hotel, Colaba, takes the wok. Literally.

For under 400 rupees, you can eat to your heart's content at Colaba - and if the food's bad, you only have yourself to blame. Simple concept - choose your veggies, your meats, your sauces, your seasonings and let the Chefs work their magic. An arresting array of exotic oriental veggies awaits you
Along with some fresh beef, chicken, squid, and apologies to the purists - but even pork salami and sausages!

Never to miss an opportunity, I load my bowl with prawns and get going

Topped with some fresh veggies:

My bowl is ready to be wok-ed!

The Chefs listen patiently while you explain to them your choice of sauce, ranging from mild, spicy to extra spicy. You can ask for a dash of lemon juice, extra garlic, chili oil and crushed peanut for a special touch. And you can watch eagerly as your raw material gets transformed into an absolute delight.

And voila! I opted for a mix of Korean BBQ sauce and some peanut and fresh corriander. Its unlimited helpings, and so a friendly piece of advice is to take small helpings, dabble with the range of sauces and avoid the noodles/rice to keep more room for experimentation (and the carbs off!).

Besides the VFM factor, the location and the thrill of the whole process, ASF also has separate utensils and bowls for its vegetarian patrons, a highly recommended a la carte menu for the lazy ones, great drinks and cheekily worded fortune cookies to end your meal.

Puneites - there's a branch at E Square too! Rejoice!

Monday, March 31, 2008

How parathas can save your life

It's that time of your monthly financial cycle again, or it could be a perpetual state of being, when you are drinking at a bar and feel that the food is too expensive. Problem is that since the realization of hunger was a bit late in coming, and since Delhi is a city that is quite unfriendly to the light wallet once it is eleven pm, there are very few options. Of course you could drive to the Comesum at Nizamuddin Railway Station and have their quite alright food from their vast menu, but then you might as well have eaten the food at the bar because it is just as expensive. Aap Ki Khatir begins to wind up operations at eleven, and so does Al Bake in NFC - and thus cheaper options to the south of the city are scarce.

Now don't get me wrong. The following can apply just as easily to those that do not drink, but are still hungry at midnight, and don't feel like McD's or the strange hot dogs at the 24X7s.

At least in the souther regions of the city, the enterprise known only as the Moolchand Parathawallah is one of the better known domestic food brands. If you are approaching the Moolchand flyover from Central Delhi, do not take it, but move parallel to it. If you are coming from Okhla or Ashram, do not take the underpass at Moolchand, but take the left and move parallel to the flyover. Before the flyover ends, there is a prominent left turn. Take it and look for the crowd. It is unlikely that there is ever more than one crowd around there, but if there is, look for the one with thick black smoke coming out. The parathawallah does not have a permanent spot around here, and the location on a particular day will depend on the vagaries of ongoing Metro construction.

From chaps in BMWs and Mercs, to people who can never dream of private transport, the business has a vast and varied clientele.

They are clear that their strength is the humble paratha, and they don't deviate too far. Regardless of the extremely limited menu of aloo-pyaaz, mooli and egg parathas, satisfaction is guaranteed for the hungry - and not just because you may be light on funds. Within thirty minutes, a friend and I had not only devoured two each of the most delicious aloo-pyaaz (potato-onion) parathas, but had even been able to get more than ten egg parathas packed - a quietly efficient, albeit polluting, food service. And the accompanying chilli pickle and raita taste excellent as well.

At least six people are employed in the business, stationed at various points of the delivery chain for different parathas. All parathas go through the standard "burn" routine which comprises of a quick dip in oil followed by the fire treatment.

For the egg paratha, a single egg is broken on to a pre-burnt paratha and then heated again.

Visit the Moolchand parathawallah - at least once if you're careful about what you put into your mouth, if you're not you will certainly end up going there several times, fitting comfortably on your financial cycle.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Best shawarmas in Delhi

They are quite unlike the shawarmas you may have eaten elsewhere. To begin with, they are much smaller than the ones you will see in most other places. Also, there is a tendency to favour dollops of a mayonnaise-type-thing (just makhan for those that run the place). But the basic tenets are all there - soft, minced lamb, hacked off a skewer and served in a roll.
Welcome to Al-Bake, most certainly the makers of the most popular shawarmas in the capital, and for my money, the best.

New Friends Colony is not without its share of meaty and Muslim cuisine, but Al Bake stands out, and so does its shawarma - demand is so high that there is a brand new Al Bake, barely twenty metres from the old one. Bowing to the demand, Al Bake also sells shawarmas to go in a packet containing four hot ones, selling for hundred rupees. Very often, that is the prudent idea as seating is hard to find once the sun begins its slow descent.

College goers are proud of their shawarma records. I've heard someone brag about seventeen of them at one go. With the lightly spiced chutney to go along, that record cannot have lasted too long.
Very quick with their knives, Al Bake is also a textbook on efficiency. There are two highly skilled knivesmen who hack away at those hunks of meat, and then chop them much finer. In combination with the men who roll the shawarmas and the woman who does the accounts, it is a beautifully oiled machine.
But this efficiency does not come at the cost of taste, or friendly service.
Al Bake's not all about shawarmas. But please, the shawarmas first.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Shark Tale: Or Mahesh Lunch Home Part II

After the sol Kadi, I placed me order for lunch. Gassi, or the Manglori style curry, is thick pasted coconut, with turmeric, red chilies and tamarind, onion and ginger. You can order your gassi with the fish of your choice. My waiter was taken aback with my choice of fish - shark.
I'm not aware of which shark breed is used in Indian cooking. I've seen the shark in the market, and its small and nothing like the Steven Spielberg movies. Shark is a fish with a very strong flavour and almost a meat like quality about it. In Goa, we don't use shark in our everyday fish curry, but rather, we make a xacuti like preparation from it. Interestingly, its referred to as "Morieche mutton" (shark mutton). Shark is also dried and used in dried fish curries, which is what is popular in the monsoon months when fresh fish are hard to come by.

The Shark is fresh, and is soft and slides off the bone easily to melt in my mouth. The Gravy was alive with spices. Unfortunately, the two of them didn't really match. The Shark had been cooked separately and dunked into the standard gassi, which did not have anything fishy about it.

I focused on the shark and occasionally dabbed my appam in the curry. The Appam arrived at my table soft and a little deflated. In case Appams aren't your scene, you can have your gassi with rice, or a neer dosa.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Soul Kadi

Though I prefer my fish the Goan way, practical constraints (the only sources of Goan food which do not involve me cooking are pesky relatives who just want me married off) force me to make friends with similar tastes - malvani and manglori. Manglori curries are spicy and thick, like a chutney, unlike the milky consistency of the Goan "Humon". In Mumbai, though sparsely dotted with Manglori "lunch homes", the Page 3 choice is Mahesh Lunch Home. I am given a few curious glances and even have an argument with a waiter who tried to convince me that I was not a single diner (seriously), but my order and apetite got a smile to the waiter's face.

Sol Kadi is on the beverages menu, and sol kadi it is. Interestingly I never grew up with the concept of sol kadi as a beverage. Ending a meal of hot, spicy fish curry rice with some sheeth-kadi (rice and solkadi) was a Goan Staple. It is kind of like our curd. One coconut is opened up in my house every day - half goes for the curry, 1/4th for sprinkling over vegetables and salad, and 1/4th would be scraped, ground with a little water, and its thick milk would be extracted for sol kadi. Sometimes, a few garlic cloves would be thrown into the mixie along with the coconut for a garlic flavour. Sometimes Ajwain would spice things up. Sometimes a hot green chili would be roasted on an open flame and thrown in for its rather unique taste. The milk would be emptied into a bowl where a few "solas", the fruit of the kokum tree, would soak in a few teaspoons of hot water, salt and sugar. If served as a leftover, the sol kadi would be tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves. The Sol Kadi would be ladled out on the rice kept neatly aside for the purpose. As the Kadi was runny, as children we were taught to pile up our rice into a small mound and make a hole down the middle, kind of like a volcano, and pour the kadi down there. Then quickly, we were told to mix our rice in the kadi so that the kadi would be absorbed by the rice. Kadi should always be in excess though - good GSB women are taught to chastize guests for eating "sukhe sheeth" or dry rice i.e. rice with very little solkadi in it.

Sol kadi is meant to relax the digestive system, but in its new avtaar as an appetizer, it seeks to do the opposite. I sip the beer glass of Sol Kadi which is given to me - the Kadi is thick and creamy and at the outset I note that it has been made using freshly grated coconut. There's most certainly a garlicky presence and as I swallow my sip I note a spicy aftertaste. The Solas played their part well and more importantly made an early exit, ensuring just the right colour .

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Shady Chinese

Shady Chinese is a term that some of us use disparagingly to refer to Indian corruptions of Chinese food. Pretend Chinese and Chindian are also terms used to refer to the genre. Spices and oils which the self-respecting Chinese cook (from South, North, Central, wherever) would never use, find their way into our plates and palates.

In Bangalore, the gobi manchurian is highly popular and you find it in all the darsinis that are otherwise restricted to pure South Indian specialties of the idli-vada-dosa-sambar variety. In Delhi too, in most nooks and just about every cranny, there is a man (usually) selling Singaporean noodles and hawking Hakka noodles. I have devoured these oily delights by the kilo, and are excellent with your evening poison.

Little Dragon is a small red-coloured stall/vehicle in Defence Colony. A range of soups that take their taste positions between the two extremes of sweet corn chicken and hot and sour chicken, and a similar array of oily noodles and rice. It is very cheap for a Defence Colony gaddi and offers you the options of half-plates and half-soups. They have a regular lunch crowd that congregates around it by one from offices located around Defence Colony.

Do you know of any Shady Chinese delights? Feel free to share your experiences.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Bhajiyas, or Pakodas, are every one's favourite tea time snack. It consists of vegetables which are dipped in a batter of chana dal flour (besan), turmeric, cumin, red chili and coriander powder and deep fried. The choice of vegetables are varied - potatoes, green chilies, cauliflower florets, capsicum slices, whole leaves of spinach and sometimes a combination of two - like potato and spinach, cabbage and potato, and so on.

Onion Pakodas, or Kanda Bhajiyas, are certainly one of the more popular varieties. Onions are sliced finely, and sprinkled generously with besan, salt, red chili powder, roughly pounded coriander seeds and cumin seeds, and just enough water to make the batter cling to the slices of onion. When batches of the batter are dropped into the hot oil, the slices of onion 'blossom', and each layer separates while still remaining joined by the stem portion and the batter. The Bhajiyas are popularly known as 'Khekhda' or Crab Bhajiyas on account of their uncanny resemblance to the crustacean.

With Mumbai temperatures dropping to 6 degrees last month, on a nippy Monday morning I warmed up with a plate of Khekhda Bhajiyas and Special Chai at Madhavashram, located right behind the Girgaum Court, Opposite Harkishandas Hospital. The spartan eatery serves up some of Mumbai's best hot crisy pakodas along with other Mumbai tea time favourites, all day long.