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.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

An ode to the Artisans of Meat

To add a personal anecdote to John's propaganda below.

A friend from Bombay (you forgot to give him credit John) introduced John and me to Aap ki Khatir. He was stopping by in Delhi on work, and had only a night left for fun and frolic before he boarded his flight back to Bombay.

And he said Let me show you a good time. And we scoffed inwardly, and smiled outwardly. To humour him.

We drove around the Dargah area and stopped a little before the Oberoi flyover. And a rare Delhi downpour greeted us. It may have been a farishtah for most of the despondent populace, but it spelt doom for the promise of street food adventure.

Aap ki Khatir- a hole in the wall and a tandoor on the sidewalk was wrapping itself up in tarpauline. When they spotted us. The ones in cars, who had already ordered, had salvaged their meal, but not sidewalkers like us.

In our Khatir, an English-speaking man in crotch-hugging jeans stepped up and offered us shelter in the Aap ki Khatir hole, that was crammed with furniture. He took our order and egged on his tarpauline artisans of meat. Our Bombay friend squared his shoulders in arrogance and ordered more Kakori. And Mal and Oriya gluttony embarked on a grand song-n-dance. My bong palate, content to play twelfth-man, watched this meat-in-the-rain ritual in sheer disbelief.

Sweet-talking the English-speaking lad helped squeeze last plates of kabab and paratha from the Artisans of Meat. The rains had held off by then. The gluttons burped in euphoria over Coke. We packed some and headed home. The Mumbaiyya had won this round.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Aap Ki Kathir, you beauty.

I realized yesterday, while gnawing on a bone, that I had not done justice to the outstanding food experience that is Aap Ki Kathir. Previously, I had referred to that softest of kababs, the kakori kabab, that is the Aap Ki Kathir specialty. But that is not to say that nothing else is outstanding.

The place looks like this, but that does not mean they have prices to match. A plate of two kakoris will set you back eighty rupees and a fantastic plate of mutton burra costs hundred rupees. These are not standard 'stand up' rate. They know they are on to something special, and they charge accordingly.

The place gets surrounded by cars at seven, and gaps open up between them intermittently as satisfied regulars come and go.

Someone will come to your car and collect your order, but for a better experience, I suggest you
stand near the grill and eat. Surround yourself with the aromas of this place and you will find it impossible to stop eating. Also, to watch the kakori take shape is also a gastronomic exercise without parallel. There is a tray that is packed with moist, minced, spiced meat, which is almost like a paste. How they mince it so fine, is a question that is often asked of them, but seldom divulged, except in the vaguest of terms. Anyway, one of them assured me that papayas and curd are involved. The 'paste' is then spread over the skewers, grilled and served with good green mint chutney.

But as I mentioned when I started this post, Aap Ki Kathir is not just about the kakori. The burra for instance, is almost as good an experience as Karim. They don't even mind taking your plate back after you've eaten a morsel and softening 'em up a bit more. It is as fulfilling an experience as you can buy with a hundred rupees.

Hell, even the rumali rotis are of a grade that is rare. I find it absurd to go on about the humble rumali when the meat and everything else is of such high quality, but it does show genuine attention to the complete satisfaction of a customer.

There are other items as well, that are extremely tasty, but cannot be mentioned in the same sentence as the kakori. The lachha paratha is extremely oily and very tasty, to have with the extremely oily and tasty chicken korma. The biriyani is not great as far as biriyanis go, but the experience can be significantly improved with some spicy gravy. The dal makhni is not to bad either, but then, of all the places in Delhi, why go to Aap Ki Kathir to have dal?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Burger Battles

Quick reviews and comments on eating out experiences in the last fortnight:
1. McDonalds: Is the only place that can satisfy lunch pangs at 4PM near the Esplanade Court. I confess to eating a Chicken McBurger Meal. The Burgers are shrinking, in case regular eaters there haven't noticed. And when I'm talking about the Burger I mean the Chicken Patty. Personally I dislike McD's but you gotta love the fries there. Unfortunately for my efforts I was given a "Chak De India" Olympic Card, whereby if I subject myself to two more 4PM lunch attempts I will get a fourth meal free. All my loved ones are under strict instructions to not allow me to fall into the trap.
2. Mela (Worli): Was once upon a time a nice restaurant with a fantastic location. Now it just has a fantastic location. We sat in a newly painted room - the smell of the paint wasn't strong enough to mask the quality of the food, though.
3. Bembo's: More burgers, this time, South American. If you find yourself spoilt for choice between Bembo's and McD's, here's an easy comparison:
- At Bembo's, you get an option of cheese and a fried egg on your burger.
- At Bembo's, the bread bun has a yellow tinge. (At least I hope so)
- At Bembo's, there's unlimited mayo.
- At Bembo's, you have the option of a mutton burger.
- At Bembo's, the Veg Burger is made of Rajma, not Potato and friends like at McD.
- At Bembo's, there's no Olympic Card Collection.
- Most importantly, at Bembo's, there's life beyond the burger.
Bembo's is better than McDs in my final analysis, but the McD fries still win. Don't take the Bembo's cashier too seriously when he tells you that something is "spicy", though.
4. Hard Rock Cafe: I'm the sorriest that this wasn't even worth a seperate blog post. I don't care how much Aerosmith loves those Quesadillas, they have to change their menu. Especially since even the good items on the menu, like the Spicy Calamari, have suddenly deteriorated in quality. What's the point of playing great music in the fantastic ambience of a converted mill when everyone leaves of hunger pangs? Also, the watering down of the drinks is not going unnoticed. We are watching. And complaining.
5. Smokin Lee's: Freaked me out when they identified my name and address merely by giving them my phone number. That's when they told me that they got the register from the "Smokin' Joe's" franchise office. You see, they are affiliated. Smokin Lee's gives chinese food in boxes, like what you see on Seinfeld or Friends. The quality of the food is just about average, nothing exceptional and the usual suspects on the menu. What is extraordinary is the pricing - a meal for two is about 300 plus taxes, for a vegetarian starter, rice/noodles and main course. It's not "cheap chinese take out". Get stuff from your local udupi which dabbles in Chinese instead.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

When it's Chinese, stick to the Mainland

"Are you SURE you don't mind going for Chinese?" I meekly asked.
"Yes sweetie, I'm sure..." he put his arm around my shoulder.
After a pause, he continued: "I must admit I don't like Chinese food as much as YOU like Chinese food..."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Mainland China time!"
I kept avoiding Mainland China because Saki Naka is one of the worst traffic holes in Mumbai, but there was no excuse once it opened its Lokhandwala branch. And so my long suffering beau and I hopped over.
Mainland China, coming from the same makers as Oh! Calcutta (deserves a seperate blog post for sure) is big and beautiful, and packed. After a half hour wait, we settle in to tuck in.We sampled the dim sum menu, and in the spirit of the blog I later accosted the smiling Chef behind the live steaming counter - Chef Beeru. Chef Beeru indulges me by overcoming his shyness and giving me a step by step demonstration of the making of the Veg Hargow:

The dough of the "hargow" dumpling is made of a mix of rice and potato, rolled thin and stuffed - in our case, a vegetarian mix of corn, carrot and other vegetables.

Each dumpling is shaped by delicate hand movements.

The dumplings in their various forms

Ready to rock:

Steamy :)

Once emerged from the steamer:

The shy Chef with his delicious creations:

And finally, on our plates and ready to be devoured. It is served with a spicy mustard sauce, and a spring onion greens paste. We also had a glass of Sula Chenin Blanc to keep us company which went very well with the dumplings.

We were a little disappointed to be informed by our steward that each of the dumpling varieties had the same stuffing. So we moved on to some other appetizers - Crispy Vegetables in a chili and plum sauce - with batter fried carrots, aubergine, potato and brocolli in a tangy sauce. I was happy to note that the dish did not suffer the major problems involved in a dish like this - no use of "not so fresh" vegetables, and no overdose of batter. The vegetables were fresh, crispy and full of the robust flavours of the spice, the plum sauce and garlic. Very well done and highly recommended. We then had a soup interlude - veg noodle clear soup for the boy, who was taking a risque step by venturing away from his time and tested tomato soup, and he was disappointed with the bland taste of the very diluted stock. I chose the crab, to compensate for the vegetarian meal. It was very good and very full of crab.
After much deliberation we decided to go in for the "main course", which usually winds up being the biggest mistake in a chinese meal - some not so great sauce and not so great vegetables with some not so great rice. I spied something innovative on the Chef's Special - Braised okra in a mango sauce. Something on the rice list looked equally special - fried rice with chinese olives. So there it was.
Who ever thought the humble bhindi, okra, ladyfinger, whatever - could be this good? The Okra was tender, cooked just till done, and the thick orange gravy which the vegetables lay in was sweet, sour and a little spicy - nothing conventional - no cornflour, no soya sauce, no spring onion garnish - just a wonderful creation from a wonderful chinese restaurant. Kudos to Chef Ram on that one. It went perfectly with the rice which was flavoursome but not overwhelmingly so.
We would have avoided dessert but the smell of chocolate from the open counter was too tempting, and so the boy ordered the Hot Chocolate Rolls - small spring rolls, of sorts, with a gooey hot chocolate filling, served with a honey sauce and vanilla ice cream. I'm usually more of a date pancake/darsan dessert person in a chinese restaurant, but this was heavenly.
Verdict: Mainland China has to be applauded on many counts - one, serving excellent chinese food in an excellent ambience with excellent service without the five star price tag. Two, fantastic innovations. Read the Chef's Special section of the menu to get my drift. And three, giving a great food experience to a confirmed non vegetarian. Veggie Chinese food is usually all about Gobi Manchurian and Schezwan vegetables. Mainland China makes me at least consider the possibility that good food doesn't need meat. I'd love to see more dim sum varieties, more stuffings and certainly many more innovations.
Note: Mainland China offers a luxurious and varied buffet lunch - complete with soups, dim sums, stir frys, desserts - you name it. Priced at 295 (taxes extra) on weekdays and 395 (taxes extra) on weekends, it seems to be a great way to spend your day.
Gurgaonites rejoice! You too have a Mainland China in your vicinity (DLF Corporate Park or its whereabouts). What remains to be seen is whether it gives competition to the godly "The Monk" at 32nd milestone. Again, thats a place that deserves another blog post.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ze Hut!!

My Cooking Hut is the latest member of our Roll. Full of quirky stories, easy recipes and spectacular photography, it already does everything that we want to do at the Food Watch Blog. Makes me feel like shutting shop and concentrating on the day job. To rub salt in, the Cooking Hut also has some recipes for Indian cooking. Bah!

Monday, February 11, 2008

We went nightclubbin'

So some of my friends wanted to go clubbing the other night, and in their search for a place (criterion included decent music, a reasonable entry charge and a relaxed attitude to stags) we chanced upon a new entrant on New Delhi's nightlife - the Headquarters at the Samrat Hotel. I did not really want to go, but I gave in to peer pressure and a persistent friend who kept taking my blanket away.

What a nice surprise to have a bloke who can have a conversation with, outsdie the club. Uniformly across the city, the hallowed gates of night clubs are manned by humungous men who wear black and grunt. Not this pleasant guy with a cigarette dangling from his lips. Even more pleasing was the midnight buffet that is thrown in when you pay the Rs 250/- entry charge.

Whaaaa? 250 rupees for food in a night club? Too good to be true? Well..

We had arrived at 1130 pm, and by 1230, the place was swarming with men dressed in their best linen. And some women. Maybe one for every five. And the music was of a genre I was not too familiar with, but was informed that it was largely house. We got down to ordering our drinks.

More than the lack of women, it was the lack of "character" in the LIIT that caused misery. It was not really tall, not very boozy, and did not taste excellent. I longed for the Long Island Iced Tea of 13th Floor. The mojito was barely there, and only Chow enjoyed his drink - a fine bottle of some wine.

All this disappointment made me hungry and I walked among the furious dancers, strobe lights and scanty clothes to find the buffet. My search proved futile. Even with my brain screaming "you've just been cheated", I decided to give this place the benefit of the doubt, and asked the friendly waiter, who politely informed me that the midnight buffet would be served at 3 am.

Deflation like I have rarely felt.

But my friends were having a great time, and I was almost sleeping in a nightclub. So to keep me awake, someone ordered some food.

I did not hear anyone order it. Whatever it was, it ws uniformly average. The "forgotten art of public sector service" (Chow) was being revived by Headquarters, and the cluttered and messy route to the loo (that doubled as the dressing room for the swimming pool) exmplified this.

The music had turned to Bollywood remixes, and by now my happy friends were happily sozzled, dancing and very conversational. I was bored, but made a fist of it, gamefully giving everyone my version of "shaking a leg". I forgot about being hungry and wavered beyween drowsy and dancing. Don't ask.

And then the news of the buffet came down the dance floor to our couch. Got myself a plate of rice and dal. And one roti and some butter chicken. A few hours back, I would have nailed this buffet. Now, as good as the dal was, I could not eat much. Very Machiavellian, you people at Samrat Hotel!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Caramel and choco-chip

Maybe it is the lighting at Angels in my Kitchen, but some of the stuff that I photograph there turns out really, really good. An addition has been made to an earlier post.

More on the Meatwallah

I should have delivered earlier, but finally I was able to visit the Amritsari Meatwallah again. New pictures and impressions have been added to the previous post.

Monday, February 4, 2008

New Food Reads

Two blogs added to our Good Food Reads list.

The AmateurGourmet is no longer really amateur, having got some great press and better awards. An outstanding blog of reviews, cooking and more, the author started writing to stay sane during Law School. We understand.

The Food Goat, like the Amateur Gourmet has been around since January 2004 and was listed among the Top Food blogs by Forbes. Earthy and excellent. Also a little weird because the Food Goat has a Lady Goat for company.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mississippi Mudpie

The Mississippi Mudpie at The Big Chill in Kailash Colony. Lovely.

An ode to the Longest Island Iced Tea

Dome, at the Intercontinental, Marine Drive, Mumbai is expensive, has white sofas, repetitive lounge music and very bad food. So what makes it one of the most popular lounge bars in Mumbai?

Dome is home to the best, and more importantly, the Longest Long Island Iced Tea in Mumbai. For the uninitiated, the LIIT was allegedly an invention of the times of Prohibition in the United States, and was a cocktail of alcohols in the guise of Iced Tea. The cocktail is a mix of vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and triple sec, topped with cola and some sour agent. The glass is endless, and its good. Good enough to provide the inspiration for several hilarious stories. Good enough to be worth the 500 buck tag (taxes extra). For those who enjoy variety, the bartender replaces the cola with red bull and adds some blue curaco to create the "Bullfrog". It's tolerable only after you've already had an LIIT. It gives one an overwhelming sense of benedryll.

(Clockwise from top left corner: the"Dome" in the Dome, Candlelit decor, the Star of the Show, and the very talented bar)

Even if you're a teetotaller, Dome gives you the best view in Mumbai, so its worth a lounge. This is a food blog, but food's the last thing on my mind on a Saturday Night, and it should be the last thing on your mind at Dome. For the record, the cuisine is Oriental Grill. We had grilled chicken and prawns once, the chicken was coated in a caramelized sauce which tasted of nothing much else, and the prawns were, tsk tsk, stale. I should have returned it, but I didn't order it. Besides, I only return food when I'm sober. A better option would be to eat at Corleone, the IC's Italian restaurant which is currently the best in Mumbai, on your way up. If you want my advice, buy yourself another LIIT with the money. Stick to the complimentary Bingo chips (ITC, ITC) if you want a nibble.

Friday, February 1, 2008

And the crowd goes wild!

The Food Watch Blog is excited to discover another author on its rolls. The Anglophilicbong lives in New Delhi, does not eat a lot but loves talking about it.

Of Canteen Adventures

The walk through the woods of Planet JNU invariably means that one inhales in whatever measure some amount of Bong Commie lethargy viruses. The infection completes as one walks into the Commie canteen behind the main Library. This is a shed (literally) embellished with posters decrying war in Iraq, reservation for Backward Classes, sex education in schools, farmers' suicides and triumph of totalitarians. My integrity remains almost untarnished when I say some posters actually read thus: we decry/condemn/lament next line bullet reservation bullet sex education in schools bullet war in Iraq.

One goes in and stands in the queue feeling awkward about one's alienness in the space which has obviously nourished (quite literally) a political rainbow. I ask what's available and quick. Coyly. While few others shout out their favourites from behind. I settle for another's favourite- fish curry rice. Eighteen bucks. I am told.

I shiver in glee for a bit, while the old man pulls out change and directs me to a large window where I am expected to pick up my order. The swift hands from inside the treasurehouse hand out the grub to me and point towards a self-service pickle container.

The spicy, slightly-tomato-sour gravy and copious amounts of rice trigger orgasmic jolts within my Bengali constitution. And the thought of all of it costing eighteen rupees. Two Bihari-accented men with whom I am sharing a table (for it is jampacked) discuss what strings to pull to secure some University job for one of their brethren. Hot, urbane women with armpit bags and anorexic cellphones giggle over pakoras and coffee. Lone small-town chubby PhD girl elbow-licks sambar and looks out wistfully. I burp volubly.

Cut to Delhi School of Economics, North Campus, similar winter afternoon, equivalent DU, Hindi-heartland lethargy virus.

This is an open-air canteen. Run by a Mallu, tucked in at the counter. Chicken rice for forty bucks- little cocky for a canteen, but nonetheless worth a try. This is the hip crowd's den and probably more cosmopolitan than the rest of DU. Lots of Bongs gloating over econometrics and furtively glancing at the unattainable sashays in the vicinity. Some public school bubblegum accents floating discussing imminent exams. A bad-tempered cook serves us hot chicken curry rice. Again the quantities defy market economics. My colleague and I are immediately manouevered into meat conversation. Bong and Manglorean home-food-nostalgia is exchanged over viscous, spicy gravy and chicken leg.

A sorry excuse for coffee follows. This is where the Mallu's Delhi acculturation speaks out loud.


This is not Nagercoil. This is South Delhi.
I managed to get this photo while I waited for tapioca and fish curry at Stotram - a shack that sells all sorts of spicy Malayali food, in INA Market.
And while I waited, I saw the wily shopkeeper sell a kilo of chena (extreme left on the photo) to an African looking dude for 150 rupees. It does not cost more than 14.

Around the World with Flag's

An initial admission: I love Flag's. I don't know why they use an apostrophe. But, I loved it more than I loved my date the first time I went to Flag's, in Pune, and when they opened a Colaba branch I insisted that Lax threw his birthday party there, and subsequently I visited the restaurant with a date I love more than I love Flag's. With two long lost college friends, I made my fourth Flag's trip to the lovely location of Amarchand Mansion, on Madama Cama Road, a short walk down the road from Regal Cinema to Nariman Point and I was happy to be greeted by Abdus, my favourite steward, with a smiling face. It was martyr's day, so very dry, and so we sat very glumly and surveyed the menu.

What gets me back to Flag's every time? The exhaustive menu. Flag's connotes the cuisines of different countries, and they have a creatively designed menu which match countries on the world map to the dishes on offer. To start with, Tanny had a brandy laced cream of chicken soup (apparently that was not hit by the dry day) while we sipped good quality Virgin Mary and Kiwi Iced Tea.

We surveyed the appetizers and ordered the Iskender Kabab. It was, as you can see, much less a kabab than what is normally accepted. It was a crisp pita bread topped with spiced minced chicken and with a dollop of a herbed yoghurt dressing - a middle eastern offering. I enjoyed the biting into the melange of spices - Indian, but not quite, and the dressing along with the crunchy base.
For the main course, we did a lot of menu searching and came up with a variety of choices. Tanny ordered the Paella - a spanish herbed rice and seafood dish spiced with garlic, tomato, basil, chili and other spices. The Paella seemed a little too soggy but the seafood, including squid and prawns, was fresh. I think Paella doesn't disguise the smell of seafood as well as Indian seafood cooking does, so it wasn't the order of the day, surely.

I admit I was responsible for the Dora Watt chicken that DJ ordered - he wanted something spicy and non vegetarian, and that's what he got - chicken (and slices of boiled egg) and lightly spiced and slightly undercooked rice. And very very spicy. The gravy was reminiscent of a vindaloo - sinus releasing crazy spice. The dish is Ethiopian, for the record. I liked the innovative spice, but the chicken seemed precooked.

My order was the Turkish/Greek Moussaka-slices of eggplant(brinjal) layered with minced meat (there is a veggie option as well). In ordinary circumstances, it would have been great. However, the minced meat tasted a lot like the Iskender Kabab meat, and I was overwhelmed with the feeling of deja vu as the eggplant slices covered with cheese reminded me so much of the eggplant parmasean - a must eat for vegetarians at Flag's. The whole dish tasted more italian than meditteranean, sadly. But I still liked it. I guess sometimes if the food is good, it doesn't really matter where it comes from. Sometimes.

As Tanny had the most disappointing main course, we let him pick the dessert. He opted for the Hazelnut and Fig Mousse, which was small, yet delightful (note the spoons attacking even while I was taking the photograph). The flavours of hazelnut and fig blended effortlessly, the mousse was not overtly sweetened, and there was a tangy berry sauce on the side, but I thought it was a tad overpriced at Rs. 250.

From my previous Flag visits, I can also recommend the spicy and crispy nachos, the divine fondues, the thin crusted and aromatic pizzas, innovative cocktails and yes yes yes, the eggplant parmesean. And there's so much more on the menu that I haven't eaten but will soon, hopefully, and this time, without a sense of deja vu.