The French Connection -Provence meets Pondicherry

Pondicherry (officially renamed as Puducherry) is located in the southern part of India, along the coastline of Bay of Bengal and often referred to as the “French Riviera of the East” about 160 km south of Chennai . The town served as the capital of French territories in India until 1954 when it was ceded to the Government of India. Dutch were the first to settle down before handing it over to the French. Pondicherry is synonymous with French Heritage in India and centuries of French rule has imparted this place a strong French feel in its architecture, monuments and food.

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The restaurants in Pondicherry are Indo-French. Indian restaurateurs offering authentic French food or Creole cuisine, it’s not just French cuisine that blends with a Tamilian style of cooking; there are also influences of the Portuguese, Malaysian and Mughals, among others. The food is surprisingly mild. Pondicherry cuisine is a unique and vibrant fusion of Tamil and French cuisine. French dishes in Pondicherry have been adapted to suit tastebuds used to spicier Indian food yet with minimal use of spices. The textures and flavours are far less robust. The thick gravies that we know so well are notably thinner, like the French sauces. Other highlights are the use of chicken or seafood stock in cooking and the appearance of baguettes amidst local desserts.Even the style of cooking,  is slow and elaborate. The spices are far more delicately used and do not overwhelm. The use of dried spices, fresh local catch from the sea and ample use of pungent vinegar much more than tomatoes or tamarind make this cuisine a delicious mix of flavours, and a melting pot of many cultures.

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To experience more I would suggest that you should pack your bags and visit this beautiful paradise. In the meanwhile please try my simple Seafood stew recipe thats an ode to the two great cuisines.

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Fruits de mer Pondichéry curry

 

Ingredients

1 kg Cod fillet

12 king prawns raw and headless

12 Fresh mussels scrubbed and beard removed

250 Gms squid

4 tbsp vegetable oil

8 – 10 shallots

8 garlic cloves

2 tbsp chopped ginger

1 tbsp. coriander seeds

1 tbsp. cumin seeds

1/2 tbsp Black Peppercorn

4 dried whole red chillies

1 tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp aniseed powder

Salt to taste

2 cups of coconut milk

½ cup of fresh grated coconut

12-15 curry leaves

1 tbsp vinegar

 

Method

  •     Cut the fillet of cod into 6 -8 pieces. De vien and remove the shell from the prawns keeping the tails on. Clean and wash the mussels in cold water, removing the beards and discarding any open ones. Clean the squids and cut them in rings. Set aside.
  • Finely slice the shallots and roughly chop the garlic.
  • In a cooking pot heat vegetable oil, once heated add cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorn and whole red chillies. As the seeds crackle add the chopped ginger and garlic, sauté on medium heat for 2-3 mins. Now add the sliced onions and cook unit soft and translucent. Add the grated coconut and cook for further 5 mins.
  • Add turmeric powder  and cook for another couple of minutes.
  • Remove from heat and let the mixture cool before transferring it to a blender. Blend the mixture to a thick smooth paste by adding ½ cup of water. Add more water if desired to reach the right consistency.
  • Transfer the paste back to a clean cooking pot and add 1 cup of warm water and bring to a boil. Cook for further 7 mins. Add salt and continue cooking for 2 more mins.
  • Now add the coconut milk and bring the sauce back to boil. Stir in the aniseed powder and curry leaves. Start by adding the cod first and cooking it for 5-7 mins on medium heat. Be careful while you stir from this stage onwards as you don’t want to break the fish. Now add the prawns, mussels and squids. Carefully fold the seafood in the sauce, cover the cooking pot with a lid and simmer on medium heat for another 5-7 mins. Be careful not to over cook the seafood.
  • Once cooked add vinegar and mix. Remove from heat garnish with some fried curry leaves. Accompanied perfectly with steam rice.

 

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Ayurveda – Cooking with Five Elements.

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Thousands of years before even contemporary medicine provided scientific corroboration for the mind-body inter-connection, the profoundly wise scholars of India gave birth to Ayurveda, which persists to be one of the world’s most advanced and ardent mind-body health technique. More than a mere system of treating disease and ailment, Ayurveda is a science of life (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge). It offers the body of wisdom of traditional medicines designed to help people stay vibrant, energetic and healthy while realizing their full human potential and capabilities.

The main fundamental rules of Ayurveda are that the mind and the body are connected in a way that are impossible to seperate, and nothing has more strength to cure and transform the body than the mind. Immunity from illness depends upon augmenting our own understanding, bringing it into balance, and then extending that balance to the body. This process isn’t as intricate as it may sound. For example, when you meditate you effortlessly enter a state of expanded awareness and inner peace that reinvigorates the mind and reinstates stability. Since the mind and body are inseparable, the body is naturally balanced through the implementation of meditation. In the state of relaxed consciousness created through meditation, your heart rate and breath slow, your body decreases the production of “stress” hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and you increase the production of neurotransmitters that enhance wellbeing, including serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins.
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The age old practice of Ayurveda believes we’re made up of three different ‘body types’ that equates to our physical and personality attributes, known as doshas. These are: vata, pitta and kapha, each of which represents two of the five universal elements (a combination of either, air, fire, water, earth). Ayurvedic principles believe that each individual contains diverse proportions of each dosha, generally one or two in dominance. Our naturally predominant dosha does not denote imbalance, but rather how – or who – we are in our most healthy, balanced state. Mind-body health and harmony may be challenged when any of the doshas become aggravated or unstable. Understanding Identifying your predominant dosha and potential imbalances, which an Ayurvedic practitioner can assist with, is the secret to keeping your mind-body balance in check.

Ayurveda in its journey to transform dishes that create the perfect balance in the body has also invented cooking methods that are termed healthy today, like pan frying, roasting, steaming and blanching. The answer to why dishes in Indian cuisine are fried while others are steamed or roasted can be found in Ayurveda. This ancient science actually discovered how cooking and the time taken to cook can change the composition of a particular food and its effect on the body. Like the lycopene in tomatoes, which intensifies while cooking can be easily extracted. The same goes for onion. Tempering it with hing (asafoetida) balances the diuretic properties in onion that makes it good for cough and cold and helps in digestion. In fact, ayurvedic cooking prohibits from using fried brown onions that have lost all their nutrients and can cause acidity in a few cases. Blanching carrots robs them off their betacarotene, and so best eaten raw. In fact the all-popular steam cooking done by wrapping vegetable in a leaf is also quintessentially Ayurvedic practise.

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Kheer (Rice Pudding) , a dish that was first mentioned in the Ramayana was in fact an Ayurvedic invention. It combines the fat in milk with the starch in rice to boost energy.

The art of lactic fermentation and its use was yet another invention of Ayurveda to the culinary world. The proof of this is the high use of ghee and yogurt in Ayurveda to treat a huge array of diseases, from constipation to ulcers and even hangovers. An old scripture traced to the Gupta period states that Ghee was consumed by Khastriya soldiers before the war. It is said that after the Kalinga war, Emperor Ashoka gave up meat in favour of vegetarian food, five times a week, because it kept him agile and alert. Soups, yet another innovation from Ayurveda, too were hugely consumed back in time. In Chola dynasty back in the 3rd century BCE, it was used both as a morning beverage and for enhancing appetite. Soup was often the food given to new lactating mothers to regain strength.

Salads, mostly prepared raw with ginger julienne and lemon juice, were first consumed during the 200BCE was also credited to Ayurveda. The ‘raw food diet’ was adopted by the Buddhist from Kalinga (present day Odisha and West Bengal) who took it to other countries and continents while they travelled. Many food historians attribute the tradition of eating raw food or par boiled food in Chinese cuisine to Ayurveda and to the Chinese pilgrim Fa Hsien (c. 337–422 AD), who visited India to document the culinary and health system, notes that Indian cuisine then, especially the vegetarian side, used minimum spices and cooking time so as to impart that right flavour to the dish without compromising on the nutrients.

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According to Ayurveda, the best way to cook vegetables is to sauté them in ghee with spices. By first sautéing the spices in ghee, the volatile oils of the spices are drawn out into the ghee. These spices have therapeutic value. Turmeric, for example, has been found to be an antioxidant, and other spices such as cumin and coriander help with digestion and assimilation. The spices cook into the vegetables act as carriers, transporting nutrient from the vegetables into the bloodstream as we consume them. They also make the food taste aromatic and delicious.

Ghee is considered beneficial oil in Ayurveda. According to traditional ayurvedic texts, it is a rasayana – a Sanskrit word, with the literal meaning: Path (āyana) of essence (rasa). It is a term that in early ayurvedic medicine means the science of lengthening lifespan, good for overall well-being and longevity. Modern research shows that it is an antioxidant and contains beta- carotene. Since the milk solids have been removed, ghee does not spoil easily like vegetable oils do. If you are on a weight loss program, limit your intake of ghee or oil to judicious amounts. It is this philosophy of cooking that is still followed by those practicing Ayurveda, and makes it a healing and restorative cuisine. What also lends ayurvedic cooking its unique identity aside the cooking method used for each food and the good use of local ingredients, is the use of certain herbs and practices. Most recipes in Ayurveda call for kasturi (curcuma aromatic), a fragrant variety of turmeric root instead of ordinary turmeric (curcuma longa) because of its aroma and nutrients. It also uses a lot of flowers and berries in its dishes instead of spices like chillies to extract the required flavor without too much cooking. So assuming that Ayurvedic dishes are all bland is truly a misconception. A spice and meat jaded palate will find it high on subtlety, but that is because each dish is made to suit a person’s character, which is a mix of Vatta Pitta and Kapha.

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10 common herbs and spices used in Ayurveda.

HARIDRA:

Commonly known as turmeric, haridra has a bright yellow color and it tastes bitter and astringent. It has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-oxidant, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. Turmeric is used in the treatment of health problems like constipation, hemorrhoids, eye disorders, dysentery, parasites, hemorrhoids, high cholesterol, coughs, lupus, conjunctivitis, diabetes and many types of cancer like breast cancer, colon cancer and lung cancer.

Curcumin (Active Ingredient In Turmeric Spice) Very Effective At ...

Picture Credit: Fanatic Cook 

AMALAKI:

Also known as amla or Indian gooseberry, Amalaki is a small fruit, pale green or yellowish green in color. The taste of this fruit is very sour. It has antioxidant, diuretic, antiviral, antimicrobial, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and anti-anemia properties. For centuries, people have amla to treat a wide range of illnesses like hyperacidity, constipation, ulcers, hepatitis, colitis, high cholesterol, diabetes and anemia. It can prevent cancer and protect the liver, heart, kidney and nerves.

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BRAHMI:

Also known by the name of Bacopa or Indian Gotu kola, Brahmi is a small, creeping herb with numerous branches. It is bitter in taste. Research has shown that Brahmi has Antioxidant, Cardio tonic and anticancer properties. Brahmi helps restore memory, higher cognitive and neurological functions. It is highly effective against diseases like bronchitis, asthma, epilepsy, insomnia, hoarseness, arthritis, rheumatism, backache, constipation, fever, digestive problems, depression, autism and all sorts of skin problems like eczema, psoriasis, abscess and ulcerations.

File:Bacopa monnieri W IMG 1612.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

MANJISTHA:

Popularly known as Red Madder Root, Manjistha is a climber, usually growing over other bushes or trees. The roots as well as the stems are used for medicinal used. It has astringent, anti-bacterial and diuretic properties. This plant is used to treat dropsy, paralysis, jaundice, amenorrhea, menopause, visceral and hepatic obstructions, skin diseases, chronic diarrhea, intestinal debility, rheumatism, tuberculosis, intestinal ulcer gallstones and stones of the urinary tract, bleeding disorders, and much more. It also works as a blood purifier for skin diseases and to improve the complexion.

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 Picture credit: Felicity Ford 

NEEM:

Also popular by the names of Indian Lilac or margosa, Neem has been used for centuries by millions of people for its medicinal properties. It has antibacterial, antifungal, anti-ulcer, blood purifier, and antipyretic, anti parasitic, antiseptic, and antiemetic properties. Various parts of the tree are used in Ayurveda for treating a plethora of health problems. This herb is used to treat diabetes, leprosy, itching, blood disorders, intestinal worms, piles, dysentery, jaundice, vomiting, wounds, eye disease, paraplegia, female genital diseases and all kinds of fevers.

JEERA:

Jeera also known as cumin seed has been used in Indian cooking for centuries. The nutty peppery flavor of cumin seeds can make any food yummy. In Ayurveda this common spice is used to treat different health problems due to its antiseptic, carminative, diuretic, antispasmodic, anti inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-flatulent properties. It is used in the treatment of various health problems like indigestion, amnesia, diarrhea, morning sickness, nausea, acidity, flatulence, stomach pain, common cold, cough, and insomnia.

cumin
 Picture Credit: Kris A

DHANYA:

Also known by the name of coriander, dhanya has been used as a flavoring agent and medicinal plant since ancient times. In Ayurveda both the seeds and the leaves of this plant are used for treating many health problems. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-septic, antipyretic, anti-fungal, cooling and diuretic properties. It is used to treat health problems like arthritis, stomach gas, urinary tract infections, and nausea, mood swings associated with menstruation, menstrual cramping, bloating, anemia, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, diabetes, bladder infection, intense itching, conjunctivitis, and eczema.

Whole Coriander Seed
 Picture Credit: Emily Barney

DHRUT KUMARI:

Also known as Aloe vera, this herbal plant is often described as a “wonder plant”. It is a succulent and mucilaginous plant that can grow up to 40 inches in height. The thick and heavy green leaves contain the precious healing gel that provides many health benefits. Aloe vera gel has disinfectant, anti-biotic, anti-microbial, germicidal, anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-fungal and anti- viral properties. The gel is used in the treatment of cuts, minor burns, constipation, enlarged liver, hepatitis, bronchitis, asthma, tumors, Candida infections, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis and various types of skin infections. 

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TULSI:

Also known as Holy Basil this plant is actually considered sacred by many religious groups. It is a small plant with small leaves, and has hairy stems and very soothing fragrance. It has demulcent, expectorant, anti catarrhal, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, digestive stimulant, antimicrobial, antifungal, anti parasitic and antibacterial properties. Ayurvedic practitioners use holy basil to treat a myriad of ailments like arthritis pain, back pain, headache, influenza, common cold, asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, fever, viral hepatitis, diabetes, malaria, tuberculosis and ringworm.

Tulsi (Holy Basil)
 Picture Credit: Thangaraj Kumaravel

YASHTI MADHU:

Yasthi Madhu or licorice root has been used as a powerful medicine in both Ayurveda and various forms of modern medicine. Licorice root works as an expectorant, anti-spasmodic, anti- inflammatory, laxative, hypertensive, anti-ulcer, estrogenic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and immune stimulant. The sweet and cooling taste of licorice root is used to treat peptic ulcers, canker sores, acid reflux, cough, asthma, eczema, osteoarthritis, liver disorders, malaria, tuberculosis, food poisoning, sore throat, common cold, ulcers, nervous exhaustion, cystitis and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

licorice root
 Picture Credit: denAsuncioner

Apart from the above mentioned spices and herbs, there are many more natural ingredients that are used in Ayurveda. When choosing an herb or spice to consume for whatever health problem that you have, make sure to do thorough research and always consult your doctor if it’s okay to take any of these natural ingredients.

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Murgh Dakshini (Chicken Curry from the Southern Coast of India)

India’s language, religion, customs and food differ from place to place within the country, but nevertheless possess a commonality. India is the only country in the world to have so many religions and beliefs. The food culture of India is an amalgamation of these diverse subcultures spread all over the Indian subcontinent and traditions that are several millennia old. Despite this diversity, some unifying threads emerge. Varied uses of spices are an integral part of food preparation, and are used to enhance the flavor of a dish and create unique flavors and aromas. Cuisine across India has also been influenced by various cultural groups that entered India throughout history, such as the Persian, Mughal and European Colonists. In this blog I again try to illustrate a simple Chicken curry inspired from the southern coast of India – Kerala, also referred to as Chicken Malabari. I have slightly tweaked the recipe with the addition of Hing – also known as Asafoetida (a spice well known for its digestive aid and a flavour enhancer.) and boiled eggs. 

 

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Serves 4

Cooking time 45 Mins

 

Ingredients 

1 Kg Chicken Breast diced

4 Medium Onions (finely chopped)

3 Fresh Tomatoes (finely chopped)

1 Tbsp Ginger Paste

2 Tbsp Garlic Paste

2 Sprigs of curry leaves

2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh Coriander

3 Fresh Green Chillies (finely chopped)

1 Tsp Mustard seeds

1/4 Tsp Hing Powder (Asafoetida)

1 Tbsp Kashmiri Red Chilli powder

1/2 Tbsp Turmeric Powder

1/2 Tbsp Coriander Powder

1/2 Tbsp Cumin Powder

1/4 Tsp Finely crushed Black pepper

1/4 Tsp Fennel Powder

300 ml Coconut Milk (Unsweetened)

1 Tbsp Desiccated Coconut (pan roasted)

1 Tbsp Fresh Lemon juice

200 ml vegetable oil

Salt to taste

4 boiled eggs

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Method

1. Heat oil in a cooking pot. Add hing and mustard seeds, once the seeds crackle add the curry leaves.

2. Add the chopped onions and cook until golden in colour. Now add the ginger-garlic paste and cook for further 5 mins.

3. At this stage lower the heat and add the dry spices. Stir for 30 seconds and add 1/4 cup of warm water and cook for further 5-7 mins.

4. Add the chopped tomatoes, mix well and cook on high heat for 5 mins. Now add 1 cup of warm water and cook further for 8-10 mins on medium heat until tomatoes are cooked and incorporated.

5. Add the chicken and salt. Stir until the masala evenly coats the chicken. Reduce the heat, cover the pot with a lid and cook for 10-15 mins until the chicken is tender and cooked through.

6. Remove the lid after 10 mins and increase the heat. Add the chopped green chillies, coconut milk and cook for further 5 mins until the gravy slightly thickens.  Add the boiled eggs and chopped coriander, continue cooking for further 2 minutes. Finish with lemon juice.

7. Transfer into a serving bowl and garnish with desiccated coconut and coriander leaves. Serve hot with appam or malabari paratha and perfectly paired with a glass of 2010 Mandala Sauvignon Blanc .

I have added a small video that guides you through the steps.

 

The Great Indian Culinary Odyssey

Its always given me immense pleasure to write about good Indian food and spreading its glory across the globe. Indian Cuisine has spread its wings all over the world and people savour this delicious cuisine with great joy. But to actually sample the cuisine at its birth place is an experience in itself. I write about my culinary adventure to India where I had the privilege of tasting some of the most astounding delicacies from the entire sub continent.

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I started my journey from the financial hub of the country Mumbai, a cosmopolitan city attracting various cultures and traditions. Being on the coast of Arabian sea- Mumbai boasts of a vast produce of sea food. So i decided to sample the best coastal cuisine, and when it comes to coastal food you cannot beat Gajalee. Started as a stand alone restaurant in the humble suburb of Vile Parle, this restaurant now boasts of 7 restaurant all over the world. The word Gajalee means an informal gathering in Malvani or Konkani.

I started of with Bombil (Bombay Duck) fry which is a signature fish delicacy. The fish is coated with rice flour and semolina which imparts the crispy texture, its marinated with spices and ginger garlic paste and deep fried. I have to confess this was absolutely divine.  The next dish was another Gajalee classic called the Clam Koshimbir – fresh clams prepared in a coconut and green masala. The mains were equally tantalising with Mutton masala dry and Chicken liver masala accompanied by fresh soft chapatis. I ended my meal with a glass of Sol kadi made with coconut milk and kokum which is blackish red fruit thats sour in taste and acts as a great digestive.

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http://www.gajalee.com

My next stop in Mumbai was at Rajdhani’s Rasovara– a pure vegetarian restaurant serving royal Rajasthani and Gujrati cuisine. A must visit for all vegetarian lovers. This humble eatery is situated at the Palladium Mall in Lower Parel. Everything is served in a thali. Service is absolutely brilliant, its Indian hospitality at its best. They make you feel at home right from the word go. As soon as you are seated the waiters put a traditional copper thali with small copper cups in them. The meal starts of with a refreshing shikanjvi (sweetened fresh lime water ).  For starters I was presented with 2 different chaats and 2 farsaan (Gujrati snacks or appetisers). For the mains there were 5 different vegetarian selection and 2 varieties of daal and 1 kadi. Gatte ki subzi, papad ki subzi, paneer ki subzi, vaal papdi and daal baati churma were to die for. The veggies were accompanied by fresh chapattis drizzled with desi ghee, bajra (millet) roti and theplas. For the desserts I was presented with basundi (thickened sweetened milk with nuts) Jalebi with rabri and Gaajar halwa. I was stuffed at the end however its one of the best vegetarian meals I have had in a long time. The restaurant boasts of 70 different set menus and Chef Bhawar Parmar with 25 years of experience under his belt doesn’t fail to impress with his exceptional food.

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http://rajdhani.co.in/rasovara.html

My next stop was the Capital of India-New Delhi and I was amazed by the food culture here. Its difficult  to narrate my experience in just one blog but i must say if anyone travels to India, one must visit New Delhi as it has some amazing food on the offer.

My first stop was Eau de Monsoon a contemporary fine dining Indian Restaurant at the Le Meridian that delivers exceptionally great food. Chef Anil Jaiswal has engineered a stunning menu. For starters I strongly recommend mille feuille  of sole with tamarind glaze and mint chutney and Tandoori lamb burrah with pineapple carpaccio and crispy naan. For the mains –Chicken infused with with home ground spices, upma and chettinad curry  hit the taste buds just right and not to mention the Daal Makhni is definitely a must try. If you are a sea food lover then definitely go for the Sea Bass with Madras curry, artichoke, asparagus and steamed snow peas. The service also is brilliant, Ankit Joshi the Caption served us and i must say he did a pretty good job.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Eau-De-Monsoon-Le-Meridian/116828015065985

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My second stop was at Chef Manish Mehrotra’s Indian Accent. Absolutely flawless is what i have got to say. For starters baked paneer pinwheel with Indian coriander pesto, foie gras stuffed galawat with strawberry and chilli chutney, ghee roast mutton boti with roomali roti pancake were an absolute delight. For the mains rice crusted john dory moilee and pine nut porial and slow cooked lamb shank, Kashmiri ab gosht are strongly recommended.  The food was beautifully presented and was a feast for the eyes. The flavours were perfectly balanced and wasn’t over spiced. For dessert fresh tandoori figs and daulat ki chaat was a perfect end to the meal. I have to say overall it was an unforgettable experience, exceptional food complimented with brilliant service and beautiful ambience. Please do try this place out if you are in Delhi.

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http://www.indianaccent.com

My third stop was an humble oriental restaurant called Chopsticks situated at the Asiad village in Delhi and a part of Kwality group. This restaurant has some brilliant Oriental food on the offer. General Manager Sugandh Khanna and Head Chef Amit Gurund have designed a brilliant menu. A 200 cover restaurant gives you an option of buffet for lunch and a la carte for dinner and lunch. Food is fresh and locally sourced and Sugandh makes sure that consistency and quality are maintained. My personal recommendations for starters are Sesame crusted Thai chicken, classic salt and pepper prawns, for vegetarians I would recommend cottage cheese stuffed jade balls and crispy okra tossed with five spice. For the mains one must try the smoky kung pao chicken and the sizzling Hunan lamb. Well this had been a good change for my palate after savouring Indian meal through out the week. Definitely try this place out and I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

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https://www.facebook.com/chopsticks.rest.5?fref=ts

My final leg of the journey in Delhi took me to this European inspired cafe in Gurgaon called Di Ghent Cafe. Di Ghent means from Ghent and Ghent is a city in Belgium. This cafe has become an inspiration for me. Serving up some hearty European breakfast, meals, breads, desserts and coffee. Every thing is made in-house. Freshly baked breads like French baguettes, Focaccia and Brioche are baked every morning. They boast of a good variety of desserts which are produced in house as well. To sum up i would say that the cafe brings an honest and heart plate of food to your table. Simple yet elegant and full of flavours.

https://www.facebook.com/DiGhent

My final stop stop in India was Kolkata– The City of Joy. The city has its own charm and beauty and my love for bengali food drew me back here. “oh Calcutta” the home of authentic Bengali Cuisine. We started our meal with Kakra Chingri Bhapa (steamed crabmeat and shrimps with mustard and chillies.) and fried Betki fish with traditional mustard dip – Kashundi. for the mains we feasted on Kosha Mangsho(pot roasted mutton), Kancha lanka murghi(dry cooked chicken with coriander and green chillies) and the famous bekti fish curry served with boiled rice. I must confess it was one my best meals in the entire trip. The flavours still linger in my mouth and bengali food doesn’t get better than this.

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http://www.speciality.co.in/oh_calcutta/index.html

Its been an amazing journey full of emotions and I have to thank everyone for their wonderful hospitality and special thanks to Sharun Khanna my companion, food guide and wife who accompanied me to all the above places.

India I will be back soon.

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Turban Street Cafe – Redefining Indian Street Food

I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.

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This blog is about  our journey that began with a small restaurant called The Red Turban, located in the suburbs of London. I still remember very distinctly,  I had just come out of  an interview with a top Michelin star restaurant and was overwhelmed to join such a prestigious organisation. That very afternoon when i reached home I received a call from Nishel asking me to see him at his restaurant. I wasn’t too sure but i knew he was planning to reopen his old restaurant and I was pretty much guessing that this meeting would revolve around this.  So here we are at the restaurant which was completely stripped down, apart from a sofa which was left behind where our conversation started building momentum. Nishel started explaining the whole concept to me, and he wanted me to be a part of it and build on it. The concept was simple, an Indian restaurant that would break all barriers, Nishel was clear about the fact that it had to be way beyond the chicken tikka masala and the kormas, It made sense to me and i thought that this would be once in a life time opportunity to create something unique and different. We both were on the same page and it instantly gave birth to The Red Turban. We were about to challenge the status quo, we were going to break all the rules and the risk factor was quiet high but i think somewhere down the line there was a belief that we would come out with flying colours.

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I started doing an extensive research on the dishes I wanted to put on the menu, the idea was to create a balanced menu which would show case unique recipes from every region of India. After a meticulous two month research the menus were finally devised . The menu featured exemplar chaats from the streets of Old Delhi, Chowpatty, Agra and Mathura. The Chowk ki tikki which is potato cakes stuffed with green peas served on a bed of spiced chickpeas, drizzled with tamarind chutney made with dates and elderflower and a fresh mint and watercress chutney became an instant favourite. Kebabs were the highlight of the menu – the Galawati kebab from Awadh, seekh kebab nizami, lazeez pasliyaan (lamb chops) , murgh pahadi tikka ( chicken tikka marinated with a fresh coriander, mint, basil and green chilli paste.) , paneer saunfiya tikka, tandoori bharwan mushrooms to name a few. For the main course we again had a challenge as we wanted to move away from the regular fare. Ambade ka gosht ( lamb cooked with sorrel leaves), Rajasthani Laal Maas , Patiala shahi murgh had become cult dishes on the menu. The vegetarian fare which included Dum aloo Benarasi, hare pyaaz aur soye ka paneer, malai kofta makhmali and daal Kandhari ( whole urad simmered over night on charcoal and finished off with fresh pomegranate juice. ) also made their presence felt. We were already on the map. I very strongly believed that the menu had to represent dishes that were authentic and served in a modern way. So the emphasis was more on the crockery and cutlery, rather than over done garnishes. I wanted my guests to feel India in every morsel they taste, it involved a lot of hard work. To achieve these standards, we were grinding spices in house on a regular basis. Practically nothing was outsourced, even the samosas and aloo tikki were made in house to specifications.

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Our final challenge was the desserts. Most of the Indian Restaurants in the UK have a box standard menu and it was boring. I wanted to create a balanced combination of flavours and technique that would create a wow factor. So after a month of research in my kitchen I decided to use the best ideas from the east and blend them with the techniques of the west. We had redefined Indian desserts – mango mousse and rasmalai trifle, Chocolate and gulab jamun terrine, masala chai tiramisu and the gaajar halwa panna cotta to name a few were creating ripples with our guests.
The Red Turban in the last 3 years had achieved immense success and accolades thanks to our loyal guests and staff who contributed a great deal towards it success and not to forget Nishel the driving force behind the Red Turban had an immeasurable contribution.

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It was time to move on to our next venture by creating the next Turban franchisee. After three months of research and brainstorming the Turban Street Cafe was devised. Bringing the the real Indian street food to the streets of London. Kati Rolls from the streets of Calcutta, Daulat ki chaat from Old Delhi, Tunday Kebab from Lucknow are just a few sneak peeks . We are going to give our guests the same taste and feel as they would get on the streets of India.

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In this day and age where Indian food has been reformed to the most sophisticated level, it has somehow lost its essence and authenticity. I am bringing a very simple and honest plate of food to my guests, inspired by age old traditions and simplicity, food that will touch your heart and soul and that I believe is limitless. At Turban street we are not just cooking, we are cooking with passion and emotions to create dishes that will bring smile on peoples faces. We are redefining Indian Street Food
Chef Ashish Bhatia

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Chandni Chowk to Chowpatty – Indian street food at its best.

I don’t like food that’s too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I’d buy a painting.
Andy Rooney

A quote that sounds just right when we think of the rustic Indian street food served on the roadside stalls, in open markets, beaches, melas, railway stations, bus stops, offices and various other colourful locations all over India

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With a huge increase in fine dining restaurants, cafes and bars the Indian street food was somehow loosing its identity along the way, however a modified version of them was being served on fancy plates with overdone garnishes, served by sophisticated waiting staff in a cozy and posh environment, accompanied by a glass of a good vintage wine served by the best sommeliers in town and to add the cherry to the cake the dishes being ridiculously over priced.

Well these places never did justice to the great Indian street food dishes. It didn’t even come anywhere close to their original roots which had the taste, the smell, the rustic serving plates which were made of either dried leaves, newspaper or clay, imparting a distinctive flavour to the the dish, the hustle and bustle of the market place and more-over digging your fingers into the dish rather than using cutlery was an experience in itself, it had its own magic and in every way contributed to the dish as a whole. This experience is irreplaceable, and no matter how much one tries getting close to creating that whole experience in a restaurant there will always be that one element missing.

With a sudden increase in Indian street food restaurants popping up all over London I thought it would be a good idea to write about this great concept and how it evolved. From its birth to finding its way to the streets and now on your dinner plates at a restaurant near you.

Some of these restaurants have painstakingly created a replica of this great institution and have tried to bring an honest plate of food to you combined with age old traditions and culture.

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The History

The birth of Indian street food was mothered by The Grand Trunk Road which is the longest and the oldest road built to connect western and eastern regions of the vast Indian subcontinent by the Mauryan Empire in the 3rd century BC, however it was Sher Shah Suri who renovated and extended this road in the 16th century and was later upgraded in the British period between 1833 and 1860.  It runs from Kabul in present day Afghanistan to Calcutta in the eastern part of India.

The Grand Trunk Road is where the present day Street food found its first stepping stone. The route was used by traders, travellers, armies and being such a long route people couldn’t store food with them while travelling  hence the locals starting setting up food stalls to feed the travellers.

These food stalls were typically called “Dhabas” which were often run by single families and mushroomed all along the trunk road serving fresh regional cuisine. The dhabas mainly gained popularity in the Northwestern part of the country from Peshawar to Punjab. The dhabas were characterised by open kitchens, clay ovens also know as tandoor and used brass and copper utensils. Dhabas today have become very popular all over the country and many modern versions have evolved.

Food was always the landmark of these Dhabas some offering the best teas often referred to as the ‘sau meel waali chai’. This concoction is a heavenly  mix of fresh milk,   sugar and tea leaves all brewed with a hint of cinnamon, cardamon, ginger to provide flavors impossible to reproduce anywhere else.

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While some dhabas boasted of a vegetarian menu; lip smacking chanaa bhaturas for breakfast, the all time favourite  tadka daal with liberal dosage of ghee; the crisp tandoori rotis and succulent paneer dishes.  Some excel in the kadi (made with yoghurt and gram flour) while others sweetened  the palates with a great array of desserts.

The non vegetarian fare was the one to watch out for, tender juicy kebabs made with chicken, quail, lamb, beef and delicate seafood preparations along with large pot or handis of curries being cooked in an open kitchen on slow charcoal heat. A few examples are  Dahi Bhalla, Chaapli Kebab, Sofiyani Machhli, Paneer ke Soole  Dhaba Murg, Kosha Mansho, Chingri Lau Ghanto, Gobi Mussalam, Pindi Chana, Yakhni Pulao, Daal Makhni and the ever famous Tandoori Chicken.

As cities started developing, the street food got Urbanised and found its way into the main streets, now street food outlet became a destination where the whole family came to enjoy the delicacies, a cuisine in itself, it became very popular among the middle class in the early 20th century. Food stalls started mushrooming on busy and important locations in the cities and the stalls became a landmark in itself.

The famous chandi chowk in old Delhi known for chaats .

(Chaat is a term describing savoury snacks, typically served at roadside tracks from stalls or carts in India. With its origins in east India, chaat has become immensely popular in the rest of India and the rest of South Asia.In cities where chaat is popular, there are popular chaathouses or dhabas, such as Mumbai’s Chowpatty Beach. Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi. The chaat specialities vary from city to city. Chaat from Agra and Mathura are famous throughout India.)

The famous Shirmal Wali Gali, Chowk, Lucknow know for Tunde ke Kebab a dish made with Lamb mince and is said to use around 160 spices along with other ingredients.

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(India is proud of its Kebabs.The kebabs of Awadhi cuisine are distinct from the kebabs of Punjab insofar as Awadhi kebabs are grilled on a Chula and sometimes in a skillet as opposed to grilled in a tandoor in Punjab. Awadhi kebabs are also called “Chula” kebabs whereas the kebabs of Punjab are called “tandoori” kebabs.)

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Calcutta the capital of West Bengal is another famous street food destination. The Puchka refers to the crisp sphere that is placed in the mouth and eaten one at a time and because of the bursting sound in the mouth it was named puchka. This dish is a very famous street food all over India served in different ways and the recipe changes from region to region, its also referred to as “pani puri” and “gol gappa” It consists of a round, hollow puri, fried crisp and filled with a mixture of flavored water (“pani”), tamarind chutney, chili, chaat masala, potato, onion and chickpeas.

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Jhal Muri is another classic which consists of puffed rice, boiled potatoes, chickpeas and coriander all tossed together with tamarind, chilli sauce and spices, served traditionally in newspaper cones.

The Kati rolls were yet another popular delicacy. Spicy chicken, lamb or beef kebabs char grilled and wrapped in parathas (soft flat bread cooked on a griddle or tawa) with onions and peppers with a spicy chutney. It was to die for.

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Moving towards the western part of India, Bombay the financial capital of India boasts of a wide array of dishes.

Vada Pav a popular spicy vegetarian fast food dish native to the Indian state of Maharashtra. It consists of a batata vada sandwiched between 2 slices of a pav. The word batata vada refers in Marathi to a vada (fritter) made out of batata, the latter referring to a potato. Pav refers to unsweetened bread or bun. It is also known as Indian Burger. Finely chopped green chillies and ginger are added to mashed potatoes and is further tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves and dipped in a gram flour batter and deep fried.

Pav bhaji is a Maharashtrian  dish that originated in Bombay. It is native to Bombay and has now become popular all over India, especially in those of central and western Indian states such as Gujarat. Pav means bread. Bhaji in Marathi means vegetable dish. Pav bhaji consists of bhaji (a thick potato-based curry with vegetables) garnished with coriander, chopped onion, and a dash of lemon and lightly toasted pav. The pav is usually buttered on all sides.

Dosa, a common breakfast dish and street food, is rich in carbohydrates, and contains no sugar or saturated fats. As its constituent ingredients are rice and lentils, it is gluten-free and contains protein. This dish originated in Tamil Nadu a state in the southern part of India.

A mixture of rice and urad dal that has been soaked in water is ground finely to form a batter. The proportion of rice to lentils is basically 2:1 or 3:1. The batter is allowed to sit overnight and ferment. Sometimes a few fenugreek seeds are added to the rice-dal mixture. The rice can be uncooked or parboiled.

A thin layer of the batter is then ladled onto a hot tava (griddle) greased with oil or ghee (clarified butter). It is spread out evenly with the base of a ladle or bowl to form a pancake. A dosa is served hot, either folded in half or rolled like a wrap either stuffed with potatoes or on its own with lentils and coconut chutney.

And the list continues. There are hundreds of other dishes and as i said in my previous blog its difficult to narrate a story that starts from the Bay of Bengal to the Coasts of Konkan, from the rugged peaks of the Great Himalayas through the land of Five rivers ‘Punjab’ right into the Gangetic plains and the southern coast.

India’s language, religion, customs and food differ from place to place within the country, but nevertheless possess a commonality. India is the only country in the world to have so many religions and beliefs. The food culture of India is an amalgamation of these diverse subcultures spread all over the Indian subcontinent and traditions that are several millennia old.

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