Friday, January 30, 2009

Hot and Steamy Nights in Bangkok : Food expose

I know I have cheated on everyone I know. I feel guilty and terrible that I have cheated, but not with the " Thai Bar girls" and the "Sandwich massage" but with the food. Yes I did not eat Thai street food but lived a surreal and an airbrushed life of a expat, eating at, the better and high end restaurants (comparatively) rather than the street food and local exotica and the hard core stuff that I was yearning for.

When I was growing up in Visakhapatanam (aka Vizag and Waltair), across the street where we lived in Dwarka Nagar was a house with Thai tenants. They were perhaps students or what and the girls always wore shorts (this is 1975) all the time and always showed their plump and fair thighs. I often wondered and fantasized.... hmmm thats the reason why they call it Thailand.

Seriously, we were in Bangkok for 4 nights and lived at the Wireless road, the expat area opposite the US Ambassadors residence in the Hotel Conrad complex at the All Seasons Mansion. We arrive at 8pm and again unabashedly order Indian Chinese food yet again, from dragon a home delivery. If you have read the previous post you would know, we are with Shilpa our host and we order Veg momos (yes momos and not dim sum), Veg chowmein , Veg fried rice, Veg Manchurian and Salt and pepper Prawns. Believe me, I haven't tasted a more authentic Indian Chinese food meal anywhere else in the world, even in India. Every ingredient was perfect and this is high street Bangkok.

The Other interesting meals were at MK's Gold at Siam Paragon(the upmarket version of a chain of Chinese restaurants), Seafood Market Restaurant at Sukhumvit, GreyHound Cafe at Central Chidlom, Loy Nava (traditional rice boat dinner cruise), Curries and More -traditional Thai restaurant at Ruamrudee, the Jungle cruise buffet at Safari Park, Calderazzo Italian Ristorante at Lang Suan, Witch's Oyster bar at Ruamrudee and Au bon pain at M Thai Tower at All Season's Place and that's it. If you don't count a deli or two here and there for breakfast or a Mc Donalds thrown in for good measure.

So how do you elaborate on 9-10 interesting meals without losing the reading retention span. I will try to write an abridged narration with outline experiences, price and a narration of food so please bear with me.

Mk's is chain of restaurants, I understand they have a upgraded version called Mk's Gold thats where I went, to a sit down restaurant for a quick bite, roast duck, roast pork with rice served with a soup and slivers of pickled ginger and some cucumber in and out in 10 minutes for a served on table with crockery cutlery and a white serviette service. In all Bht 100 with a gratuity. Thats nearly a Rs 140/-. Amazing Thailand. The food was yumm.

Sea food market restaurant at Sukhumvit, basically a large hall as big as multiplex with 6-8 screens, it was my third visit and the family's first. We start with a hostess with a trolley taking us around to shop at the stylised fish market, we bought, river prawns, sea halibut fish, shrimp cakes and lots of pakchoi and broccolli and french bread. Accompanied by Chilean white Saint Alacia wine. After shopping and paying for the ingredients we seat ourselves and choose a cooking style with cooking charges we choose between, stir fried fried and char grilled. Detective An (Ananya) freaks out she binges on everything, prawn cakes (fried), stir fried garlic river prawns and the garlic and soya pakchoi. Dear wife Praveen can't handle the smells, however, she feasts on the char grilled halibut fish and pecks on the garlic bread and sticky white rice. I gorge myself in the surreal lighting. In all a great experience . It costs Baht 1735 which nearly Rs 2400 now. I am sure going to a countryside place in inner Thailand will always be better, however in downtown Bangkok it was nice. It took us a little over an hour for the entire experience. Fantastic service 4 waiters to a table and unobtrusive.
Detective An loves it, she takes to the fish(seafood) as fish takes to water, metaphorically, that is. Good experience, for three persons with drinks (coke, Asahi beer wine and the starters and main course). The only caution, there are several smaller restaurants masquerading to be the real thing. The cabbies play dumb and try to misguide you.

The next stop is Grey Hound cafĂ©: Started by an advertising professional, has restaurants all over Bangkok. Dear wife Praveen detests restaurants located in malls. But she agreed to this one on Shilpa, our host, insisting. It’s a quirky place with Thai fusion cuisine with waiters with quaint messages like “I may not be cute, but I help you order the best”. The restaurant is designed in black and white”. Four of us ordered, drinks- Ginger ale, Sprite , a yoghurt smoothie. Lunch – A pasta for shilpa, Fried fish in beer barter with chips for Detective An and Dear wife and I shared a Pomelo salad (grapefruit with shrimps and dried fish), Phad Thai (Thai flat noodles and shrimp with peanuts and chilli powder), spare ribs of pork, and a portion of fried rice with salted fish which came with a bowl of soup. The food was fashionable but not yummy and we tried quite a bit. More like our Indian fusion cuisine places which have enormously dressed up plates with passable food. It costed about Bht 1400 which is nearly Rs 2000/-. Not bad for the price despite the shallow service.

Curries and More: I must confess I did not go, my dear wife Praveen went to this lovely restaurant on Rumrudee and loved the experience. I ate some of the food they brought back. Yummy, Some rice and some interesting dish of chicken (with a nice yellow thick curry, Indonesian) and a flavourful prawn dish again yummy, Tom yum Kung soup, a pomelo salad, jasmine tea, iced tea and blueberry cheeese cake about Bht1800 approx Rs 2500/- for two and a little spillover for home which I ate.

Now the Dinner Cruise night on the traditional rice boat Loy Nava which has been in operation for over 39 years. This was an all farhang (goras) outing and me and Praveen were the only brownies on the wooden boat and deck (of course apart from the service staff and the dancers). This was a romantic dinner date, with Detective An at home , watching movies and gorging on yet again on Indian Chinese food.We started with a beer and orange juice at the pier, waiting to board the cruise. The Goras were elegantly dressed in collared shirts and trousers and women in dresses. Praveen was in formals and as usual I was as usual grubby in a T-shirt and jeans. Now for the food, reminds me of Bruce Springsteen's song, 57 channel s and nothing to watch. Similarly, to summarise excellent service, expensive wine, high end expat travellers, clipped British accent guide (Derek) and owner but terrible food.
We were served with soup, a choice of actually12 main courses brought to the table, desert and tea and coffee. The only thing edible was the Tom yum kung soup, the pineapple in the dessert and of course the tea. Everything else was just inedible, more quantity than quality (steamed fish, clams, prawns, callamari, fried pork, fried beef, soya based vegetarian stuff, chicken and more and believe me I pecked. If couldn't eat it, believe me a lot of people and more cannot go beyond pecking. The wine a sparkling one, a German Trocken was decent. On a experience quotient it was an interesting thing to do. Fantastic service standards, poor food. Amazing sights of Bangkok from the river Chayo Praya.

Just a hurried mention of the lunch at the Jungle cruise restaurant in Safari world, Me and Detective An dug into the fish ball soup and everything else was forget able. Curiosity, got me to peak into Jungle Cruise restaurant 2, there was Indian food, pooris, veg pulao, aloo subzi, dal , rice. There was even a Jain version, for all the droves of Indian Holiday makers. Me and Detective An had a super deluxe time picked and dropped in a Toyota Camry with the tour and guide Mr Mee who was a such a gentleman. It cost us Bht 3200 approx Rs 4500/-. I was memorable trip with cold wet towels and mineral water with chauffeur handing out an umbrella. Too propah I must say.

Calderazzo, dear wife had already been to this fine dining Italian restaurant on her previous visit, and wanted to repeat and relive the experience with us. Its a beautiful restaurant in a villa on Lang Suan road, Its five years old and has had nine version of the menu upgrade (means the menu has been revised nine times). Its sparkling white with nearly three waiters/waitresses to a table. We order, there are four of us, drinks - a glass of house wine- a chardonnay, a singha beer, a sprite and something else. Start with a bruschetta, lots of bread with olive oil and balsmic vinegar, I have a bed of mashed potato with a Italian sausage and great honey balsmic sauce, heavenly. Praveen has a pizza and Detective has a pasta (penne) with a kind of arabiatta with tons of parmesan cheese and shilpa has ravioli. Outstanding food and outstanding service. In all about bht1900 approx Rs 2600/-. Outstanding and a repeat yet again is highly recommended.

A quick stop at Witch's a pub for expats after a crawl in Suan Lum the night bazaar topped of the trip. Witch's is a kind of pub/ tavern place with a online community and a tabloid called The Cauldron attached to it. The white boys showing the Thai girls a good time kind of place, decent hot coffee, cappucino and we were ready to pack, just before that......

Praveen suggested and bought us yet again a great lunch at a Deli called Au bon pain, nice toasted bagels and cream cheese, Bagels with salmon and wasabi, tuna sanwich , sprite and coffee all this for the three of us, for Bht 500 about Rs 700/- Cheerful place with helpful and real smart staff. Some trips to Starbucks and others closed the trip from gastronomic point of view.

I have decieved the cause and the raison d etre (the reason of my existance), but what the hell. Once in a while I can behave and act like a true blooded expat when I really was one, though a brethren of the Asians in that.

Largely, Thailand felt unaffected by the global recession and crisis, the hoardings were all full and crowded, shops, malls were crowded and full of shoppers (it was also the Chinese New year weekend).

In all a great trip which cost me + 2.5 kgs...

So Long

Thursday, January 15, 2009

China to Chandni Chowk : Indian Chinese food

Indians will eat anything fried, spicy and sour, said Sanjay Khanna, my mentor at Discovery Channel. He introduced me to both, eating better Chinese food in most continents of the world . Also, eating Indian Chinese food with pride and not feeling hesitant to order sweet corn soup and manchurian anything (only Indians will understand this) in its various forms. Albeit , we did it with an eggdrop and canned asparagus (to renforce ,we had more evolved tastes).

My first experience with Chinese food as a child, was at this quaint Chinese restaurant called Shinkows at Ootacamund on cold and damp winter afternoon. I was on a day trip with my Dad, a travelling salesman , who had then become manager. We had noodles, sweet and sour pork and lots of chilli chicken (I thought for a few years that all sweet and sour was pork) As a teenager, I made an ass of myself, asking for sweet and sour at a family gathering at The Host (a restaurant in New Delhi). My sister in law said sweet and sour what. I then understood the style or the gravy is sweet and sour with a choice of vegetables and meats rather than a dish by itself.

For many years, we understood Chinese food as something you got from a van parked in South Extension , at New Delhi with an obscene name like Hungry Hop. Extravagance and more money meant, going to Chungwa (then at Defence Colony), Aka Saka, Faley (again at Defence Colony), Daichi (at South Extension). My taste buds and exposure to the cuisine improved with the highs and low of Chinese food at Pearls (the Chinese restaurant at the swanky Hyatt Regency in the 80’s with my bro Sanjiv and wife Poonam) to the Tibetan Dhaba and generically called Tib Tabs at Ladakh Budha Vihar opposite the Bus Terminal near Delhi University to Chopsticks at Churchgate in Mumbai (experienced the birds nest soup for the first time). While at Mumbai ordered from Chinese room at Kemps corner and ate at Nelson Wang's (High priest of Indian Chinese)China garden.

So many persons contributed to my evolution in Chinese food, father, brother his wife, friends and of course my mother who will try anything for the experience . So when I met my dear wife , Praveen, and on our first lunch date at Fujiya in Diplomatic enclave at New Delhi, I was kind of equipped to order a Chinese meal. We both enjoyed it, we grew and so did our taste buds, with more guidance, travel, experiences, we understood Chinese food to in its entire glory from provinces to style of cooking with travels in Asia, and US.
The real art of ordering a good Chinese meal is what I learnt from boss and now friend (hopefully) , Sanjay. The Chinese tea, the soup, the steamed rice and chinese greens and especially pakchoy. We had been to every Oriental (Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Burmese restaurant, that was worth visiting in South and South Asia). Mean while Praveen’s taste buds and Chinese food affinity had evolved with innumerable vists to Taipan, Fa-hian, Larry’s China and with her immense travel and lo behold our daughter at 4, was a Dim Sum fiend and enjoyed paper wrapped anything and, adept at chopsticks and enjoyed greens, everything was going fine until ……………

One winter evening, Praveen’s friend Shilpa (working and living in South Asia for 14 years) meets us. We invite her out for dinner. She requests for real hard core Punjabi Chinese (Indian Chinese) and we go to Fujiya. All our learning and delicate development of our palette to distinguish between, Cantonese, Sechwan, Hunan, Haka, Mongolian subtleties is lost and we un learn and immerse into. Hot and Sour soup, Veg Spring rolls, Veg Manchurian, American Chopsuey and what not. Basically, lots of Soya sauce, cornflour, vinegar, chillies ghotala. Prophetic words…. Indian s will eat anything fried, spicy and sour……

However, Shilpa really surprised us with her fondness for this cuisine. Now every winter we have to find and line up the meanest Indian Chinese joint for her visit and shamelessly enjoy Indian Chinese.

Though Wikipedia defines Indian Chinese as the adaptation of Chinese seasoning and cooking techniques to Indian tastes. It is said to have been developed by the tiny Chinese community that has lived in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) for over a century. Immensely popular with Indians, it is widespread in major Indian metropolitan cites such as Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata; and is also enjoyed by Indian and Chinese communities in Malaysia, Singapore and North America. Indeed, in a curious twist, Indian Chinese has followed the mainstream Indian expatriate community as they have spread across the world, providing expatriate Indians with a taste of authentic Indian Chinese.

True , Tangra in Kolkata is where each one of us have their favourites, Kimling, Kimfa, China Haus and my recent favourite Golden Joy (introduced my Manjeet Narwan), contributed to this amazing cuisine .Which has legends like Nelson Wang, Camelia Punjabi and many unsung heroes and improvisers all over India, Nepal and Bangladesh to develop this Chinese chaat which is strangely appealing and perhaps addictive as yet again another Praveen’s friend Tina would say lets order Dirty Chow…….. Cheers to Dirty Chow, Chinese Chaat, Chinjabi, Chindian, Sino Ludhianvi cuisine. I am loving it.

Pal check out Indian Chinese !

Parting shots:
Whats your favourite Tangra restaurant ?
Whats your Indian Chinese food story ?
Where have you had the dirtiest Chow ?

So Long !

Monday, January 12, 2009

Wish Sandwich : Great Sandwiches at Jangpura, New Delhi

The 4th Earl of Sandwich (John Montagu) sat on his gambling table in 1762 for a long session of gambling and asked for cheese and meat ensconced in slices of bread. To eat, while playing cards and he was presented with this meal by the humble cook. Though the name of the cook is not known, the name Sandwich stuck. John Montagu may been inspired by his travels to the Mediterranean where bread and meat wrapped in some form had been around for many centuries (e.g Shawarma, Slouvaki, Pita etc)

Colonel Charles Young was entrusted the task of rehabilitating the residents of Raisina Hill to make the humble lodge of the Viceroy and the Secretariat of the British in India in the early 19th century. He took the residents and set them up near Nizamuddin on the banks of the river Yamuna and the residential area was then called Youngpura (set by Colonel Young). It was slowly distorted and began to be called Jangpura .

So whats common between John Montagu’s invention and Jangpura- Sandwiches. Yes Sandwiches.

The place, Novelty Dairy and Store on Birbal Road in Jangpura aka (also known as), Hawkers House, has nice Sandwiches. As you enter you walk past the store and the passage leads to long hall with 20 foot bar table (which was gotten from The Oberoi, down the road). With six bar stools, this must one of the only Sandwich bars, which looks like a bar.

Its tube lit with, with three sardars (Sikhs) on my right, discussing fuel prices and one burly sardar on my left strongly and silently munching his Sandwiches and drinking his Coffee. What’s this place. This was once Bar with actual Alcohol, till the laws changed and now it’s a timid Sandwich Bar. It goes back 53 years, when Shanti Swarup the the founder, a post partition refugee set up this Place to pass it on to his silent son Sidharth in September 2008 when he expired. Its surreal almost the kind of bar, Mr Walker (aka) as Phantom, walks up and asks for Milk, for himself and his wolf. Its quite uncanny how many post partition refugees contributed to the evolution of food catering and restaurant business (please see previous posts on Motimahal (Kundan Lal Gujral), Kwality amd Gaylord (Purshottam Lamba and Iqbal Ghai respectively).

You do get good Sandwiches which are elegant, delicate, soft and tasty. We bought, Two Ham ( Rs50/-), One Chicken (Rs 45/- and one set of Tuna Sandwiches (Rs55/-). They were all nice. Our Daughter Ananya (Detective An) Loved them though she is partial to tuna with bits of Onion. The ham is cut in slivers, on slightly buttered bread and spread with home made mayo. The Chicken is more like a Chicken ham with the rest of the stuff done like the ham. They come with a green Chutney (Mint ) and Tomato Ketchup. They are four triangle sandwiches in a cling film wrapped set. And, delicate enough to be served at the the High Tea in The Peninsula, over looking the Bay in Hongkong.

I am sure you will like them as we do,I have to make a pit stop in Jangpura on the way home. Besides, they fit in well within the eating out within the Rs 100/- budget (for the Salesman’s guide to eating out).

Parting shot or shots : What’s a Wish Sandwich ?
Two slices of Bread and wishing there was something in between.

What is the other stuff you get to eat at Hawkers House Or Novelty Dairy and Stores at Jangpura.

Name and please describe your favourite Sandwich place or memory.

So Long !