Monday, May 11, 2009

The Elusive Bird : Roast Chicken

Most off sites happen off site. Where do offroaders meet when they are not offroading (in their 4x4 vehicles), they meet in a bar. Winter had not started yet, it was 2008 and Romi Malik a capable offroader with Jeep Thrills and NIOC (Northern India Offroaders Club), invited me and fellow members from Delhi and Bangalore for as Offsite in the bar of Panchsheel Club in New Delhi.

Apart from borrowing a shirt from Romi, (no round collars allowed you see) we were welcomed with his hospitality in large doses…… endless service Of Blenders Pride, Fish Tikkas, and Roast Chicken amazing. Amongst the eight of us we must have had that many chickens….. Umm soft moist white meat that came of the bone like rose petals from a flower , light gravy, moist French fries and slushy peas. An amazing signature dish. For nights I lay awake in bed dreaming of this elusive bird and how could I eat it again.

Most times I am able to generally crack the recipe by tasting something … with this I could not. Seek and thou shall find I asked Alex my fellow foodie and partner in food related crimes, an unsatisfactory response….. not the same. I asked Samar Harlankar, the current Editor of Hindustan Times Delhi and blogs on his site Our Daily Bread…… umm not satisfied yet. All of them had view or a recipe but not the same. The reason, there are so many ways to make roast chicken.

Even the word roast means different things to different people and communities in India, let alone the world. In South India Ghee Roast could be a Dosa or Chicken cooked in Masala, in Amritsar and at Surjeet Dhaba roast chicken means only roasted in Tandoor or earthern oven, could mean so many things. In Western recipes, roasting is in an oven (gas or electric) or a pot like a pot roast. In Levant world east of Italy and the Mediterranean they roast it on an electric gyro. Braised on a open fire or heat like in France, USA and South Africa.
Mustered courage and decided to call Panchsheel Club and said I am calling on behalf of Romi and I would like to pick up a Roast Chicken at 6pm that evening. Later I called and reconfirmed from Peter the Catering Kitchen Incharge (who has worked earlier with Claridges hotel) and agreed to a pick up at 7pm. My excitement grows, I miss my evening swimming session , pick up cheap wine called Dia from Sula and land up to get my order. I pay cash Rs225/- for an enormous chicken wrapped in two separate bags.I also shake hands with chef Ganesh(though I feel like kissing them).

We open the roast chicken and the wine, there is some excitement will it be the same as I left it and dreamt of many times over. Yes that and more. Soft succulent meat leaves the bone as soft sand slips from an open hand. The sauce is perfect and more (its light), the peas and fries mushy as they are supposed to be, I love it. My folks, immerse into it, we have second helpings with the sweet wine which tasted more like cooking wine or wine cooler. We all love the chicken. The four of us could easily avoid dinner. (me , my folks whom I call affectionately as Senior Citizens and our daughter Detective An)

The meal (nearly that) costs Rs60/- per head and is exotica and well below my Rs 100/- for a meal for the salesman’s guide to eating out. The chicken can be paired with a garlic toast and mash to make wonderful “ Continental” meal (with of course a better wine than the Dia I bought at Rs280/-). Dream fulfilled, Paradise revisited, I sleep better now. Thank you Romi. In my dream that night I kiss the ring on Ganesh the chef’ s hand as in The Godfather.

So Long !

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Eat Meat in Ahmedabad: Sabarmati to Salladin

On the Spice jet Flight I ask the air hostess for a blanket, she smiles and says, sorry sir, as a rejoinder says. You can have my jacket and cuddle into it. Gosh, I react after a while, was that a pass, As usual I am too dense to react. I think it is a witty remark rather than a pass. By the time I reach Ahmedabad, I have pretty much reconciled to having a drink out of the hip flask, eat an exotic Divij, Ashish or a Nikhil Sandwich (named after the students who invented these at the Chota canteen at MICA) or even a Gunjan Paratha, they sound interesting.

I land and Akbar the driver from MICA (Mudra Institute of Communication and Advertising where I am on a teaching assignment yet again), is out there to receive me. We get talking. I ask him for a good Muslim hotel… (meaning dhaba). He recommends some Muslim dhabas in Juhapura in the outskirts of Ahmedabad (a safe haven for Muslims). Juhapura has 4 mosques and about 4 lac muslims living there with the pride of Ahmed Shah Abdali (the founder of Ahmedabad). I am quiet for a while, after 10 mins, he asks, would you like to go. I say “Yes” and abandon the plan of the exotic sandwiches.

Juhapura, seems exciting. He is a little surprised with the visiting faculty going with him to dinner at his favorite hangout. We arrive at (pardon my using the politically incorrect word) the ghetto. Juhanpura grew and is now bursting at the seams with Muslim influx after the Gujarat riots.
The balance has been struck between the Yin and the Yang. Narendra Modi’s saffron brigade in Velajpura now has been balanced by Juhapura. Hang on I am not interested in politics, I am interested in food. I am busy striking my own balance, last week I feasted on a vegetarian Gujarati breakfast, I now need to sink into a Non vegetarian Gujarati meal. The Yang to counter balance my vegetarian Yin.

We reach Sagar fry centre, I have a tot of whisky with Thumbs Up, a bite of masala mutter. There is a Tawa (a large gridle frying meat, chicken , fish, prawns) and on the barbecue there is only, dangerous looking deep red almost pink colored chicken. I ask Akbar to order, he orders two half tandoori chickens, I add a tawa bhuna mutton (our waiter mahim says softly there is only bada, meaning beef, I say that’s okay), now beef and add a half chicken fry masala. The tandoori chicken is large bony and with a fluorescent color. We dig in, its flat and chilly hot and not flavorful like muslim food is supposed to be, besides the Tawa (gridle) at industrial strength temperature kills flavor.
The chicken masala fry is laden with mashed eggs and red oily masala, the bhuna beef is a little better and the rotis are dry. There is onions and lemon by the side. The meal of four dishes (two tandoori halves, bhuna beef, half chicken masala fry, six rotis and three cold drinks, cost us Rs 234/- Pretty neat, nearly meets the under Rs 100/- (per person per meal) mark of local exotica at under Rs100/-.I have enjoyed the new experience. Akbar is instrumental in taking me to Sabarmati Ashram on my previous trip and now we feast on Muslim delights in a state with common belief everything is vegetarian other than the Hindu militancy which is not so vegetarian.

The picture of this man is stuck and etched in our minds to the shameful acts of the Hindu Yin to counter the Muslim Yang. Where lies the future for a country with 200 million Muslims and growing, where the liberal Hindu’s, once in while enjoy an excursion to the Muslim ghettos to enjoy cheap kabab, kofta, biryani and haleem. That alone cannot be the present and future of the cultural interaction. An alienated and branded as terrorist community, etched on the minds of the young and impressionable is going to leave a very deep gash on the collective conscience of the Hindu young generation.Sabarmati Ashram looks run down without central funding, and the Sabarmati rivers weeps silently with a sewage smell like the Yamuna. We must look at a liberal inclusion and and an urban liberal intellectual India, be it Hindu or Muslim. And, enhance the interaction, beyond a friendly Kabab or a Biryani during the Rozas and Id. Jai Ho

I later discovered from my friends at MICA I missed the action at Bhatiyar Gali which is the hotbed of Muslim food and Tawa action. Maybe the next time.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Gujarati Breakfast : On the visit to MICA

On a Spicejet flight to Ahmedabad, the air hostesses cajole and smile to persuade and buy the veg breakfast at Rs120/-, chicken sandwich at Rs80/- cashew nuts at Rs 50/-. I pretend to be asleep, nod politely say no. I have made up my mind to have a Gujarati breakfast on the way to Mica. In the savouryland of Farsaan, Khakra, Fafra, Thepla, Khandvi and Dhoklas the opportunities are immense. I am almost salivating when I land.

MICA (Mudra Institute of Communications and Advertising, where I am visiting Faculty for the weekends) has sent a driver Akbar, an employee at Mica ( I think will he know the farsaan places, or will he take me to eat Nahaari or Haleem). Anyway, I ask, he does not seem to be interested in the food kinds. Its also an unusual request, to ask for a Dhaba kind of normal place with local food on the way by the faculty (as one called for the next two days). He stops at a corner Dhaba, they are beginning to make copious amounts of Pao Bhaji (more of a Mumbai savoury), they Dosas, Idlis etc . Not my scene. I want to sink my teeth into Dholas, Bhajia, sweets, aam ras miniature samosas. My mind is saying traditional. Available is general. Akbar is looking impatient. I sight a sweet shop.
I walk into Shakti sweets (everything is in Gujati language), the name of the shop, the food items menu prices. The owner at the cash counter says, aao seth kya sewa, I say I would like some instruction breakfast, he says, saab ko nashta karao (serve breakfast to sir). Magically in a newspaper on butter paper, appears, a large piece of Khamam Dhokla soft and moist with yellow chutney and chopped green fried chillies, yellow jalebis a few, adds two Bhajias (pakoras, more like bondas). I am famished, I dig in. Something to drink...... lassi or aam ras. I say lassi. Small , medium or large, I say small. I am served the creamiest thick lassi, I scoop with a plastic spoon. The food is good but not great, the affection is genuine and the prices! Gawd!

I love the experience, the food is okay to better. I ask the owner for the bill, he says, Nashta kaisa tha seth (how was breakfast). I say great. He says Rs 25/-I am shocked, the affordable prices and of all that I have eaten.

Who ? Why? How? are these prices possible, is it Narendra Modi who is responsible, or is it the consumer prudence buying movement nurtured in Gujarat or the cooperative society movement. No its individual, capitalist enterprise with profit motive which is making and selling yummy breakfast at these sterling prices.
The experience is local exotica, at Rs 25/- for breakfast for a hungry grown up adult. Its well below my Rs100/- a meal for local exotica. Its breakfast, I understand, its also Rs 25/-
Do you have an interesting Gujarati food story..... I have a few.
Parting shot.

Whats the main difference between Kathiawadi and normal Gujarati food ?
So Long !