Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Food Meditation... at The Attic

After a deeply carnivorous diet which contributed in pushing my Blood Pressure by 10-20 base points on the systolic and diastolic pressure. It was time to take the mail from Mina at The Attic more seriously. I have, been a part of the group for lecture series followed by elaborate dinners at the IIC. (The Anglo Indian Dinner: see the previous posts, and the Mughal Cuisine, which I am yet to write about).
This is more about the current experience, the food meditation. Like mindfull eating, as professed, by Thich Nhat Minh(The Vietnamese Buddhist saint, now living Soouth of France). Words like Amaranth, Barnyard millet, organic and holistic living etc were words and places I would not go near forthe last, nearly 5 years, as I have been deeply carnivorous.
However, the latest, the blips on my blood pressure index and general winds of change urged me to look, accept and perhaps make the call. I spoke to Anaam, to enquire and confirm my attendance at the food meditation; he sounded Oshoesque (borrowed from Buddhaesque) in his disposition.

I was there at 1.00 pm sharp registered in the guestbook (called Food from Farmer) and paid the Rs 200/- and settled with the music around to an experience extraordinaire. I shared the table with a lady working on ecological recycling (developed while she lived in London) and a young teacher from a school at Varanasi. The next, floor seated table, like ours with a yellow damask had the constant chatter in French (by a French woman) and an Indian lady responding in French.
Anaam encourages, let the flavors communicate with you and vice versa. I take his advice rather seriously and smell and taste everything diligently.
1. Arhar daal (Lentils) with jakhia tadka 2 Mandua (Finger Millet) and Amaranth (Chaulai) Roti
3. Paneer (Cottage cheese) curry 4.Amaranth Raita
5. Alloo jakhia (Dry potato vegetable) 6. Chhachh (Buttermilk)
7. Black rice 8.Kheer (sweet rice in milk) 9.Ginger and Onion Chutney
10. Freshly prepared Achhar ( Chilly and Karonda pickle)

The food smells wonderful, the Chaach (buttermilk) has a creamy after taste. The Daal smells and tastes heavenly, imagine I have three bowls, it is ordinary yellow arhar daal, but you should have been there to share and understand the experience. The stars were definitely the daal, the pinkish ginger onion chutney and the kheer . Oh man the smells were pure the taste unique and everything had its own flavor with a heightened arousal of all my senses. I can easily say it was one of the best or perhaps the best meal I have had this year.
The experience took you to another place and time. I am sure there are several benefits of organic food, produce and the unaccustomed earth they are grown own. The produce in this case came from a village 5-6 hours walk from the nearest roadhead near Rishikesh. However, along with the produce, I would complement the cook’s effort with a 50 % leading to this simple, flavorful and exquisite meal Thank you, Mina Vahie and Anaam from The Attic for calling me and having me over.

I understand there are two formats of mindful eating here, one is the one I attended, in the restaurant format, 6 tables of four floor seaters. The other is a simpler format. Try it, it's worth it.
The Attic is in the Regal Cinema building above The Shop.
Do you have an interesting story on Alternative Dinning. Please write in.
So Long!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Living in America........ Best and the worst meal

When you live in a town, a small town in America you tend to become a part of the town. In our case it was dearest wife Praveen, Detective An, and yours truly who stayed together in Pittsburgh for over a fortnight, while dearest wife Praveen pursued her Leadership Management (Full Bright Scholarship) at Carnegie Mellon University.

When you do something for 21 days it becomes a habit, similarly when you don’t do something regularly for 21 days it stops being a habit (profound isn’t it). Yes, I have not written for over 60 days and I have a problem getting back to it.

When the experiences are few and far, we tend to ponder, think and exaggerate and perhaps as a blogger record them. When the experiences are, varied and in fast consecution to each other, the choices then become extremely difficult.In the last two months I have passed through and visited Munich, Pittsburgh, Washington, Frankfurt, Goa, Bangalore and Mumbai. This one is about living in America. The most memorable and hyper varied experiences make it to my first record.

True to my grain, I am going to right about the salesman kind of places. Though my idiom in India Is Rs 100/-. Unfortunately, I think one has to re-calibrate in USA and call it eating under USD 8 (simply defined a burger, fries and coke at Mc Donald’s is approx Rs85-100, whilst in USA its USD 8). Will try to stick to the USD 8-10 budget. In no particular order, I am trying to capture experiences.

Most Memorable Meal:

Speaking to Sukku and Ritu (friends of my friend Rajesh Tewari our elegant host and friend from Discovery Channel), knowing my keen interest and food said, you have to try El Pollo Rico, the only place Anthony Bourdain wanted to go on visiting Washington DC. What when, where I had to do it we were leaving the next day for India. The next morning, Rajesh set the GPS for El Pollo Rico in Arlington and we were there. It looked like an ordinary diner or Cantina (Mexican) in a very ordinary parking lot.

It is famous for the Peruvian roasted chicken, that’s it, nothing else. Like India, Quarter, Half and Full Chicken with fries and coleslaw with two interesting sauces or chutneys a green spicy sauce and a pale yellow creamy cheesy sauce (can't get my finger on those sauces but delicious). Now the place, ordinary looking with a long bar and the Rotisserie behind it, with gringo like men smiling, the tables and restaurant was white light, ordinary. The main star is the chicken with subcutaneous fat, the skin charred crisp brown, the insides, meat coming of the bone though firm. I could go on and on and on…………. Using my most often used expression, the earth moved for me, it does, nearly once a quarter.

The price, we paid USD 13.50 (approx Rs 640), perfect could easily feed two hungry men or moderately hungry family of 3-4. Most amazing experience. You must check out the brief experience on YouTube (if you like. The basting of the chicken the crispness the spices and the flavors are hard to describe. I did sight a Peruvian Chicken Stall at the Ambience Mall in Gurgaon (near Delhi), but it looked like fried chicken far from the real stuff I had recently had. By the way goes great with Trader Joe’s Chardonnay (Trader Joe - a grocery/ supermarket has its own brand of wine, surprisingly well at USD 5 a bottle (Rs 240) we 4-5 of them over two days. Nice.

Most Disappointing Meal:

Pamela’s ( a Diner that everyone knows in Pittsburgh and it’s also been made famous by Pittsburgh famous visitor, Barak Obama, who has very often visited the diner for its famous pancakes. Even Pamela and Gale the owners and chefs have been invited to the White House to cook and lay out breakfast for visiting heads of states amd veterans on Memorial day. With this kind of lineage, we had to visit this place and visit we did, twice. Besides, it was well within the budget, i.e. the salesman’s budget extended taking the first world liberties of USD8-10. You can eat well, breakfast or Brunch at Pamela’s for that amount, in quantity, in quality, that’s a different story.

We were living in the Jor Bagh of Pittsburgh, called Shadyside area and the market at a stone’s throw is the Walnut street. Right in the centre of Walnut Street is the Pamela’s diner. Me and our little loving daughter Detective An (now called Cool Clouseau) decided to brunch at Pamela’s. We reached. Nice place gave my name Sam (a lot more convenient than Samil Malhotra), entered, black and white checkered tiles, apron clad wait staff.
A young waitress, what are you going to drink, we ordered coke and a pink lemon or ginger fizz. Absorbed the atmosphere, saw some caricatures of Obama. We ordered instinctively. A Hot Dog for the little one a Hamburger for me and Onion rings for us. Everything is enormous like everything in America, the wait staff the plates, the drinks, the onions in the onion rings, the steak in the burger. However it was, tasteless, even with mustard, Tabasco and pepper absolutely tasteless. Absolutely, bad experience.

Not giving in so easily, we went back, thinking it was a bad a day and a bad order, it’s a breakfast place we should order breakfast. This time three of us dearest wife Praveen, Cool Clouseau and me armed with determination. Praveen studying at Carnegie Mellon had heard great things about the place. With a 30 minute wait Sam was called. We are seated what are you gonna drink…. Etc later we order, Vegetable Omelet and home fries for Praveen and I went for the whole hog, Eggs, Pancake, Home Fries etc, the full shebang. The eggs are always four egged, it puts most of us at a disadvantage, the bacon to measly and dry, the pancakes (boy of boy, flat, neither sweet nor salted like bland wheat Chilla with no salt or sugar served with maple syrup which is another story). Cut to Praveen enormous eggs stuffed with raw uncooked vegetables, mind you she’s is used to the lovingly folded in a dainty pan by the head chef at the Taj or the The Leela, if she is eating an Omelet, kind of Omellete. This seemed like eggs and vegetables on wholesale. In America please do not repeat do not order any large, in fact most us can do with a kids meal.

Lesson learnt; do not eat where Barak Obama eats. I was tempted to try Ray’s at Washington Dc where he hopes across for a burger or Sandwich now a red light comes on which says stay away. The Commercials….. Costs us about USD 26 (about Rs 1230), the regret is we were hungry because we did not or could not eat.

Look Out For more Living in Ameriaca, The best Of The Pitt ( Pittsburgh), Beers in America , Alternate dining in America in this series.

Question, Which Head of State did Obama take to Ray's for the Hells burger ?

So Long !

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Good, the Bad the Ugly....Bars Offering Solace

To go to a bar or a nightclub in Delhi in the 80’s you either were a regular or you had a foreign passport. Yes you needed a foreign passport to have a drink outside home in Delhi. No bars, no places to drink. No other option, drink in a park like we did, or across the border in terrible liquor stores and dhabas, in the car at a bar-b-cue joint (open air). What started out as a necessity, slowly became a habit. Also the economics did not help, bars when they did open, were and continue to be expensive. So necessity, habit and economics made the Delhi-wallah the drinker that he is.

Whilst Mumbai always had the umpteen hundred bars offering large, quarter, half or the bottle at your table with free munchies and fish to order at the entry level of the pyramid. Bangalore, Madras , Calcutta, Pune offered an affable drinking climate on each of their MG roads and their equivalent. It was easy to sit and order a drink in a decent bar in each of these places, while Delhi moved in the other direction, seedy clubs with red rexine sofas (South Delhi Club), guest houses (dubious ones like Sartaj opened bars in their premises), farm houses, out of town trips….. the sordid tale continues.

Then in the early 90s, sprung up a few entrepreneurs , who opened bars in standalone restaurants and some watering holes especially at the high end, TGIF at Basant Lok, Tonic at Asia Village Restaurants(by Kwality Restaurants). Slowly wider acceptance and growth with more restaurants that offerered alcoholic drinks. But, Delhi stuck to its grain lets meet at home, have a few drinks and then invariably reach late at a restaurant for dinner, then men folk topped up with a couple of drinks while everyone else ate vinegared onions and drank water. So the theory was, it is too expensive to get drunk (you drink to get drunk right, at least that was the generally prevalent theory) in a bar or a restaurant, so you drank at home, in a car (hence the word carobar). No social drinking, no wine and tapas bars, no single malts, cigars and steaks (the ultimate decadence yet), that was all for the new millennium.

So a decade into the new millennium its 2010, where does the regular sales guy go out for drink. He’s tired of pouring himself a drink the temperature in his Jangpura Barsaati is intolereably hot or cold (depending its mean winter or a mean summer). He is heard of Shalom, Urban Pind and Hard Rock café and Ai. However , its not yet a promotion, not even a hot date… the same stuff, targets , numbers, calls and refusals. Either stop by at the Theka (Liquor Vend), get a half of some dubious sounding vodka name after a Russian Town, Premier or Warlord and get smashed followed by Aanda Parathas (Egg Parathas) a sweaty night in a whirring air cooler. Wait I am told there is 4 S, solace for the salesman.

I had heard of these bars , had seen them, 4S Chinese at Defence Colony, 4S Punjabi at Greater Kailash 2 and 4S Beach at Saket. My Big day at 4S Saket. The place is democratic and it definitely helps with Abhijeet Singh and Sanjay Saini (my friends are regulars there). We had the best of service drinks and hot as hell (spicy Fingerfood). Six of us 4 Beers (Kingfisher), 20 ( Blenders Pride whiskies, albeit small), 5 Vodkas ( Smirnoff, small pour), 5 juices (assorted), 2 portions of Chilly chicken, 1 portion of Keema Kaleji, 1 portion of Murg Malai Tikka, I portion of masala peanuts all For Rs 4029 inclusive of vat and service charges its approximately Rs 670 per head (most of it during the happy hours). You know the funny sounding vodka with some chicken dinner would cost Rs 300/- But drinking out, like we did, would cost a king’s ransom at any of the up market bars masquerading as sports bars where waiters with goaties speak broken English with an accent and muddle up your drinks. Yes Pradeep Kumar, the owner is doing a great service to the people of Delhi and the salesmen brethren community. He started off 10 years ago with 4s in Greater Kailash 2 and is doing a great job getting guys off the street (that’s those drinking on the street) into bar. Cheers to that. That’s The Good.

In my endeavor to visit more places in this genre, I subjected the same friends, Sanjay Saini and Abhijeet Singh to another place. Correct subjected. We were driving back from the ranges, were sweaty, exhausted and tired, let’s go to Friends Colony get a beer. I had this bad idea lets go to this salesman kind of place called Chaska (sounded like a dance bar in Downtown Mumbai). They politely agreed for the adventure, as Sanjay steered his Honda CRV into underbelly Kalkaji, opp Deshbandhu College. Rahul Chaterjee from the web division mischievously guided and talked me into visiting this place, fondly remembering it as an institution for the salesman getting and blowing up his daily, weekly and perhaps monthly incentive, with mouthwatering soya chops across the street. I had to go there.

In we go, directed upstairs (as the bar is upstairs, while on the ground floor is a family restaurant also serves liquor), weak air conditioning, smoke filled (yes smoke, you can smoke in there). Over priced beer and over priced food. Why the heck would anybody subject oneself to this torture, Abhijeet, looking at the menu points out wisely, I know, the reason why this place does well, hard drinks the regulars, whisky, rum vodka are relatively cheap. Relaxed we had decoded the quagmire .The waiter very grimly informs us there are no happy hours, we quickly ordered 5 Beers ( Kingfisher), one portion masala peanuts, one portion finger chips aka French fries with industrial variety pumpkin sauce and one portion of chilly paneer (which would fall in category of dirty chow). Overall, cold beer, bad service and bad snacks, the silver lining we chugged merrily on the cigarettes. While shimmery middle aged women kept walking past us (some function happening somewhere on a hot Sunday afternoon). This was certainly The Bad. Vineet Malik, the owner, please stick to your base business, catering and a pastry shop called TheCcake Factory, in Okhla and Kalakaji Respectively,

And now for the Ugly, You go to your nearest liquor shop, bunch of guys, in a car, buy plastic or Styrofoam glasses, ice on frozen plastic bag, sodas and cold drinks out of an industrial quantity bottle and you are in business with blaring music….. the face takes on ugly grimace, your gait changes, so does your voice, ready for a fight, check out women wherever you see them. God it’s a mind set, hard to break, it’s the way the city did enjoy its drink and continues to do so, ends with an argument at the cop station an interlude with the cops, God bless if these guys see, girls from the North Eastern states hurrying home with bread and eggs, that’s the true and ugly face of drinking in Delhi. That is The Ugly.

Ends at a Aanda Paratha joint with a Chotu from Utarakhand who is generously abused and sometimes generously tipped. Brings in steaming hot Aanda parathas at Moolchand, ITO, Hauz Khas and all night drunken stupor eating places. Call it Nandu, Saleem, Qureshi the story is pretty much the same .

Do you have an interesting Bar story… Happy to hear it. Cheers !
So Long !

Monday, May 24, 2010

Holy Mackerel......The Salesman'sFish

In my salad (college)days, Sanjay Mathur.. a friend went to Kyoto, Japan to visit his parents (living there). He came back with a story, explaining the inability of Japanese, to speak in English. He imitated, Jaapaan iiis an aailand, so we can eat raw fisss. Any time I think of Fish, These words come ringing in my head.

We did not eat raw fish or Sushi, we ate the Mackerel or Bangda in Kerala style, in a Kerala restaurant, like you would find it in a Kallu Shaap (Toddy Shop) around the backwaters of Allepey. It was in heartland Kalkaji, in a erstwhile Punjabi refugee neighborhood called simply DDA Flats. This mean little Kerala restaurant was elusive, I found it with walking around and asking, I had spotted one a few years ago, but it moved when I went back. In fact have seen a few more appear and vanish. They are in the category of the Kerala Restaurants in Gautam Nagar (near Green Park in Delhi) and Julena (Okhla, near Escorts Hospital). I have written about them earlier.

Arun Alex Paul (the man who got me started , blogging), and I, constantly, were unable to vist the place and sink our teeth into the grub. We in turn eluded this palce nearly for 5 months. One very warm evening a week ago, we had to bite the bullet. In this case, bite the mullet, sorry mackerel.

Mackerel is a pelagic fish, fleshy ,oily and wholesome. It’s like a small tuna and a large sardine. Actually its somewhere in between (in terms of taste, we agreed). Without knowing that they all belong to the same family of Pelagic fish, I have enjoyed all of them fresh as well as canned. Strangely one sees the most cans with tuna, mackerel and sardines (ever since childhood). Probing further Pelagic fish, has further classifications in terms of taxonomy, Predator fish, e,g Tuna, Shark and Billfish and Forage fish, e.g ,Herring, Sardines and Anchovies. All great fish, but for lesser mortals, as compared to more expensive fish. Even here the salesman’s interest is kept top of mind, to find and appreciate interesting tasty and cheaper fish. Remember, under Rs 100/-

However, the worlds taste for fish are changing, they like, like everything else, more and better, similarly with fish. The last sardine cannery in USA shut in Maine , after 135 years last month in April 2010 (Stinson Seafood plant in Goldsboro in Maine), sad. Once, a mainstay of world cuisine, with idioms, packed like can of sardines and Enid Blyton, Famous Five feasting on Biscuits with Sardines and Lemonade. The famous John Steinbeck classic Cannerry Row set around Monterrey Bay. All these, indicate a healthy market and business for the foraging fish the humble herring, sardines and similar small fish.
Our God (Anthony Bourdain, often addressed affectionately as God among us food writers) declares Sardines, as his favorite fish. Despite all that, its, dying gourmet .But , my recent experience had nothing to do with Monterrey, Maine, Steinbeck, Blyton or for that matter Bourdain.

It’s about Tommy in a chaste Mallu accent it’s more like Taommi, the owner of two houseboats in Allepey and this working class eatery for bachelor Malayalis (men folk from Kerala), some foraging a livelihood in the mean mean city of New Delhi. Sounds good foraging fish for the foraging worker. As a Salesman, you are always foraging, remember.
Let’s cut to the meal, Me and Alex and Taomi in attendance, we order, a Vegetarian Thali with a fried fish (turns out to be a mackerel the star of this post), three kerala parothas (soft and chewy), a beef chilly fry (spicy,served with a flavorful complementary gravy), a plate of egg curry (with two devilled eggs, crowded with rings of orange semi cooked onions), yet another mackerel and bottle of mineral water. All for a handsome price of Rs185/- Yes ! Yes!
When I got back, dearest wife Praveen asked with concern as I slept and the morning after are you all right Sam? (she was mortified how can this guy survive these budget dinner and still wake up the next morning)

Cut To the mackerel, soft, marinated, flesh, falling of the bone, fresh, seldom does a dish so simple and humble move you like this moved me unexpectedly. I was singing and sweating at the same time. Kudos to Taomi or his Uttaranchali Chottu. But the food was nice. I would leave it to Alex, to add the review in t about the rest of the stuff as his comments. But the the next evening Alex was back there and eating , guess what a Thali and Fried Mackerel and he messaged this may be a start of something new.
So do you have a recent and interesting Fish story, I would love to hear it.
So Long !

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

End of the Hippe Trail… Channa Bhatura at Paharganj

Richard Gregory travelled (at age 19) from the UK to India and Nepal on the legendary Hippie trail that comes to Paharganj in New Delhi. London- Amsterdam- Munich- Istanbul- Tehran- Kabul, Delhi (and branches out to Kathmandu and Goa ). I enjoyed his memoirs of the trip taken in 1975, recorded nearly 30 years later from his memory. Delhi ! Paharganj was and is the place in the 60s,70s, 80s and even now in 2010. Though Cafes like, my favourite, Don’t pass me by, at Scindia House Connaught Place and the Ringo Star Guest house in the same building are gone and are a shade of their past glory. Paharganj continues to survive and perhaps thrive.

I had to go to Pahar Ganj to absorb the atmosphere, it’s been a pineing desire. The interest heightened even more, when I read about the place in newspapers, magazines Like Time Out (often describing the exotic Korean Restaurants and bars). Made a few, futile attempts. Then we see, Dev D by Anurag Kashyap that makes Paharganj look like the Pudding shop Of Istanbul, Thamel of Kathmandu , old Manali and Anjuna at Goa all rolled into one smoking cigar and available at Paharganj.

Yes I went to Paharganj, not for the muesli and banana lassi/ bacon and eggs breakfasts, or the minute steak and beer at Metropolis (a 75 year old restaurant with Continental food, that’s another story for another day), not to eat exotic Korean food or even to smoke the pipe peace, or even hire an Royal Enfield motorcycle . I have to sheepishly confess, I went there to eat the humble Channa Bhatura at Sitaram Dewan Chand. (Near, Imperial Cinema, Chuna Mandi, in Paharganj).

Lots has been written about this 60 odd year old establishment, by Rahul Verma, Hemanshu Kumar and lately by Pamela Timms on their blogs. So there is really not much to say, that’s a find and entirely new. Well one can say a lot about the lovely Channa Bhaturas. Channas are nice deep dark, flavorful. The bhaturas are good and travel easily and don’t go bad or soggy, even at the restaurant, they served pre- made bhaturas (sacrilege in other places, here no one seems to mind). We asked for freshly made bhaturas and got them, the add on of the Aloo subzi is nice and the accompaniments, the raw mango pickle, the masala green chili and onions are great. A great combination, for Rs 28, for the Channa bhatura and about Rs 12 for the Aloo subzi. And you’re ready to run cool on heavy heavy Fuel.

I ask Pawan Kohli the owner (with his rotund son, the cashier), where is a good lassi, he says avoid it, after, channa bhaturas, lassi, you will get packed (in chaste Punjabi). Honestly a cold lassi after greasy food turns it into sludge. Well, we were ready to take the risk, we walk down to the Lassi shop. Before that, a quick round up here. Sitaram started a push cart at DAV school in the late 40s and in the day moved his push cart around Paharganj and sold the exotic food to traders, the people and residents. Later they acquired a shop with Dewan Chand (two schools of thought, his son, or worker who later partnered and owned the place). Now passed on, to Pawan Kohl and his rotund son. In all they pack in good punch and good Channa Bhaturas. But the best I have ever had were at Lajpat Nagar Market (now shut shop and they sell birthday return gifts, paradise lost, more of this sad journey on another day). Which makes us probe when and where was Channa Bhatura invented, though Kwality restaurant claims ownership, well they popularized the dish, now we know it’s been around much longer.

The Lassi shop below the Metropolis Restaurant, has a heavy Israeli influence, sells Lassi, Mango Lassi, Apple Lassi, Banana Lassi, Pineapple Lassi, Apricot Lassi and on and on. We have sweet Lassi for Rs 15/- each. Nice Frothy. The owner , Mittal explains the subtleties of churned in a Churner Vs a Mixer and blender, I tend to agree Churned is better. We see talk drink and leave.

With this trip I was back to my roots as a Salesman eating out after wandering the circles of IIC ( food talks with gourmet lauouts), back to basics, Lunch for 5 Rs 140 (with complementary Aloo Subzi) and Lassis' for 5 Rs 90 in all Rs 230 for Lunch, for 5 ( self , friend and driver Bhushan, Jitender Bakshi, Mukesh Sharma and youngster Saurabh Pandey). Thanks to Jitender Bakshi for taking us there. Now I am sort off Paharganj qualified. We ate well and well within the salesman’s benchmark of eating well for under a Hundred rupees.

Footnote: My Favorite Uncle ( who lives in London since the late Fifties), Ranjit Kumar took the journey, right through the hippie trail in the 60s not on the Magic Bus but in a car. He gave the general trip story , but now I am wiser about the Hippie trail. The next time , we meet, I am going to extract the interesting details with a long and painful serious drinking session.

Please do share your Channa Bhatura story, I am sure you have one.
So Long!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Anglo Indians....going,going and Gone

Everyone in growing up in urban India up (in a certain era) had a Miss Stoneham story (ode to 36 Chowringhee Lane’s main character). I had mine growing up in Visakhapatnam, stylishly addressed as Vizag and even Walt air. I knew Miss Jones my class one teacher, with a sweaty upper lip and her enormous rotund size. Principal Almeida, who sang, Edelweiss with us in the evening sessions. Followed by Principal PA Moses , we said, in hushed tones, Moses poses near the roses (he had a patch of garden roses in his house).

Others who touched my life, from my father’s workplace (Gestetner Duplicators, an English firm and leader in the documents business). His boss FC Lyons (the General Manager), Wilson the driver, Anthony the peon and Fredrick the machine mechanic.More than anyone else, Fredrick the mechanic who brought heavenly food to the company picnic. Mutton fried and then boiled (we called it Fredrick’ mutton), the cheese and potato balls, browned onion rings. The very thought or memory, brings a gush of feelings. Ooh that smell can you smell that smell.

More on Anglo Indians, it’s Christopher at Calcutta’s Park Street restaurant, BBQ. He is , always dressed in a white shirt, dark trousers, with a tie sometimes a bow tie with a tiny scribbling pad, suggests, politely, shall I make it three (his subtle way of selling more). The story is pretty much the same, the chief order takers are Anglo Indian in BBQ, PeterCat, Moulin Rouge or Trincas. They love their job take it very seriously and at times when they are easy they chat you up. There is also a nice guy in Nelson Wang’s China Garden at New Delhi.

So what’s the interaction been, with Anglo Indians for urban folk, Teachers , Principals, Restaurants, Mechanics, Musicians (Mike Fey and Band, Seby and the Wings), an odd Cabaret Dancer in the 7os and even in the 80’s at Seven Stars or Sun and Sand. The stereotype of the Railway Engine workers of The Hindi film “Julie” Fame. The BBC documentary on the Anglo Indians who settled at Mc Luskieganj, 40 miles from Ranchi, now Jharkhand. Melville D Mello the newsreader, Cliff Richard and Englebert Humperdinck the singers. The two representatives of the Anglo Indian Community in the Rajya Sabha, Allan Sealy the author and Dennis Joseph the Copywriter. More British than the British ever were , talked misty eyed about the past almost a Proustian moment (an involuntary memory), or the flight of the pigeons, to New Zealand, Australia, Canada and sometimes America. Our children in India will perhaps grow without major interaction with evaporated and diluted community.
Is this a requiem for the Anglo India community or a Proustian tear jerker of the past. No its not it’s a celebration of the famous Raj cuisine, the Anglo Indian food, the colonial cuisine. Found in the Army Messes, The Oberoi hotels, The Imperial hotel (at The Daniels’ tavern), Dak Bungalows, The PWD bungalows, Irrigation department Rest houses, The Forest Rest Houses, MES Inspection Bungalows, Multinational Companies guest houses, the erstwhile Railway hotels and Clubs (including the dining cars), The planters Clubs in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Coorg, Nilgiris, the Old Clubs (have to mention Kasauli Club) and Gymkhanas, nuggets at Hill Stations all over India ,some effort by Oh Calcutta and Brown Sahib (current restaurants), Sola Toppee, The RaJ ( erstwhile restaurants that experimented with the Raj Cuisine).

I am told and have visited one of them in London, Veeraswamy’s has turned more regional Indian than Anglo Indian, the other one is Chutney Mary (another rather crude name for an Anglo Indian Lass), started by Camelia Punjabi is more regional Indian. The provocation for this post was a mail from Mina at The Attic. Informing us, about, a talk by David Housego (a journalist with The Economist, Financial Times, and now a textile entrepreneur in India) on Anglo Indian Cuisine. Followed by, dinner, at the India International Centre, with cooking guided and supervised by David.

The talk was largely around curry powder, using a powder instead of fresh spices. The lack of enthusiasm of the English ladies, deduced from the fact that the cookhouses were far and detached from dining areas, hence very little supervision. Accounts on cuisine, that the officers and more so, the soldiers ate poorly as there were often scrawny chicken and goats and sheep available ( read from some unknown sources). He had some detailed accounts which were anecdotal and enthusiastic. I would say more put together out of enthusiasm on the subject rather than absolute research. Where are words like Mish Mash and Rumble Dumble, so characteristic of Anglo Indian Food.

No mention of the use of Sherry and liquor consuming patterns, the high tea, the desserts, the caramel custard, use of pork and beef , breakfast and tea time treats, the influence and proliferation of bakeries and breads all over India, the reasons of neglect or lack of adaptation of the rich mughlai foods in the Anglo Indian diet, the aliveness of the cuisine in India today, the boarding houses and hostels of schools and colleges like Mayo, Sanawar, Doon, Welham and Scindia and St Stephens (read my post on Scramble and Mince at St Stephens Café from the Archives), of course NDA, IMA and OTA as Army training establishments, The mess at Lal Bahadur Shastri academy that trains IAS officers, apart from all the Institutions I have mentioned above. His talk left me cold, wanting for more.

The food, the menu, his talk was largely centered around the menu he had prepared, and pretended this was the universe in terms of Anglo Indian Cuisine, was at best a feeble attempt by the IIC (I presume North India cooks masquerading as Anglo Indian artists). Mulligatawny soup which I must say had authentic garnishes, (chopped boiled eggs, brown onions, chopped Bombay duck and peanuts) .Actually I will make it simple list the menu and mark my comments astride.
Soup,: Mulligatawny Soup, Anglo Indian Pumpkin Soup (As I said Mulligatawny was nice)
Non-Vegetarian: Captains Country Chicken ,Anglo Indian Mutton Cutlets, Pork Vindaloo Fish Cakes, Egg Curry. (The Chicken was bland with capsicum and pedestrian, cutlets like ordinary cutlets are, fish cakes I like them because they are fish cutlets and not particularly Anglo, pork, some element of work esp. the vinegar- Goan and the egg curry was decent)
Vegetarian: Ladies-fingers Fugath, Country Captain of Vegetables, Brinjal Bharta, Spiced Fried Potatoes, Dal Khichur (or Kedgeree)i .Rice & Roti ( just had the spiced potatoes and the Khichuri, not the Kedgeree with a kippers and a poached egg one would expect, which was hmm what can I say, surprised no breads at all, I mean English breads, no mention in the talk or represented in the food) ( Even to this day we get the Sourdough bread from the Manor Hotel in Delhi, loosely called Manohar Bread).
Chutneys/Pickles / Garnishes (some were nice, esp. the chopped mango as garnish apart from the garnishes with the soup, mentioned above)
Desserts: Bread and Butter Pudding, Banana ,Fritters, Ice Cream (bread and butter pudding was nice but not from what ought to have been and the fritter was passable).
Net, it was an Indian meal with Anglo Indian names, I guess a certain cuisine, any for that matter needs, learning , scale and practice over a period of time with of course the ingredients. The ambience was nice with tables reserved for Jairam Ramesh , Deb Mukherji, and guests like the Timms…. Pamela Timms a member of the eating out in Delhi Forum where I am a member, refused to recognize me as usual. All the heat and dust around her High Teas, I guess.
It was pleasurable as an experience sharing the table with publishers Bill and Lisa Hawk. As I am not a member of IIC, was there through the Attic, the snooty waiters refused to even ask us for a drink. At the end I have to say, it’s a rich tradition and a rich cuisine which was presented in shallow manner with passable food in an elegant setting.
Do you have a pleasant memory of the Anglo Indians and the food , please do write in .
So Long !