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 !

7 comments:

Praveen said...

Dear Sam,

diff and interesting..sola topee also used to have anglo indian food in true british era style..and oh calcutta has a few dishes which represent this cuisine..maybe u could do a rejoinder..sola topee is shut it seems..places like UCH and EMbassy may also have anglo indian dishes...keep writing..love ..praveen

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Samil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anu1985 said...

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moonchild said...

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