The Jon Snow of Shawarmas

For 7 seasons, the bastard son of Ned Stark went about his business with everybody telling him, “You know nothing, Jon Snow”. Imagine not knowing any better.

Masquerading Shawarma at Al Bake, New Friends Colony, New Delhi

My food-loving pals across the globe will not know of this, but many moons back, when I started my radio career, we came across this joint in New Friends Colony market called Al Bake in New Delhi that used to make shawarmas. The term was as new as the recipe. It was a simple roll of flatbread with a spiced chicken filling; served with a dollop of sweet mayonnaise. My hungry pals and me took it as it was dished. Shawarma, they called it.
But, we knew nothing, Jon Snow.

And then a 10-year stint in Dubai, Middle East, taught me better; from the unassuming shawarma served in Malabari cafeteria to posh pan Arab restaurants.
Jon Snow finally knew it.

And so after 15 years, I decided to assault my taste buds on the pretext of nostalgia. The shawarmas arrived, looking exactly like they used to 15 years back. It was almost like they were on some anti-ageing formula. Not one to hesitate when there is food on the table, I bit generously into one. I must give it to the cook for consistency of taste; for it tasted exactly like what it used to way back then. Either they had perfected the ‘secret recipe’ for this Indian shawarma or my taste buds were on holiday. And so, they still didn’t taste like the shawarma they were supposed to be.
Dracarys!

5 Word Food Review: You know nothing, Jon Snow!

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Spooning: the art of it

Spooning, is an art. The right spooning adds to the experience; be it cookery or coitus. And I find it amusing, how most eateries take the art of spooning so lightly. Should the spoon be served IN the food or WITH it? Or should it just be kept in holder? Let’s deal with the dichotomies with delicacy.

Hot Spooning: do you like the spoon dunked in hot soup?

Hot Spooning: recent recurring experiences in my favourite Chinese restaurant left me quite hot in the head. The server thought it prudent to dunk the soup spoon in the hot soup. The china soup spoons (ladles, rather) are not dipped in the soup as the spoon becomes as hot as the broth. Many customers burn their lips trying to put the spoon in their mouths. Or they sit blowing soup bubbles across the table. Or they just eat soup with a wrestler’s grimace. This explanation didn’t really help as the server looked like I read out his school report card aloud. I must add here that I am not a fan those huge soup spoons. They look more like mini boats that don’t go inside mouths without making the eater look like giraffe posing for a selfie.

No Spooning: some traditional restaurants ditch the spoon

No Spooning: this brings me to another gastro experience of mine, in the city of Chennai, a few years back. I noticed a popular eatery with a peculiar serving style for the ‘dosa’ (India pancake made with fermented batter). The bowl of ‘sambar’ (a sort of spice lentil soup with vegetables) was stashed in the middle of the dosa and served without a spoon. I observed my fellow co-eaters who picked out the bowl of sambar and poured it in the ‘pit’ of the dosa. That then was consumed by hand. Since I had a meeting to go to and didn’t want turmeric stained nails, I asked the server for a spoon. He looked at me like I was an alien. I gesticulated for a spoon. He looked at me with disdain, like I was not honouring some local custom. I wasn’t apparently? He did get me a spoon, but made sure I waited long enough for it.

Play Safe Spooning: Keep all in one place

Play Safe Spooning: the new-age casual dining spaces and cafes play it cool and very safe. Each table has a stock of all things needed – from mustard and ketchup to a stash of forks, knives and spoons. Use what you want, how you want. This does eliminate a lot of spooning issues.

Game of Spoons. Pic courtesy: Etiquette Scholar

Game of Spoons: It is commonplace to label an eatery a fine dine restaurant because a couple of knives, forks and spoons are placed close to the plate. It is, however, far from the truth. Some, I have seen, do not have the courtesy to remove a used spoon after a course! And then there are some that give you a spoon to eat your noodles!

To close, it is my fervent plea to first know the type of restaurant you are, the food that you serve and the spoons that are dished with it. Spooning, as one will appreciate, is an art.

Eid @ Delhi 6

Celebrating Eid in Delhi? One definitely needs to pay a visit to Old Delhi, often referred to as Delhi 6, to get the vibe of the walled city and how Eid is celebrated by people of all milieu. Old Delhi, as the name sounds, retains its distinctive colour of the old Mughal era with architecture to match, heirloom food to flaunt, age-old tales in each and every snaking alleyway.

Eid @ Jama Masjid
Eid @ Jama Masjid

And so, braving the heat and humidity, my family and I started our Eid celebrations from the Jama Masjid. We met around half 4 in the afternoon to avoid the crowd but that was clearly an underestimation. Not one to be deterred, we walked inside one of India’s largest built mosques – the Jama Masjid. Built by Mughal emperor Shahjehan (yes, the same dude who built the Taj Mahal in Agra), the mosque overlooks the strong ramparts of the Red Fort (also built by the same dude). This walled city was called Shahjehanabad, after the ruler and is one of the living foundations of the city that is called Delhi.

The Red Sandstone Jama Masjid
The Red Sandstone Jama Masjid

Since I was doing this after 11 years, my guides for this quick walk were my partners in crime, my brothers-in-law. We have many things in common among us, predominantly, food. So after walking the kiln-hot 17th century stones of Jama Masjid, we decided to make Eid more memorable by eating. A short walk through an alley that resembled a human river, we entered Al Jawahar, a notoriously famous spot for eating most things Mughlai. We hustled up into the family zone, cooling ourselves down under the AC, while the boys did the ordering.

The Khamiri Roti Readying in the Oven
The Khamiri Roti Readying in the Oven

This Eid meal was something in the middle of lunch and dinner. But we gave it our best shot. We were served some fluffy hot Khamiri roti. The main ingredient is yeast or khameer (in Urdu). And hence the vanilla-like colour and fluffiness. I knew the khamiri roti was delicious when we saw my 5-year-old cub finish one on his own.

Chicken Jahangiri went very well with the Khamiri Roti
Chicken Jahangiri went very well with the Khamiri Roti

Now the boys, Arindam and Anwesh, were under a lot of pressure to order the best to make the most of an early evening meal. They finally zeroed in on a portion of tandoori chicken (marinated chicken, grilled in an oven), followed by Chicken Jahangiri. Their argument was that after visiting the mosque built by the father, it is only fitting we eat a dish named after his son. Am not complaining. It was chicken in a tomato based gravy with the usual spicing found in most Mughlai cuisine. Not sure if this had any historical resonance, other than the ones from our table, as we licked our fingers. Next came Chicken Stew. On some menus it is written the same way it is called out – Ishtoo! It is a takedown of the colonial recipe but has evolved into a dish that binds a lot of heat of spices, namely cardamom. Oh, and green chillies for garnish! I like the fact that it bravely doesn’t use turmeric to add colour. We had a few more Khamiris coming to wipe up the last of the stew. Apologies, our hands were too oily to wield a camera phone, so we concentrated on eating.

Jama Masjid on Eid
Jama Masjid on Eid

No Eid meal is over without dessert. We stepped out of the restaurant only to be swept away in a teeming human current in an alley that was lined by shops on both sides, selling everything one would need to make for the perfect Eid meal. Vermicelli or seviyaan were sold by the kilo, as were ready-to-eat biryani, shahi-tukda (an Indian bread pudding that is beyond decadent) and what-have-yous. We picked up some of that to take back home for our folks before we negotiated our way out of this thronging, ecstatic, time-honoured and time-zoned place called Old Delhi.

With winters coming this year, we will be back, hungry as a pack of ravenous direwolves, to delight our senses with some more exquisite Mughlai delights at Old Delhi. Eid Mubarak, y’all!

Smokin’ Johnny Rockets

When Johnny Rockets is 2 stores next to a store where people buy chicken by the buckets, it is not a surprise that JR was virtually empty. This is exactly how I like my dining environment. Not so fast. And well, when you have burger on your mind, then a visit to JR is quite imperative. Johnny knows his Rockets!

Smokin' Johnny RocketsI asked the server for some help to navigate through the new menu, since a few names were repeated separately. After browsing the menu card, which happens to be my favourite literature, I settled for the Smokehouse burger.

Lamb patty sitting on a squishy bed of ‘smokehouse’ BBQ sauce with a dull shining, melting slice of Cheddar that balanced crispy bacon and some onion rings on top. All this goodness was arduously held together with a very “muffiny” sourdough burger bread. This was what made the burger very special. Sourdough – full marks.

Smokehouse Burger from Johnny RocketsI demolished the burger within minutes, also since the size wasn’t that huge. The taste made up for such shortcomings. What really fell short on expectations was the milkshake.

All shakes are ice cream based and hand-spun. After reading such descriptions along with the flavours available, you expect a big, fat glass to sit in front of you – a glass that should reach your eye level and make eye-contact with the guest in front of you, a difficult and distracting task. That is something that doesn’t happen. Have you seen those glasses, Johnny? They are, at best, teenaged shot glasses that hold about 4 glugs of milkshake!

Johnny, your menu card and its graphics really create a mirage in the eyes of the good eater. It is something that commonplace restaurants do. Your order never looks the same as the picture.

So, here’s what you do:

  • Redesign that menu. Read – simplify.
  • Do not repeat your burgers on different pages. Never confuse the customer.
  • So, you have chicken, lamb and tenderloin? What meat would tenderloin stand for? Lamb? Pork? Beef?  Given the moo(t) situation now, a clarification would be less stressful, don’t you think?
  • And get those shakes in a bigger size.

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#BurpAndBelch Meter: 3 burps full

#5WordFoodReview: Can You Get Me XXL?

The Juicy Lucy Burger

This Juicy Lucy Burger @CafeDelhiHeightsThis has got be a man’s doing. Naming a burger Juicy Lucy. I am yet to come across a menu where the woman chef has gotten back, full square. However, now I shall steer clear of any accusations of misogyny and focus on this burger that is a global favourite.

The Juicy Lucy or Jucy Lucy Burger is just another slightly pimped up version of the American cheeseburger. Any quick search will tell you that it came about in Minneapolis with a controversy on its true parent. With a history like that of a DC superhero and a name like that of a NSFW website, I would safely presume that the burger would blow my brains out with its taste.

I was in Cafe Delhi Heights in Mall of India with my wife and my radio guru. He recommended that I dig into the JLB. You don’t say ‘no’ to your teachers.

The positives first:

When the burger appeared on my table, I was instantly in love with its size. As big as my outstretched palm, with the sesame bun shining and well buttered on the inside. Sure I like my food well-endowed.

The burger sure was juicy. And this wasnt just the tomato squishing against the grating of the cutlery.

The patty was served at the exact temperature it should be consumed. Not too hot and dry, warm, moist and the melting cheese wasn’t as hot as lava.

The lamb was not gamey and smelled rather appetising.

The not-so-positives:

Have you seen its plating? The most insipid, boring and disinterested plating ever. Slapping on some lettuce on a plate will not earn you any star (presuming there is no hunger for the Bibendum star). And where is the dressing? How difficult is some balsamic or citric dressing?

The patty was under-seasoned. Stark would certainly not have approved of this one since one could not get a whiff of pepper for miles.

And the cheese. Well, if you are serving me a gigantic burger, please make the cheese serving ginormous. I should be able to taste the cheese in each bite. Maybe a pepperjack would have been a better idea since we were low on pepper to begin with.

Stop obsessing with mayonnaise! Never understood this new obsession of mayo in everything people want to eat. At this rate, there will be mayo in biryani too.

An excessive bed of red cabbage does nothing even though it is dunked in mayo. When one is crunching a mouthful of cabbage, it makes me feel like a wanton cow or having those roadside sandwiches that serve you cabbage in the name of a vegetable sandwich.

And the burger bread within was way too much than the burger. Serious munchers will get this concept of bread to meat ratio. I ate the burger without the top cap. I finished it later since I wanted a clean record of finishing up my entire Juicy Lucy Burger.

Wouldn’t want Lucy to feel offended, do we?
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#BurpAndBelch Meter: 2 burps and half a silent one

#5WordFoodReview: Sorry Lucy! Didn’t Work Out!

 

Taming The Errant Egg

The Eggsetter - honestly, I named it that. Purely merit-based, I add.
The Egg-setter: honestly, I named it that. Purely merit-based, I add.

I confess being a bit of a homemaker. I steal time even while doing groceries to check on what’s new in the kitchen department. Such wanderings have proved priceless as I have picked up painted wooden chopsticks, tea-strainer, fruit forks and this contraption that I call the egg-setter. It maybe called that, I am not sure, but I see what it does and hence the name is purely merit-based.

The Disciplined Egg
The Disciplined Egg

This egg-setter does as it has been named. It sets the egg in shape while it cooks. It is difficult to get some thickness in the egg while it cooks since usually the albumin runs the entire circumference of the frying pan. The egg-setter restricts that. In effect it does what happens while you make a frittata or a Spanish omelette, just that there are more eggs. The egg-setter is a nifty way to make eggs for your burger.  And it sits pretty between the burger buns.

Enjoy the thickness of Egg
Enjoy the thickness of Egg

Grease up the inside lining of the egg-setter with the fat of your choice. I used butter. Make sure the ring that will sit on the pan is also suitably greased. Now sit it in the frying pan, add a small dot of oil and crack your egg inside it. When you see how obediently it sits inside the egg-setter will you feel a surge of love for this kitchen tool. Break the yolk, if you want, add salt and add pepper.

The Tamed Egg after the Egg-setter has been removed
The Tamed Egg after the Egg-setter has been removed

Occasionally stir it like you would while making a frittata. Run a knife along the edges to free the sides. When you are more or less happy with the consistency of the egg, take off the egg-setter, and slide off the egg on your toasty burger bun. Load up with whatever you want, since I believe that eggs make anything taste good, and there you have your breakfast burger!

Eggcellent Breakfast Burger
Eggcellent Breakfast Burger

Egg-cellent innovation, shall we say!

What The Telly Won’t Tell

Pic courtesy: kernelmag.dailydot.com
Pic courtesy: kernelmag.dailydot.com

Food shows have always had an audience. I have watched food shows on TV for as long as I can remember, be it Jiggs Kalra’s forward-thinking show or the hilariously well-seasoned Chef Yan. Years later when I got to be part of a food segment on the telly, it was an eye-opener more than a taste-bud tickler. There are some things about food shows that the telly won’t tell, ever. Let’s peep into what goes into the food shows, of course behind the scenes.

Food is the star and the story
Off late, we see the bulge of TV-ready chefs who love to present their own work. Works best that way. Unless the chef is really handicapped at presenting does one need a presenter. And by presenter I do not mean a lipstick-clad-heel-totting-accent-spewing specimen who could, in real life, burn water while boiling! And that is not a biased but a seen and tested statement. Thankfully things are shifting towards the better. The presenter needs to know and understand food, sometimes its history and most times the process food ingredients go through.

Use, re-use and abuse
No food show can survive if the presenter garnishes the script with hackneyed, boring phrases and epithets that could numb your ear and tongue. It starts with “awesome”, goes on to “amazing” and ends on “absolutely mind-blowing”. The other level of presenters use parboiled phrases like “melt-in-the-mouth”, “flavourful”, “beautiful textures” and “crunchy and juicy”. Sure one can learn this by watching a couple of shows on the tube or reading a few food bloggers.

1 Tablespoon = 3 Tablespoons
Food on some food shows is made not the way it is told. There are various re-takes and that would mean starting all over again or at the stage where it has been left. Many chefs add extra oil, condiments or spices, of course off-camera; including secretly adding MSG (read more here: msg-for-msg). Purely unethical. Incorrect communication. A lot of shows, internationally, have bravely ventured outside of the studio into real surroundings and settings where  “let’s add this since nobody is watching” is not an option.

Food shows on the telly are entertaining as they are informative. You learn about foods in various cultural set-ups and countries, know about celebrity chefs, popular restaurants or food trucks to try-out and feel encouraged to try to make that dish at home. The shows, like the ingredients used, must be true to the taste.

Fingers crossed.

Burps to remember food by!