Category Archives: Food For Thought

Rumblings of the stomach and heart

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.

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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!

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.

Top 5 Culinary Trends in 2016

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016 twiter-07
Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016

Industry perspective into culinary habits that will be big this year.

The UAE’s culinary business is experiencing a growth spurt. It is almost as if the industry has somewhat entered its teens when we expected it take some more time. If reports are to be believed, about 20,000 F&B outlets are expected to ‘shroom up by 2020. Such reports are not surprising. Think of UAE as your home kitchen. When more guests turn up, you just make some more food and serve your guests. The numbers of tourists flocking to the UAE sees a healthy year-on-year growth. Hotels are expanding their chains and restaurants. Eatery chains are opening newer outlets in newer malls that grow faster than the palm trees. Stand-alone eateries and food entrepreneurs see this as a growth opportunity to increase their capacity. And so, the country’s kitchen, as it were, is expanding.

UAE is a hotspot of culinary conquests. It is the star attraction. Residents and tourists alike, love eating out and why not! When you can get food from the world in a span of 50 kilometres or thereabouts, food becomes the main attraction. Accessibility to the global palate is easier than getting a visa to go for a holiday. Think Argentinian to Japanese – and all that is available, in full authenticity.

All this has led to a large influx of global culinary masters. Whether starred or yearning to have the Bibendum’s mark of excellence, they all make sure that they have a UAE presence. It could be argued, over some single-origin coffee and focaccia, that the usual map pegs are giving way to opening up in the glittering UAE. Georgio Locatelli, Gary Rhodes, Nobu, Gordon Ramsey, Atul Kochchar, Heinz Beck, Vikas Khanna, Yannick Alleno, Vineet Bhatia and Jamie Oliver are some names that reinforce the belief as high as the Burj that Dubai is quickly becoming a culinary epicentre.

In this Middle East Milan, the melange of such culinary brands helps hotels lure more and newer guests. Global chains are swimming the seas to set shop here like Joe’s Crab Shack did when they opened their 131st store and the 1st overseas restaurant in the Dubai Mall a few months back. I see that the burgeoning food industry has also given rise to the new breed of food journalists or bloggers who are becoming a force to reckon with, Darth Vader notwithstanding. Adding in more gourmet force, digital platforms allow restaurants of all hues and pockets to list and get reviewed – all of this feeding into the big churning bowl of the culinary kingdom in the UAE.

With the last few years being spectacular in this respect, 2016 begins on a happy and hopeful note of newer food experiences and newer entrants into the market. This is an attempt to tap into the top 5 trends of this year.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#1. RISE OF THE CASUAL SMART DINING
Fine dine does not find favours with many, mainly because it is a starched and stiff affair. These days, people want to go to a restaurant, however posh, to have some good nosh, enjoy the ambience without having to worry about which service fork to use or if their cufflinks are secretly kissing the meat gravy.
Casual Smart Dining restaurants are a sub-niche between the fine dining restaurants and casual dining eateries. The cutlery remains classy while the ambience is slightly more relaxed. Many restaurants are working that extra mile to give value for the dirham spent in eating.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016
Chef Leonardo Maltese

Head chef at the multi-award winning Italian seafood restaurant Bice Mare at Souk Al Bahar, Leonardo Maltese feels “You expect guests in formals to turn up for a fine dine restaurant. But again, you cannot be rude to a patron who may turn up in a hoodie. At Bice Mare, every guest who walks is given the same attention and care so that the experience is memorable and the taste will transport them to the south seas of Italy.”
Can’t argue with that.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#2. STREET FOOD GOES CHIC Street food has a huge following. After all, it is food that is made for the working class. Look up the cultural history of food and you will see how a certain breed of eateries opened up across the globe that catered to middle class people. It is what is known as the Quick Service Restaurants. Easy to make food that could be consumed on the go became a rage. Restaurant grew in operations due to popularity and less wastage of resources. What is cooked is served and finished. But the hidden hurdle was that of unhealthy food. Deep fried, slathered with fat and preservative laden condiments didn’t help the gastro gizzards of the consumers; not to mention processed meats.
But now, street food has been adopted by the high street. High end restaurants realise the popularity and taste profile of such dishes and have gladly given them a healthy make-over for the discerning diner to savour the taste and yet not compromise on health. Little wonder that Michelin-starred chef Vikas Khanna’s one year old restaurant Junoon at the Shangri-La, Dubai serves up a street food brunch that showcases the length and breadth of Indian street food without the need to have antacids. The eggplant chat is a favourite of mine.
The very vibrant restaurant Nine7One at Oberoi Dubai has dished out the very popular Street Art Brunch that houses global favourites. You could be choosing your tacos one moment, and munching on fish and chips on the next. You could be negotiating your chopsticks over your favourite sushi or dipping into a bowl of Thai noodle soup with ‘everything in it’.
If you prefer some theatrics with your food, then Tresind at Nassima Towers, Dubai is your destination where the shy executive chef Himanshu Saini serves Indian street food in a boisterous manner, replete with liquid nitrogen and chutney gels to suit your dormant artist.
If you are not the sorts to saunter into 5 star properties, then bespoke cafes like The Sum Of Us, snuck into Trade Centre or Tom and Serg, tucked away in Al Quoz could be your preferred haunt to have healthy options of simple and humble street foods. The way I see it, there is going to be more street food that will be elevated to high-wire status by many restaurants in the months to come.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#3. FOOD ON WHEELS
Calling on the local Favreau. Just last year, local boy Jassim Najjar returned from the US. He was besotted with food trucks, “I’d just graduated and come back with this idea to have my own food truck. I fell in love with them while I was there – obsessed, actually.” Jassim helped his overweight chef brother lose weight and they decided to put it out on the menu of their food truck called f!T!
Food trucks are no longer just a fancy idea and are a trend that is catching on in the region. Most food trucks started out serving just sandwiches and burgers for consumers on the move. Today, more complex dishes are being added. Gourmet food trucks are starting to appear as part of the evolution of the new culinary trend.
Meet the owners of GObai, the brainchild of Cara Davies, woman entrepreneur, and her business partner Kevin Vaz, who decided to transport some Goan street food flavours to the emirate. “Dubai is such a melting pot of flavours, so we couldn’t help but give the food a Dubai twist, but it’s essentially traditional Goan food,” says Cara.
Dubai residents would have seen fancy and funked up food trucks in Emaar Boulevard, JLT Park, Kite Beach or Zabeel Park. Food trucks reach out to food lovers, with diners enjoying their favourite food sitting not in a brick and mortar restaurant but in the setting they choose to.
Cara says, “It is an initial step in opening up the Middle East market to this global phenomenon of food trucks. It will take some time to have this developed to scale the markets in the US or UK, but currently it is a great way to cater to the Dubai foodies.”
With the interest in food trucks, riding the high wave, companies are branching out into 360 degree B2B models where food entrepreneurs can get a truck from under a single roof – designed, fitted out, with licences procured as well.
Food trucks are now beginning to be seen in various events, be it the Art Fair at Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi or the brand new food truck brunch at the Emirates Golf Course, Dubai.
Moral of the story, this mobile model of food is going to catch on like wild-fire with food enthusiasts choosing to put in money in food trucks while restaurant chains see this as a popular model to reach out to patrons and potential customers.
Honk if you want to join in the convoy!

 

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#4. SUPER FOODS LEAGUE
Here is a word that has garbed up as a super-hero in the dietary domain. Nutrient rich food items that are healthy (naturally) and sometimes help medical conditions are called Super Foods. Keeping in mind the first part, can also make a potato a member of this league. To demystify super foods, it is something that helps lose or control weight with some additional features like improving bodily functions. While I do feel that ‘super foods’ is as much a marketing gimmick as Valentine’s Day, I do appreciate the goods that have come on to the table. I bet my last dirham coin that you would have heard of quinoa, blueberries, kale, goji berry, wheatgrass, chia seed and many more.
I see the rise of carefully put together ingredients that are carefully grown, keeping in mind the generally unhealthy standard of living that most of us have. So be it fresh salmon or eggs that give Omega 3, or exotic acai berries or seaweed for that matter, more and more restaurants are dishing out to the latest living demands.
I do not mind it at all, after all cocoa powder is also considered to be a super food!

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#5. MOLECULAR DE-MYSTIFICATION
Herve This may not be too happy knowing that molecular gastronomy is slowly making an exit. Known as the father of molecular gastronomy, Herve had visions of ending world hunger with chemical compounds becoming the ingredients of the future. While most of us may not understand the ‘why’ or ‘what’ behind molecular gastronomy, it is basically changing the physicality (and chemical composition) of food to manipulate taste and texture.
Here is the UAE, we have felt like being on the sets of the Terminator when liquid nitrogen was used to play around with hydration of ingredients. Undoubtedly there is more MG than gimmicky food presentations – it is the careful studying of food texture and presenting it in a form un-thought of. Mint chutney became globules, sorbets became spheres, savoury became mousse, condiments became edible dust and so on. Avant-garde restaurants experiment with the texture of food, replicating it to look like stones etc. It made the chef and artist and scientist.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016
TheCalmDev with Vikas Khanna

Michelin starred chef Vikas Khanna, who runs a successful modern Indian restaurant called Junoon in New York and in Dubai has dabbled with this arm of cooking. However, he sees a change in trends. He states, “It was done over a decade ago. It was very exciting to experiment with food. However, kitchen craft is bending towards cuisine that is simple and organic, in its natural true form. I feel people will ultimately gravitate away from it.”
My recent meeting with one of the most critically acclaimed chefs in Britain, Michelin star chef, who is successfully running Benaras in London and Rang Mahal in Dubai, Atul Kochhar echoes similar sentiments. “I am not sure consumers feel very excited having chemicals put in their food to replicate the taste. As it is the world is fighting a war against additives and harmful chemicals. Not sure, if they are keen to have a chemical powder that tastes like a curry or chocolate on their plate,” feels Kochhar.

Have a delicious 2016!

5 Things To Do With Nutella on World Nutella Day

Nutella5 Feb is World Nutella Day. American blogger Sara Rosso liked Nutella so much that she ideated on dedicating a day to unite all Nutella fans together. I am a Nutella fan and know of crazier fans. So this post is dedicated to all who are nuts for Nutella.

Shaken And Stirred
Amp up the ordinary shake at home with a generous helping of Nutella. Goes best with banana shake with crushed walnuts thrown on top.

French Toast
I find French toasts rather versatile. A lot of variations are also served in restaurants across the world. Honey and syrups have been partners of choice for long. If in the mood for cheating, then dollop up a thick Nutella creme, with some dusted sugar on top. If you think it is not sinful enough, add more decadence with whipped cream and choco chips.

Mousse Trap
Don your pastry chef hat. Get some creme fraiche from the supermarket. Incorporate grated chocolate (better if bitter). Add some thick Nutella. Try and not salivate. Add a dash of crushed sea salt. And a thin slice of orange. Freeze. Eat. Repeat.
Bachelor’s Breakfast
Bachelor's Breakfast
Bachelor’s Breakfast

Don’t blame yourself for being lazy. It is a state of mind. This is why there is Nutella to bail out poor souls that feel hungry. Take a slice of bread. Slather up some salted butter. No need to go easy with this. For the other slice of bread, spread Nutella nice and slow. Make sure you cover every corner of the slice – it will add to the taste (!!). Slap them together and eat.

Spooning
Spooning and Swooning
Spooning and Swooning

Still remains the best way to have Nutella. Get a spoon. Open a bottle of Nutella. Spoon in a mouthful. Close your eyes. There, you are now in Nutella heaven.

 Have a wonderful #NutellaDay!

World Food Day

A local online cleaning platform reached out to me regarding increasing awareness about food wastage. They are committed to improving the world around and that includes showing a little more respect to food.

World Food Day Infograph courtesy Helpling
World Food Day Infograph courtesy Helpling. http://www.helpling.ae

To mark World Food Day, that is marked today ie 16 October, Helpling has created an infographic on the scale of food waste in the UAE. Food waste has a huge environmental impact, and can be combatted by every one of us in our own homes. here are a few things that we can all do and help not wasting food.

Shop smart
More often than not, some of the food we buy in the supermarket will spoil before it’s eaten and get thrown away. Even if it’s only a small amount each time, it all adds up. Avoid getting sucked in by food offers you don’t need. And the number one classic piece of advice: never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry!

Use Everything
Keep a mental note of what you have in your fridge or larder. Make your meals that use those ingredients. This will help reduce the amount of food you throw out.  Drying herbs and last them longer. Check out a site like foodgawker for some inspiration.

Store food properly 
Proper storage of certain foods can drastically impact their longevity. You should have a cool and dry cupboard or storage area for any dry, long-life products. Sealable plastic containers, jars with lids, and resealable bags are all ideal for these foods. Choose a container that has adequate space for your produce without allowing too much air inside.

Work that Fridge
Keep your fridge clean and hygienic, and at the right temperature (ideally around 4 degrees Celsius) and your food will stay fresh for longer. Get into the habit of rotating your foods in the fridge each time you shop. Bring items from the back towards the front, as these will have the soonest use-by-dates. This prevents anything from being left at the back and spreading bacteria if it goes off.

Portion Control
Manage what you can eat at home by serving portions that will be tackled well. Serve the same amount of food in smaller plates. It seems like a lot of food and satisfies us ‘visually’.

Do Not Over-Order
We tend to over-order in restaurants. We like seeing food rather than eat it. I will not ask you to remember the horrors of being hungry that many are these days, but refrain from ordering excess. Refuse side orders or French fries that usually get thrown away. The amount of food waste in food courts is monstrously huge.

Reuse, recycle
Many items that you might just toss in the trash once you’ve used them still have life left in them. Take used coffee grounds for example – there are plenty of inventive ways you can use them before they go in the trash. such as keeping your fridge odour-free. You can also use old lemons to disinfect surfaces, or even clean the inside of your fridge.

You could try composting. It’s nature’s way of recycling food waste. Much of what you would have otherwise put in the trash can go on a compost heap. Check out this simple how-to guide on composting from Eartheasy.

Let us try and reduce food waste. A plea not just to households but to restaurants and hotels too.

Chai Tea? Is that a Martial Art?

Seriously, who helped name that on the menu? Chai Tea!

It is like naming your bolognese Noodles Spaghetti. Now, you wouldn’t do that, would you? Then why have Chai Tea on your menu?

Separating the Chai from Tea
Separating the Chai from Tea

Let me explain – tea in the Indian sub-continent, and a few neighbouring countries, is called Chai. Unless, a few restaurants in Dubai really want to “over emphasize” that they serve tea, I feel such naming should be scrapped outright. Yes, “over emphasize” is a moronic expression and completely incorrect, much like “more happier”. As is Chai Tea!

If restaurants serving spiced tea that incorporates cardamom, cinnamon, milk and sugar etc want to highlight that, then it should be called Masala Chai or Masala Tea. Not Chai Tea.

And on behalf of many in the industry of food writing and appreciation, I would issue a warning not to name dishes like mentioned below:

  • Coffee Cafe
  • Biryani Pulao
  • Pilaff Pulao
  • Saffron Zafran