Category Archives: On The Plate

Ode to the Humble Kathi Roll

Most South Asians, especially from the sub-continent, will know the pleasure of sinking their teeth into a hot and juicy ‘kathi’ roll! It is a unique preparation that is something in the middle of a starter and main course. And while on the subject, this needs to stated that the best ‘kathi’ rolls are the ones that are made by the street-side vendors.

Let me into the simplicity of this humble ‘kathi’ roll. A toasted flatbread is the base. No inter-continental cousins like burritos can substitute the flatbread. In India and Pakistan, it is called ‘parantha’. So, while the flatbread is being toasted, an egg is beaten well with some salt and chilly. A splash of oil, throw in the egg emulsion and as soon as you see the egg firming up like an omelette, place the flatbread on the semi-liquid egg. Flip it over, a couple of times and take it off the heat. Chopped onions, salt, pepper, squeeze of lemon and chilly sauce rolled into the egg ‘kathi’ roll. That, my friend, is the quintessential ‘kathi’ roll.

Varieties are also available. Egg. Mutton. Chicken. Egg Mutton. Egg Chicken. Double Egg. Double Egg Chicken. Double Egg Mutton. Here, take the tissue and wipe that drool off. Oh, I haven’t mentioned any vegetarian options as they just simply don’t qualify as a ‘kathi’roll. Apologies, veggies.

I have seen enough of those being made. I can visually tell if a certain roll will be carry the right DNA of a Calcutta ‘kathi’ roll. I have tasted some delectable rolls on the roadsides of Kolkata and Delhi. I know the imposters as well. They never will see me as a repeat customer.

My search for that delicious ‘kathi’ roll took me to Shiraz Golden Restaurant. The name can be a little misleading – it has nothing to do with the Iranian city, or wine. Shiraz in Bur Dubai serves Awadhi food – food that was native to the royal kitchens of the Nawabs of Awadh or Oudh during the British Raj in India, specially during the life and times of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah.  Well, the man certainly had good taste in food. No wonder that those recipes are now a hand-me-down reality for food buffs like me. Shiraz originally opened up in Calcutta, India’s gourmet capital. This is their second and first international outlet.

I need to clarify, that I work on a simple principle when it comes to food. If the simple can me made in a lip-smacking way then the exotic dishes are worthy of a try. And a Kolkata food joint needs to be taste-tested by asking for the ‘kathi’ roll.

As I hungrily tore off the tissue, I could tell that this ‘kathi’ certainly was rich with promise. The first bite in it certified that it was a thorough-bred ‘kathi’ roll. Ah! The pleasure of the crumbly exterior that holds a fluffy egg; wafting with the smell of the green chilly and chilly sauce.

Shiraz certainly passed the ‘kathi’ roll test. And now, for over a year, I have been a regular and a loyal customer; using it as a venue to catch up with friends. And whatever be ordered from the menu – be it the Awadhi biryani, or chicken chaap or the mutton rezala, it all starts with the ‘kathi’ roll!

5 burps on the Burp-o-meter!

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MSG for MSG

It is a known fact that maybe all; correction, most Chinese restaurants use mono-sodium glutamate in their preparations. A lot has been vociferously voiced about MSG being unsafe for human consumption, specially for children. Food and health bodies claim that MSG consumed at ‘customary’ levels, is safe. Popular belief went otherwise. MSG continued to be in the centre of culinary controversy and in Chinese recipes. Some scientific groups found no connection with various symptoms and MSG while others believed it to be a PR coup by Ajinomoto, the company that marketed MSG; a name that did what Xerox did to cyclostyling.

A particular restaurant in the UAE markets their Chinese food as MSG-free. Other restaurants use it without naming credits, as it were. On one occasion, one restaurant owner asked his chef not to mention that they use MSG before a commercial shot that I was directing. So, probably representing the common-man’s stand I understand that MSG could be avoided.

Add to this never-ending controversy, doctors forbidding consumption of MSG for pregnant women. So, women are asked to avoid Chinese food during pregnancy but considering the myriad urges et al, I gather that Chinese food without MSG would be a possible option.

Now what turns funny is how most Chinese restaurants in Dubai react when you ask them for Chinese food without any MSG in it. Some stammer on the phone like a child lying to their parents! Most keep a stoic silence, as if they had never heard of anything called MSG!

How about a simple acknowledgement that the MSG has been understood?

Small Fry

I fail to understand the deep-seated connection between food and fries. In case you are a little baffled, prepare to be baffled even more.

Eating out in the UAE is a foodie’s dream come true. So many cuisines to choose from. Such rainbow variety tickles the palette. Food is readily available everywhere, across all the Emirates and is presented well. And the common thing in all this is, fries on the side.

French fries finds its way in just about anything that you can imagine to order. Burgers always had them. Shawarmas have them stuffed inside. Kebabs have them jostling for plate. Fish come with the chips. They can also be ordered as a separate plate! Fries sure enjoy some status here in the UAE! Or do they?

Having said that, the first thing that also gets thrown in the bin, in any food court is also the humble fry! Abundance of fries on all plates of varying cuisine have made them commonplace. So when the kebab or shish-tawook or burger is over, the fries slide off into the trash. I wonder how many kilos of potatoes get wasted everyday. I have also made umpteen requests on radio on my show not to order chips or to moderate quantity and not throw them. I do have my doubts if anybody heeded that advise. Hey! The chips come in cheap!

So I started this new habit of not asking for fries. Wherever I went to eat, I made sure that I request the waiter not to give me any fries. Now, a simple request like that threw me some unexpected reactions.

In a posh Iranian restaurant, the waiter froze when I pleaded that my cello kebabs and rice should not have any fries. He counter-pleaded by saying that the fries come free. I smiled and tried again. He looked baffled. Whispered that the cost of the fries is in-built in the dish I was ordering. He just didn’t understand why I was refusing them. Quite audaciously, he got the fries stacked beside the fragrant rice and I immediately had it sent back to the kitchen. The Iranian, now quite out of patience and understanding, gave me my cello kebabs sans the fries muttering that there would be no reduction in prices for the ‘no-fries’.

At a popular Lebanese restaurant, my request elicited smiles and hushed-asides! I was seriously wondering, what the big deal with no-fries is! I just don’t want them, because I would waste them. I said exactly that to the (almost filmstar-like) Lebanese boys behind the food counter. They exchanged something in Arabic that I wasnt keen to find out and said to me that everybody loves fries’! Nobody ever asked not be served them.

Now that is exactly my point. Obesity is huge fatty monster in the UAE and some of the blame is earned by the fries as well. Supermarkets have bags of frozen potatoes sliced into fries. Those cold fries suck more oil and salt than freshly cut potatoes. Deep fried potatoes doesn’t sound like a ‘hearty’ idea! Nobody cared. Local families gorge on fast food and the pile of fries is enough to feed a flood-afflicted family.

I am also violated at the use or should I say, the forced mating of these mis-placed French Fries. Wonder who came up with the idea of stashing fries with everything? Come off it. Please.

Clearly, the over-use of the simple finger fries has left it with no gastronomic status. It is stray. It is pedestrian. It is orphan.

Bengali Warewolf in Dubai

I am a bit of an honorary Bengali. Don’t feel much Bengali, save 5 days out of 365; and that is during Durga Puja! And I am just about feeling the first winds of change in me. Like a handsome man turns into a werewolf – the ears elongate, the sinews stand out, canines turn to fangs, hair grows all around – I was feeling a similar change reside in me.

I have been excited about the sweets my wife got me from Delhi! I am listening to the audio CD of Sukumar Ray‘s ‘Abol Tabol‘ – Bengali limericks he wrote for ‘Sondesh’. Remember a few, still! Yes, I don’t believe myself, right now!!

Despite the disguise, I secretly feel very proud when people say that Bengalis can hold on to a tune and that they know their music. I was proudly nodding my head as one of my non-Bong students was appreciating Bengali hospitality and also reminiscing the lusciousness of her first ‘rosho-golla’. It was happening to me for sure.

And tonight we went to a brand new Bengali (not Bangladeshi) restaurant in Sharjah. Wifey found about Calcutta Fast Food near Al Tawuun Mall. Not the best creative name one would expect from a Bong, but then the real test is only in the taste. I called the restaurant and was greeted by the most warm and elderly voice of a typical Bengali ‘Bhadralok‘ who gave me directions like my garrulous uncle would have. I was grinning as I indulged him!

courtesy Calcutta Fast Food
courtesy Calcutta Fast Food

When there, that slice of a restaurant appealed to me. I really must be ill! What riveted my attention was a wall of classy black and white photographs. Uttam-Suchitra from ‘Shoptopodi’ bang in the centre! There – can you hear Hemanta Mukherjee faintly? “Ayi poth jodi na shesh hoye, tobey kemon hoto, tumi bolo toi?” Tumiyi bolo!

Howrah Bridge, Vidyasagar SetuVictoria Memorial, dhoti-clad babu hanging from a tram like an orang-utan in a zoo and oh! They have egg role! You can’t beat the taste of that one. I ordered one and it didn’t disappoint me a bit. Mmmm! Perfect!

What followed next was a tastefully made Chicken Chaap in a thick, consistent gravy with a distinct aroma of saffron. A healthy piece of chicken breast was well wrapped in the saffron gravy. Gastro-erotica!!! Crispy porotha on the side. Meshomoshai (the Bong Uncle I spoke to) suggested we try that! It was fab! My wife was in raptures, going back to her ‘Bedouin days’ in Calcutta!

I loved watching the father-son duo running the joint. Son took the delivery orders. Dad handled the restaurant floor orders. They opened the restaurant end August. He is the only son. Was in banking earlier. Dad keeps visiting them from Kolkata. Gathering so much information was just not my style. What was wrong with me?

I was surrounding myself with everything Bengali. Oh! And the crispy, crumbly fish fry was ‘darun’. I suggest that the Bengali expression ‘darun’ be included into the English lexicon. And I could arrange a ‘michhil’ to prove my point as well!

I was worried with my new self. I looked at my wife, for she has answers when I don’t. I asked her as to what was wrong with me?

She took a bite of her fish fry and nonchalantly said,”With Pujo ’round the corner, you are just PMS-ing.”

Bengali Warewolf in Dubai

I am a bit of an honorary Bengali. Don’t feel much Bengali, save 5 days out of 365; and that is during Durga Puja! And I am just about feeling the first winds of change in me. Like a handsome man turns into a werewolf – the ears elongate, the sinews stand out, incisors turn to fangs, hair grows all around – I was feeling a similar change reside in me.

I have been excited about the sweets my wife got me from Delhi! I am listening to the audio CD of Sukumar Ray‘s ‘Abol Tabol‘ – Bengali limericks he wrote for ‘Sondesh’. Remember a few, still! Yes, I don’t believe myself, right now!!

Despite the disguise, I secretly feel very proud when people say that Bengalis can hold on to a tune and that they know their music. I was proudly nodding my head as one of my non-Bong students was appreciating Bengali hospitality and also reminiscing the lusciousness of her first ‘rosho-golla’. It was happening to me for sure.

And tonight we went to a brand new Bengali (not Bangladeshi) restaurant in Sharjah. Wifey found about Calcutta Fast Food near Al Tawuun Mall. Not the best creative name one would expect from a Bong, but then the real test is only in the taste. I called the restaurant and was greeted by the most warm and elderly voice of a typical Bengali ‘Bhadralok‘ who gave me directions like my garrulous uncle would have. I was grinning as I indulged him!

courtesy Calcutta Fast Food

When there, that slice of a restaurant appealed to me. I really must be ill! What riveted my attention was a wall of classy black and white photographs. Uttam-Suchitra from ‘Shoptopodi’ bang in the centre! There – can you hear Hemanta Mukherjee faintly? “Ayi poth jodi na shesh hoye, tobey kemon hoto, tumi bolo toi?”
Tumiyi bolo!

Howrah Bridge, Vidyasagar SetuVictoria Memorial, dhoti-clad babu hanging from a tram like an orang-utan in a zoo and oh! They have egg role! You can’t beat the taste of that one. I ordered one and it didn’t disappoint me a bit. Mmmm! Perfect!

What followed next was a tastefully made Chicken Chaap in a thick, consistent gravy with a distinct aroma of saffron. A healthy piece of chicken breast was well wrapped in the saffron gravy. Gastro-erotica!!! Crispy porotha on the side. Meshomoshai (the Bong Uncle I spoke to) suggested we try that! It was fab! My wife was in raptures, going back to her ‘Bedouin days’ in Calcutta!

I loved watching the father-son duo running the joint. Son took the delivery orders. Dad handled the restaurant floor orders. They opened the restaurant end August. He is the only son. Was in banking earlier. Dad keeps visiting them from Kolkata. Gathering so much information was just not my style. What was wrong with me?

I was surrounding myself with everything Bengali. Oh! And the crispy, crumbly fish fry was ‘darun’. I suggest that the Bengali expression ‘darun’ be included into the English lexicon. And I could arrange a ‘michhil’ to prove my point as well!

I was worried with my new self. I looked at my wife, for she has answers when I don’t. I asked her what was wrong with me?

She took a bite of her fish fry and nonchalantly said,”With Pujo ’round the corner, you are just PMS-ing.”

On the Burp-o-meter: 3 burps!