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.
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!
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: 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: 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: 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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
I 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.
I 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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Unfair fight. Lobster alive or on the plate, notwithstanding.
Little did I know that I was going in for combat when I walked in with my dearest friend at Zheng He by the waterfront at Mina’a Salaam. Priority seating, with uninterrupted views of the Burj Al Arab changing gels in the evening, was quite the highlight. And then the food started rolling out.
To celebrate the dragon boat festival, there was a special dimsum menu. Truth is, whatever the festival, I am always up for dimsums. Chicken, prawn and mushrooms, tempered, and stuffed inside delicate translucent steamed bags is something I can do on repeat mode every evening. The only thing that beat it was a crispy golden king prawn in Chinese mustard and spicy mango. Our kind hostess from the Orient, oriented us and patiently answered our questions. Spicy mango, not spiced mango, said she. This appetizer is highly recommended. In fact, I do not mind having it as a main course.
And then on followed a kingly sight of soups, duck, shrimps, octopus and scallops. My co-eater asked for the whole Canadian lobster in black pepper sauce. It didn’t alarm me, as I thought it would be an equal share of the crustacean. When it arrived, I was left to wrestle it all by myself. Understand this, I had half the Tasmanian Sea inside my stomach and then I had to eat the entire lobster! (Ideally this line would have sounded better with an expletive.)
And so, I set out for the impossible. The head and the tail shells on the plate taunted me as I slowly reached out my chopsticks for the chunks of juicy lobster meat flavoured with the essence of the Sichuan area. The taste was incredible, as was the texture. My hands picked up momentum, picking and delivering piece after piece until my mouth was unable to keep up. Chewing and swallowing on an almost-full stomach is not an easy task. I was thinking of greater glories like my name on Zheng He’s aesthetic walls discussing my superhuman feat; or comforting things like eating in my loosest pyjama in front of TV. I wasn’t prepared to give up easily on this deliciousness on my plate. I was about 7 pieces more to go before fame and glory would throw their garlands around my neck. I wasn’t looking at the Burj, or at the table next to me with 5 gorgeous girls daintily eating their Chinese food. And then there were 3, left. Lobster pieces. I felt like Achilles in the siege of Troy. To destroy a 1.5 kilo lobster all by myself is no less satisfying. With my plate polished off clean, I stood up akimbo, much to the surprise of my bemused friend, the 5 beautiful co-diners and our Chinese stewardess. I told her stoically that I was adjusting the lobster inside my stomach and she did have a strange look on her face. Hah! You should have seen mine – it was like Po with his mouth filled with buns.
Ni hao! And how!
#BurpAndBelch Meter: 5 buuuuuurps (sorry, was I too loud?)