Messing in Mussoorie

Finding good food during travel seems to have become as much of an adventure as deep sea diving , involving  research, exploration, and discovery, while risking little else but cash and intestinal well being.

Which is why anyone and everyone, those with taste buds and those without, are on the same adventure trail, exclaiming about every meal  on SMS, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Enthusiasm is generally in direct proportion to the amount paid for such detection. The vada pau rarely gets the same flowery praise as the French croquette especially if said croquette is served in "French owned" restaurant , even though it might be equally deep fried to death.

The question is ...what is so pioneering  about  "discovering" a fancy restaurant, one which is heavily advertised and has million of reviews to back up claims of excellence? The real taste revelation is more and more to be found in peoples homes ,where food is prepared with care, and sometimes even better, with love.

So how do you find this on your travels? In India where relatives abound, it isn't as difficult as in other countries, though the tradition of asking people over to a meal is slowly fading and  becoming a thing of the past. You might be still be lucky. Mostly it is serendipity . You are mysteriously drawn to places and people which promise the palate surprise, comfort and delight.

Such fortunate happenstance occurred when we plumped to stay at the Carlton Plaisance in Mussoorie recently. I say 'plumped' because, with just a little  scouting online, I found the site "still under construction".The description of the hotel was intriguing, promising a bit of history, ( A Chateau built in the late 1800's )  a bit of garden, and a good view.

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What we found was a rambling old house, eclectically furnished, with a delightfully shabby air. High ceilings , ventilators and dark interiors reminded me of my many childhood homes. A parlour filled with (now very non kosher) stuffed animals  and deep sofas, a high table, permanently set with linens, crockery and cutlery in the centre hall from which doors led out to large suites and the kitchens.

The better suites had a pretty gallery which once looked out to the hills in the distance but now looked out to a cement structure, which may have been a water tank. Water shortage is a problem in Mussoorie  and we were sparing in our use of it during our stay. The platform on top of this structure ruined the view but closer to our rooms were very pretty flowers, glimpsed through the window panes , hyacinths and daisies which bloomed cheerfully in the sun.

 

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Once in a while monkeys thundered across the tin roofs and were chased off by the staff. For the rest, even though the Company Garden road passed 100 meters away , we remained unassailed by other noise, chiefly the incessant honking of cars, which is a feature on all roads leading to, away and in Mussoorie, reaching high decibel levels near the Mall Road

What made the stay so good was that every day we ordered our meals in consultation with the cook , Kalam Singh, ( what was in season, available , tasty)  and and he made  it as simple or as elaborate as we wished , fresh and on time , calling us to the table when all was ready. We felt very much at home.

Everything tasted good, with a homely type of tarka, not swimming in oil or smothered in spices. In the course of our stay three preparations stood out. The Nepali Anda Aloo Achari, a mustardy dish with a creamy texture, the Pepper Chicken ,unlike any other chicken I have tasted to date,  and the Achar Dal.

In spite of petitioning him thrice, Kalam Singh did not deign to share the recipes , smiling mysteriously and fading into the depths of the kitchens. Usman , the genial, friendly and  always helpful Major Domo, kept his secret .

Now the only way for anyone to taste all that good food that is to go spend a pleasurable week at the agreeably laid back Carlton Plaisance while getting a glimpse , albeit dim, of an era long gone, like the promised (pale) view of hills.

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10 Years and Millions of views later

Ten years have passed since I first began writing this blog . Several hundred posts, a  second career in food writing and a cook book later I can say I have finally learnt a respectable amount about cooking and food. It has been a great culinary journey so far.

Here is my first post from April 2005-

 

BECAUSE

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Circumstances made mine a life of constantly being on the move.In the years of crisscrossing the Indian continent several memories have remained firmly planted in the mind. Smells, sounds, pictures,tastes, feelings.Some mishmashed together like kedgeree, some clear and separate as grains of basmati rice.

One recurring memory is of the little cottage in the back of the red tiled bungalows we used to live in. It was the cook's cottage, the khansama's kitchen which was joined to the main house  by a long, narrow and roofed open corridor. From here, all sorts of interesting smells curled out to catch  our childish noses as we played in the vast, dry gardens where red and pink hollyhocks would strive to grow taller on spindly stems and trees contributed the main brushstroke of green on an otherwise brown canvas.

When we arrived in a new place the cottage sometimes resembled the black hole of Calcutta. The room had not been whitewashed with chuna , a lime paste and the woodfired chulah had blackened the ceiling and walls so much that you could write on it with a finger and a negative image  would appear.

There were clues to the cuisine of the house's  former residents. A smudge of masala, a leftover bottle of paste, a whiff of an unfamiliar spice used so regularly as to seep into the old teak cupboards in the corner of the cottage.

Just a few days after moving in, all would have changed. The walls would be washed to a brilliant white, the cupboards lined with clean sheets of newspaper and the shelves familiar with the shine of  our own pots and pans. The chulah would be lit and the glow of the fire could be glimpsed from across the divide, from a vantage point in the pantry. We would get a clue as to what was going to be on for lunch.Familiar smells would fill the place and we knew we were home again.


Ingredients in Konkani Cooking

As I reach the completion of  my book on Konkani Cooking I have had fun finding out more about all the more  unusual ingredients used in this cuisine. Right now I have mentioned most of the scientific names and some common names of these ingredients ( also in 10 languages in the glossary of the book) but I'd be grateful for any other insights readers may have about the following:

Spices primarily used :

  1. Black pepper
  2. Fenugreek
  3. Red chillies   For example a.Byadgi b. Birds eye, c. Kashmiri chillies 
  4. Asafetida 
  5. Turmeric
  6. Mustard seed
  7. Cumin

Secondary Spices used:

1.Teppal, Tirphal, trephal, Sichuan pepper

2. Coriander

3. Khus Khus

4.Cloves

5.Cinnamon

6.Bay leaf/ Tej patta (different from Cassia leaf/bay leaf in the west)

7. Cardamon Black and green

 

 

B.Herbs

Green coriander

Green Mango

Curry leaf

Mango Ginger/ aamhaldi

Ginger

Garlic

C. Souring agents used in Konkani food for example

1.Bilimbi fruit of the Avarrhoa Bilimbi tree , also known as cucumber tree or tree sorrel. bilimbi,Irumban Puli,Chemmeen Puli,Bimbul, Orkkaapuli.A very acid fruit sometimes eaten raw as a relish. Mostly dried in salt and used as a souring agent in Konkani food.

2.Carambola/ Karmbal   also known as starfruit is the fruit of the Carmabola Avarhhoa tree,

3 Tamarind

4.Kokum

5.Mango pith

 

D.Vegetables, fruit and flowers  used in Konkani Cuisine

Coconut- Coconut tree. Called Kalpavriksh in Konkani cooking 

Gourds- ash gourd*, snake gourd, bitter gourd, teasel gourd, Ridge gourd, Bottle gourd, *

Malabar Cucumber , Magge

Chayote, Chow chow

Yam, kook, Chinese potato, Wild potato

Sweet potato

Banana, flower, pith and fruit

Drumstick , flower and leaves and fruit

Colocasia, leaves and corms

Breadfruit, /Neer phanas

Hog Plums/ Ambada

Wood apple ( note this is not Bel Phal)

Tender cashewnuts,

Jackfruit, fruit and seeds

Pumpkin, flowers and fruit

Gooseberries /Amla

Karmbal /Star fruit

Gulla or Matti Gulla ( green aubergine)

Greens- Brahmi leaves/Ekpani/Gotu Kola

              Venti

              Vaali

             Thotakoora

             Malabar Spinach

Tender Bamboo shoots

 

E.Lentils /peas

Cow peas

Horse Gram/ Kulith/

Besides, Green gram, Black gram, Pigeon Peas and Red lentils 

F.Fish

Common fish used in Konkani cooking- For example

Lady fish

Shark Ambotik

Rock fish

Do write in with any other local names of ingredients in order to help identify it for other users and also any personal or unusual way in which you clean, cut or cook any of the uncommon ones.

Thanks!


Gluten free grains and flours in India

More and more people the world over suffer from some kind of gluten intolerance. It is worth listing the large variety of gluten free grains and foods available so abundantly in India .

Widely used during fasts, these grains are becoming a regular source of nutrients often substituting for wheat in the daily diet.

Gluten free grains and flours in India with local names

- Rice (all forms, even glutinous),( chawal , tandul) Common Indian foods with rice - khichadi, biryani, dosa, idli, NOT RAwa Idli,

- Corn/maize, Makka, flour made with corn  Makki ka atta

- Potato, Alu

- Soy

- Tapioca/cassava, Ratalu

- Arrowroot, Araru, Araruta

- Sago – Sabudana, Indian food sabudana khichadi and vada

- Lentil/pea (besan, urid, gram flour) Besan pancakes, chila, pakodas made in besan batter

- Amaranth- Rajgira,  Amaranth flour- Rajgira atta,

- Sorghum- Jowar, Sorghum flour- Jowar Atta

- Millet – Millet Flour ( bajri)

-Foxtail Millet, ( Kangni, Korra)

-Pearl millet, (Bajra)

- Finger Millet, ( Mandua, Ragi or Nachni),

-Kodo Millet, (Kodra, Varagu)

-Little MIllet, (KutkiSamai)

-Proso Millet ( Barri, Varigulu,Baragu

- Barnyard Millet ( Jhangora,Baghar , Vari cha tandul)


Auchan not so chaan

Auchan
It took me some time to begin shopping for groceries at supermarket chains. I felt disloyal to my neighbourhood general stores where my rupee contributed to the preservation of "small business".

In the face of horrifying parking issues in Pune ( where not one building has adhered to parking laws, and has sold or rented parking spaces to house yet more shops, so customers are forced to park on the road,  creating more jams, obstructions and stress) I have been forced to frequent the self help supermarkets proliferating all over Pune.. 

It has not all been  under protest though. The parking lots are the main attraction. No major warfare  at the time of parking. Trolleys to save the weight on my arms, airconditioning and choice.All this makes it an option today.The time saved, alone, makes it worthwhile. 

In the beginning it seemed as if every supermarket catered to a foreign clientele- olive oil, pasta, mayonnaise , tinned , processed and unrecognisable foods filled the shelves. However I was glad to notice that one or two supermarkets had the average Indian customer in mind and offered, besides jowar and bajra grains and flour, more niche foods like dosa batter, idli batter and khowa, lassi and paneer.

And so I became a regular customer at Auchan (once known and soon to be known again as Max Hypermarket.)

Ah Woe is Me!!

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For the last month I have been going to the delicatessan counter to pick up the usual batter and have been met with an indifferent ...." Its finished or Just starting to grind, or I dont know , not available. " No explainations, no concern, no attempt to cater to the customer. Nobody had bothered to ensure that products which were advertised were actually stocked or available.

When attempting to make a complaint, there is no manager, no assistant manager, no customer care human available . Have they all gone to lunch at 12 oclock at the same time, or maybe congregating for an important meeting in the toilet?

Unless you stage a dharna and raise your voice no person in sight wants to come forward and take responsibility.

As in all these large companies when it comes to the crunch the customer just has to lump it because no one is hearing. It seems every food retail business in India is making money hand over fist and couldn't care one bit about the consumer....yes, us little people who make your tills ring.

It is no longer worth going out of my way to a supermarket to buy ALL my groceries on the promise of one or two items specific to them, when there is no guarantee that they will be available. For the rest what they stock is what my mom and pop store stocks. So its back to Panchali General store for me.

Bye Bye Auchan and Max