Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Sambar by gora? Thanks, but no thanks!

Remember the time when there was talk of Sonia Gandhi becoming Prime Minister and everyone was angry about why a 5000 year old culture, a country with one billion people needs a foreign prime minister? Indians have pretty much the same attitude about food – we’ll eat all types but we don’t want the goras and the expats messing with our culinary traditions, do we?

I mean, I don’t mind.
I love it when the food boundaries splinter and you can have a khichdi that’s sort of a ‘’ non-syrupy Indian basmati risotto’’ or ‘’Gul-aam- gulab jamun with aam ki kheer’’, scallop brochettes with raw mango and black lentil khichdi.
I love it when cuisines blend like water colours ever so harmoniously. Obviously my first experiments in blending unlikely flavours began in boarding school when we’d crush boiled egg into sambar or put jam in the porridge. For a while after though, I was fated to eat only boxed cuisine like paneer butter masala and butter naan or adai with avial. There is the occasional paneer dosa, the concept of which I abhor, Schezwan idly which can be nice and since I am a pizza purist- paneer on pizza is blasphemy.

There is this fashionable vegetarian restaurant in Edinburgh – David Bann where for instance you can have Chilli with sweet potato and chocolate sauce-
A chilli of butterbean, kidney bean and tomato with roasted sweet potato and corn cake. Served with green beans, guacamole, chocolate and chilli sauce with crème fraiche
Now, in Switzerland I went to Restaurant Hirscheneck, the rebel among restaurants – the only place in Basel where you will find more than one woman with a nose stud and a long colourful skirt.
Bright, informal and loud in a welcoming way, the chefs here pick elements from Asian and European styles of cooking and come up with a different menu every day. Locals say it was a hotspot during the student protests of the 70s and 80s and it seems like a relic from that time and spirit.
But the menu is as new age globalization as ever – Sweet potatoes served with a Thai sauce and Swiss cheese. (This was divine). These two restaurants were my first experiences of creative food, of food as an art, as a representation of the world we live in where we’ve learnt to adopt each other’s cultures in some parts of our life – culinary or otherwise.
C is an expert at inventing recipes although cooking is relatively new to me.
As he says one of the yummiest ’fusion’ things he makes is a roll made of Mexican chapatti(tortilla), sugo all'arrabiata (tomato sauce with herbs and chilli) , Asiago cheese and lots of fresh rocket leaves – essentially Italian and Mexican influences. But it worked- the sharp flavour of rocket and the rich full bodied spiciness of the sauce nicely balanced by the mild cheese.
He just put these things together and it worked.
Now getting to my point about experimental Indian cooking, this article talks about why India is the toughest market for modern Indian food. A part of the reason they say is the attitude that foreigners can’t do better what we’ve been doing for hundreds of years.
We don’t want someone from Dover to reinvent Dal Makhni for us but apparently that’s what expat celebrity Chef Vineet Bhatia does in Delhi.’’ Dal Makhani that’s first scorched and then scolded in a liquid grinder into a thin, intense buttery sauce, and finally laced with truffle oil to give it shine’’ And spicy foie gras that even Bikki Oberoi admires.
There is this restaurant I remember in Belfast (out of all places) that did Indian tapas. Even I laughed. The first time I heard of Tapas is when I ate at Zara in Chennai but Indian Tapas seemed like a strange idea to me. Not anymore.

Ofcourse, only when food types accquire snob value do they make it to magazines.
Because oppossite the World Trade Centre in Cuffe Parade,Bombay, 5 enterprising men set up a makeshift stall every evening and sell the most magical invention ever - Mongolian pasta. This costs hundred bucks but we know that only South Bombay people would pay that much for street food, that is if they ever eat it at all.
Come on guys, Puritanism in food is passé.

(Photos from Tehelka)
2)Patti aloo with beetroot khichdi
3)Roast lobster with brocolli khichdi
You might like to read about ME and the art of cooking.


Mumbai Paused said...

:) Very true.
You should try the Ziya then. I'm sure you will like it. None of the usual fusion gimmicks. It's a well designed and crafted menu.

Ghanshyam Nair said...

Interesting, that Tehelka story.
I don't think Indian food is puritanical per se. It's always been permeable to external influences, but only as far as ingredients, not so much techniques and ideas of how we think about food.
There hasn't been a movement similar to nouvelle cuisine, for instance, or a widespread attempt to deconstruct Indian food and make it cleaner in terms of flavours.
So, for example, we haven't really challenged the idea of throwing together an assortment of spices, whole or in powdered form - we don't try and let the flavour of clove or cardamom speak singly.
Or ask questions like why panch phoron and not char or teen, and use traditional Indian ingredients in new ways.
Unless that happens, it'll simply be a case of marrying foie gras and truffles to Indian ingredients - not a bad thing at all, but limiting in terms of target audience and scope.

Y? said...

@ Yes I will try it one of these days.:)
@Ghanshyam - That's true.We as Indians don't want to confront the monotone,we want loud dramatic flavours no . This reminds me of this youghurt salad I ordered in Pune and we wished it was 'talichikotified'.hahaha.