Monday, November 22, 2010

On A Foodie's Trail

The husband and I like any self respecting “bong” have a discerning palate and take the art of gastronomy rather seriously. Weekends are dedicated mostly to the onerous task of deciding where to eat what. We love trying out new eateries and have opinions galore on who serves the best crab in town, which restaurant has the best Teppanyaki , who does the best “Goshtaba” Eating out guides are meant for the un informed, after all who knows better than the Rays!!

Dare an unsuspecting maître d suggest salmon to the husband, we know exactly what the unsuspecting fellow has in store for him. The poor fellow is asked to furnish the credentials of the long dead fish. And before he can mumble an unconvincing reply he will be dismissed with a “I’ve had the best, don’t try to pass of the farmed variety as the real thing” We have a rare expertise in giving “honest” feedbacks at the end of a meal. So honest that we often have the manager scurrying up to us with a worried frown on his face. And yes, I have been woken up from my afternoon siesta only to explain patiently on the phone why we thought that the enchiladas were not up to the mark.

Travelling is another passion of ours (in fact I could write a whole blog on our varied passions). Trying out local cuisines more often than not takes top priority in our itinerary. After all we need fodder for feedbacks.

While planning a trip to Bangkok nearly a decade back, we were quite enthused about sampling authentic Thai cuisine. On landing in Bangkok we set off on a trail to sample the famed Thai curries. We came across Sushi , bubbling cauldrons of soup in which you could dunk ingredients of your choice and even more sushi, but mysteriously Thai cuisine was missing from most of the menus. Of course there was the famed street food of Bangkok that we could have sampled for that authentic taste. But suspicious looking creatures floating in oil or propped on sticks was not exactly our idea of culinary heaven. We eventually did have a few memorable Thai meals. The curries were sweet, subtle and bursting with flavors. The ingredients including the vegetables were the freshest, a far cry from what gets passed off as Thai cuisine in the many restaurants dotting Delhi. And now we have a hearty contempt for the red/yellow/green curry variety and can turn up our nose in the air and proclaim “This is not authentic!!!” After all we can now claim to know our “Nam Pla” from “Nam Phrik”

Any Chinese restaurant worth its ajinomoto in the capital will have “Singapore Noodles” listed in its menu. But has anybody tried this dish in its country of origin?? We tried and couldn’t. We did try the famed laksa, curry puffs, fish ball (??) soup and even dosa, but Singapore Noodles remained elusive. Perhaps this dish is a figment of some chef’s fertile imagination.

Butter chicken obsessed Delhi has little tolerance for continental food. In a buffet spread the continental section will usually have the mandatory “Fish fillet in lemon butter sauce” “Vegetable au gratin” and “Chicken in some insipid sauce”. If the chef is feeling a tad adventurous then Hungarian Goulash makes a reluctant appearance. These dishes are relegated to some forlorn corner, bubbling away in isolation. The husband though makes a beeline for it, he has a hearty contempt for the over spiced Indian dishes and that are usually served in restaurants.

On our first whistle stop tour of the continent we didn’t get too many opportunities to compare notes. We mostly stuck to stoic Indian fare thanks to SOTC, our tour operator. By the time we reached Engelberg in Switzerland we had gotten rather desperate. So we decided to sneak out on our own to try some local specialties. After a long walk in picturesque locales we sauntered in this quaint looking restaurant near a waterfall. Since the menu was listed in German/ Swiss we played a dumb charade game to convey our order. Health conscious me ordered a poached fish. After an impatient 30 minutes and a stomach that embarrassingly growled with stereophonic effects our order finally arrived. The beaming owner placed my order before me with a flourish. And what do I see? This whole ugly looking fish , lying mermaid style staring accusingly at me. I screamed a horrified scream, a scream that transcended all language barriers. My fish was promptly whisked off my table by the apologetic lady and reappeared looking civilized and almost ready to eat. After that we religiously stuck to the staple dal chawal fare with an occasional khakra thrown in, courtesy our Gujarati friends.

We rediscovered fish in a different avatar, on our visit to Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Raw and pickled slivers of fish swimming in an unidentifiable liquid. Red Herring apparently is a much loved Dutch specialty, but try as we might we just couldn’t get ourselves to sample it. And the proper way to have the herring is to pick the fish up by the tail, between your forefinger and thumb, put your head back and let it slide into your mouth gradually. Good green herring apparently melts in your mouth, tastes soft and slightly salty. Yuck . Raw is an assault to the Indian sensibilities. We are used to over fried veggies and meats smothered in spices. Can’t say the same for the husband though. He happily devours undercooked, under spiced dishes. I think he owes it to a childhood trauma. As a toddler growing up in freezing Glasgow he had managed to guzzle the entire miniature collection of liqueurs at a friendly neighbor’s place. Needless to say everyone was traumatized but him.

In the recent past though, the Indian palate has turned global. Delhi is buzzing with new Turkish, Moroccan, Lebanese, Korean joints. The more remote the cuisine is the more appealing it is. And authentic is the new buzzword. So who knows in future the herring may just make a startling debut in the city’s fine dining circles. And we may chance upon an appreciative Mrs Gulati from Pandara road chomping raw fish in delight.

Novel, exotic fare may tantalize our taste buds and make for good drawing room conversation but does it satiate us? Most of my cherished food memories are simple meals had from humble joints. Piping hot mungore with steaming chai in a ramshackle stall to the sounds of rain in Panchmarhi , bread pakora dripping with tamarind chutney from the school canteen, fresh from the tandoor roti with a simple dal from a roadside dhaba are my most memorable meals. And you would all agree that nothing beats the taste of a simple home cooked meal made with love and care.

Just like the world weary traveler who sleeps a deep sleep only in the comfort of his home.
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  1. I can start a boat service in my mouth!

  2. Soooo true....the entire last para is just perfect. Simple, home-cooked, love and care it is :)

  3. Home-cooked is the best...but only when someone else cooks.

  4. I agree with you that simple home cooked meal with love and care is the best. :)

  5. mmmmmm! Yummmm... Its dinner time! Yay!

  6. Harish...The raw fish made your mouth water?? Hahahah

    Shalmalee...Like Giribala said...simple home cooked fare but only if someone else is cooking it for you :)

    Giribala...My sentiments exactly.

    Chandrika...Yes...yes..But I guess you appreciate home cooked food as you get older.

  7. Priyanka...And what's cooking for dinner?

  8. What happened to everyone? This is the 4th blog I have read today on food :| and am hungry! :|By the way, being passionate is the only way to live life! :)

  9. Written like a true Bong...Being a vegetarian, could not salivate while reading the first part, but home cooked food beats them all.Interesting read!

  10. Ray of hope for the culinarily challenged

  11. am already "hungry again". by the way for all "home food cooked by others" lover there is(or should i say 2 years back...havent got a chance to go there recently) a very small joint called"meeting point " in south extension part 2 which is somewhere In L BLOCK tugged away inside from the main road or the Market and i must say the quality of "homefood" which they serve is amazing ...not so taxing on the pocket..a hangout for most of the office lunch crowd and the niit students...try it out..small place with not much seating capacity but great food.....also try our very own chicken wings cooked with grindrice and fermented fish by the kabuicommunity of the manipuri naga tribes (check out the small northeast dhaba inside JNU) or the fish chutney...amazing

  12. well I just returned from Bangalore. No "Mysore" Masala dosa :)

  13. Aditya...Really?? LOL.
    Absolutely, passion is what makes life livable.

    Alka...I like my veggies too, but only at home :))

    magiceye...Hope I didn't put you off to sleep.

  14. Prats...Love that line!!

    radhakant....Have heard some much about the fish chutney. I have to try it out one of these days. Parking at South Ext is such a nightmare! Maybe one day I will try out "meeting point" too.

    The Knife...Egggjactly!!!

  15. So very well said. We eat some of the best and most delectable food in all sorts of high places but we need to come back home and to the smaller places that we're so used to and love.
    Trying food in South East Asia can be a nightmare, though. I once tried crocodile or alligator in Singapore. I don't remember which it was but it was disgusting.

    Anyhow, we live to eat, and not eat to live.

  16. Nice Article very useful for me.Thank you

  17. The description of the food was like the times when I went to the restaurant with the L&M and the brats -- can't look or stand the smell of all those once 'live' foods. I love eating out but am not too adventurous though. Agree about home food. If I don't get my dose of curd rice for a few days, I am in the throes of withdrawal :)

    And did your husband really 'guzzle up the entire miniature collection of liqueurs' as a kid? :D

  18. D2...Crocodile meat??? That's brave.


    Zephyr...I love curd rice too, but only in summers.
    He did guzzle it all and didn't hic even once...Part of the family folklore.

  19. well written!! nw i can make like this?

  20. Believe will starve yourself to death here in Trivandrum. This is a foodie's nightmare

    And in no time you can contract numerous gastro diseases thanks to all those chemichals they add.

    Yea...I heard Bongs have got the best cuisines in India...your sweets are the best!! the only tough part is pronouoncing the names

  21. I realized this after surviving on 'appam' for two days in another town...home is the place to be..home is the place to eat!

  22. Mom doesn't experiment much and we hardly travel so I do not have much experience with different cuisines. It's just home-made rather mom-made.
    By the way, I do not mind eating undercooked food but raw is something that I would never try. I wouldn't mind raw egg with a pinch of salt.

  23. Vivek...Make what?

    Jon...But I love Mallu cuisine. Loved the food at Kumarakom and Ernakulam.

    Raksha...I quite like Appams, especially with stew :)

    Nethra...You should try eggnog, but it's sweet.

  24. Food! I love food!...luckily I cook all kinds and eat all kinds too!

  25. You're so lucky to have been on all these trips and even luckier to have tasted authentic cuisine. I'd give anything to be in Japan and South Korea just to savour the variety of delicious-looking soupy noodles, okonomiyaki, nabe, soju or yakisoba, sushi or some Korean kimchee, kimbap and so on.
    Sometimes I wonder why Japanese and Korean cuisines aren't as popular as the Chinese one. Not a single Korean eatery that I know of in Kolkata. :(

  26. Nalini...Me too, as long as someone else is cooking.

    Samadrita...We have two very popular Korean joints (K2 and Gung) near our place. Come to Gurgaon, will take you there.

    Shail...Wow, thank you!!

  27. delicious post... very true facts...

  28. The best Thai food I've had is at a tiny place in the market next to the Grand palace. Go back everytime. There's a man with long white hair and his wife who run that joint. It's pretty just point to what you want if it's curryish they serve it with rice else it's the soupy stuff. They had the most amazing grilled fish and red curry I've had ever. And even other joints in that city pale in comparison....I guess that's the case with any food. If you think you've had the best, you're doomed for dissapointment for the rest of your life!!

  29. you see its ok you had fun
    but then why make the readers droool over such mouth watering foood

    ab yeh to acha nahin hai na

    and beleive me you invite me for food you will never hear NO .. or rather i can still gatecrash without invitation tooo for FOOOD :)

    lovely mouth watering post.. envy you ... cant wait to eat all that on my visits home ...


  30. Pooja..:))

    Ujjwal...Yupp we had some of the best experiences in the small, non- descript eateries. One of them was near the Grand Palace. As such I intend to go back to Bangkok again, I missed Ayutthaya last time.

    Bikramjit...Maa ke haath ka khaana :))

  31. Hi Purba,I enjoyed the write up more than the food. I am definitely not a foodie so my world of food revolves around the simplest five or six types.

  32. Arpana...Ohh..that makes life so much simpler.

  33. oooh Purba
    Good one.. Honest.. I love your style.
    Even i did not find singaporean noodles in singapore.
    Come to mumbai we shall have a food adventure.

  34. I know...we will have a blast! Maybe someday I will!

  35. Purba, I am glad you left a trail back for me to come this your great writing.

    Will you laugh at me if I tell you, I have Sashimi cravings?

  36. PreeOccupied...No, not really. I've had raw halibut and didn't quite mind it :))

  37. I'm really Glad i found this site.Added to my bookmark!


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