Saturday, July 21, 2012

food trail: dosa burger

East is east and west is west and twain shall never meet, whoever said those lines had obviously never had fusion food. Not all experimental cuisine is a success and many a time it is best to let east and west remain separate… and yet I found myself at crossroads one Sunday evening. As I stood with feet firmly in the east but my gaze stretched out towards the futuristic west , with a dosa-burger awaiting my food critiques verdict.
It was an ordinary day, and I had not knowingly stepped out in search of adventure, culinary or otherwise.
 I had no forethought in being wowed by the simple joy of stumbling upon a bizarre concept brilliantly executed; and yet there I was with a group of friends at the Jumbo Bells restaurant in the heart of Madurai, when one of them suggested we try a ‘Dosa burger’. It was not a miss-print, they had clearly meant for both the dosa and the burger to be under the same heading. Not only did the menu offer an exotic hybrid but it also went onto offer this hybrid in vegetarian , chicken, mutton and pork versions!!

Dosa is essentially a south Indian snack, made of crispy fried batter flattened out on a tawa, it is served with a ‘masala’ of spicy potato and onion filling sometimes, and comes with its own coconut chutney and lentil sambar. Burger is what I believe to be the western worlds idea of food on the run, with two slices of bun which are used to sandwich a whole sort of meats, or veggies. Generally served with potato fries and ketchup.
It takes a brave person to combine chutney with ketchup, and our interest was piqued. Would the Dosa-burger be the next big revolution in ‘east-meets-west’ cuisine?
The dosa-burger lived up to it’s name .
Two pieces of crisp fried rounds of batter , enclosed its own filling which was also fashioned like a burger. The fried dosa pieces reminded me more of Utthappam like pancakes, but the flavor was undeniably Dosa Batter. We had ordered a chicken-dosa-burger. The filling was a mix of chunky pieces of grilled chicken held together by what seemed like scrambled egg. It had beautifully blended the good features of the cuisine of both worlds. Like the food of the east it was spicy and tasty, it was cooked slowly (even though burgers are supposed to be fast food, the waiter warned us the dosa burger would take atleast 20 minutes to make), like the food of the west it had a compact food-on-the go kind of presentation. The dosa burger came with it’s own sauces of a coconut chutney and a chicken gravy salaan, much like the gravy served with chicken biryani. But I preferred to have my chicken-dosa –burger with tomato ketchup, somehow it completed the east west fusion, and tasted just right.

No matter how interesting a food sounds, the verdict rests on how good it tastes. After a meal of chicken biryani, grilled chicken (also a speciality of the restaurant), tandoori rotis, we still ordered ourselves a second plate of a dosa burger.
It was an interesting blend of of spices, a sumptuous wholesome goodness of chicken and crisp dosa dripping with ketchup, a satisfying mouthful of a dish. 
At 75 rupees, it was the real ‘happy meal’, move over Mac Donalds you have competition.

Note: The bell’s restaurant have a few outlets in Tamil Nadu, all of them I think serve the Dosa Burger. I have yet to come across another place serving it. They serve it only after 7 as part of the dinner menu.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

food trail : bengali wedding part 1

Bengali weddings are a feast for the senses, the smell of fresh flowers decorating the house, the sight of a blushing bride, the feel of new rustling silks, the touch of haldi on the skin, the sense of excitememt in the air, and above all the taste of a mind boggling number of delicacies specially prepared for the grand occasion. A bengali wedding comprises 4 main events:
Ai buro bhaat
gai holud (haldi ceremony)
 bie  (wedding main)
 bau bhaat

When one attends a Bengali wedding, the first question that one has to answer is "Ki kheli re?"( what did you get to eat) ?!

How did the bride look?how was the decoration?what did one wear? are other popular queries , but nothing beats the deep desire to know the "menu".In fact while eating at one of the many ceremonies, one is wont to ask " raatirer/ kaalker menu ta ki re?" ( what is the menu for the next ceremony?). After years I had the opportunity of attending a cousin's wedding in me the wonderful opportunity to take a foodie trail through the many days of celebration. With the gourmet palate of Bengalis....celebration is synonymous to feasting !!!

The first of the wedding functions is the Ai Buro Bhaat...the last meal as a maiden (similar celebrations happen at the groom's house too).If one thinks that this is going to be one tearful is sadly (or should I say joyfully) is time to feast.

The maiden gets a farewell befitting an princess.
The various courses were rice,dal with fish head,5 types of bhajas,shukto,bhetki machher paturi,kosha mangsho,chutney,papad,
Rice is an integral part of the meal.chapatti and poori were conspicuos in their absence.Steamed rice goes well with dal,bhaja,shukto and bhetki machher paturi. But kosha mangsho has to be relished with the aromatic pulao.
from top clockwise:begun bhaja, potol bhaja,bori bhaja,topshe fry,aaloo bhaja,the centre of paturi (non fried)

Five types of bhaja(deep fried) is mandatory in the Aiy Buro Bhaat platter. Jhur jhure aloo bhaja (potato finely sliced and deep fried to golden brown), begun bhaja (egg plant fried with a marinate of salt and turmeric, untill the purple covering turns crisp and the rest of the egg plant butter soft),potol bhaja(parbal fried, I dont know what it is in english but it is my favourite bhaja),,bori bhaja(,topshe mach( small fish batter fried)....different levels of crunchiness in the mouth....from mildly crisp(potol and begun), to crunchy crisp(aloo), crisp with soft centre (topshe mach),to crunchily crisp (bori)!!
Some guilty soul seeing this deep fried extravaganza place a paturi (steamed) in the centre to nullify the effect and prevent the arteries from choking!
Normally mach bhaja for Bengalis is salt and turmeric coated deep fried fish. Topshe mach is the only one which is enjoyed batter fried (with besan).the salty oilty covering, gives way to a sweet tender fish flesh followed by the crunch of fish bones. Yes we eat the bones as well! I am hoping they contribute to the calcium requirements of the day, because all that Bhaja sure made up for all the lipids I need.
 Paturis are banana leaf parceled fish,which is marinated in mustard sauce and steamed. The banana leaf locks in the tanginess of mustard with the sweetness of fish.It goes best with steamed rice.
 Shukto is a traditional vegetarian dish...white stew(with plenty of vegetables,specially drumstick,green banana) which is bitter, and the bitterness is not concealed but is the signature flavour of the dish! It is generally served as the first course so that the gastric juices pour so that the meal to follow will be relished.
Where there is a Bengali feast can the rosogolla be faraway?! But this 600 years old delight actually originated in Orissa.This by far is the most famous bengali food item amongst non bengalis and for rightful reasons.
But the best rosogollas, the spongy ones one only gets in Kolkata and surrounding Bengal !!! And the famous Bong accent comes by keep this white, succulent, deliciously sweet mishti in the mouth!!
After a sumptuous meal nothing like winding up with a meetha paan...Bangali patta !!!
Untill  the next wedding food trail, bon appetit my fellow revellers!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

food trail :Jigar Thanda

jigar thanda
I had heard of the term Brain freeze or ‘ice cream headache’ (scientific name- sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia ),the weird sensation when you eat ice cream too fast and are struck with a numbing pain around the forehead. Well seems ice creams can do more than just freeze your brain , it can also cool your heart !! That is what the popular and indigenious drink of Madurai the JIGAR THANDA proclaims.
I much prefer the cooling of the heart, and thus went on a foodie trail in Madurai. Madurai is the birth place of the Jigar thanda . An ice cream sundae made of cold milk, flavor of ice cream, indigeneous china grass called kadal paasi and the juice of a medicinal root called sarsaparilla syrup or nannari syrup.The original recipe was brought to Madurai by an ethnic group called the saurashtra and was much popular amongst the Muslims. It is still particularly favoured after a heavy meal of biryani for its digestive properties, also during Ramzan month it sells like hot cakes. Actually hot cakes might notsell as much as the Jigar Thanda. The drink might have been brought to Madurai due to the muslim invasion but the round the year summer in Madurai (Madurai is 9.58N latitude, barely above the equator)has made Jigar thanda an irreplaceable and intrinsic part of the culture of the place.
Even though jigar thanda has an illustrious past , and is still served in its original form across the city of Madurai, it is still open to individual interpretations. New and innovative flavours crop up especially during the blistering months of heat.

 Now I have been in Madurai for long enough to have had my share of interpretations of the famed Jigar Thanda, I had had enough bad interpretations of the heart cooling drink to leave me cold hearted. The hospital canteen or the hostel mess are not the versions of jigar thanda I would recommend. One of the versions I had actually had cold stodgy sabudana (sago ), cold milk, vanilla ice cream and strawberry jam.I know substitution is the mother of most Indian inventions, but Jam and over cooked sabudana is no way to treat a historical drink!!
So this week part of my foodie trail I decided to venture into the heartland of the temple city.
I finally tasted my authentic jigar thanda, and I came back pleased.
 It had home made ice cream, the kind made by churning thickened milk for hours. It tasted much like kulfi ice-cream. It had thickened milk, the kind boiled for hours on slow flame, until it turns from white to brown. The original kadal paasi, which was a stiff jelly like consistency , cut in very small pieces. And a pink coloured fluid, which I was informed is trhe famed Nannaari syrup. The vendor dexterously layered the ingredients one on top of the other in a tall glass, gave the whole thing a brisk shake and served it up with little fan fare. He then proceeded to shake and stir many more of the same, and I realized the immense popularity of the drink.
home made icecream

thickened milk,kadal paasi, and nannaari syrup

at work

It tasted a lot like a cross between kulfi and falooda. I guess the falooda must have been the origin of the original jigar thanda. After all the falooda is a Persian drink traditionally  made by mixing rose syrup with vermicelli,  basil(sabza/takmaria) seeds, jelly pieces and tapioca pearls  along with either milk and ice cream.
The jigar thanda is an inexpensive way to cool down, it also is a fitting example of Indian ethos. We learn from the outside world, we adapt it to our tastes, we will always have some medicinal quality to our food items. Jigar thanda is not just icecream , mixed with cold milk and jelly; It is a drink which helps in digestion, cools the mind and heart, helps in constipation, is an integral part of the local culture, and has deep rooted sense of tradition.