FORTUNE COOKIE: A Bold New Avatar of Indian Cuisine 2,0
WHEN the Taj veteran, Arvind Saraswat, wrote The Gourmet Indian Cookbook in 2004, I could not stop admiring the beauty of each dish whose recipe was presented in the slim, glossy, hardcover volume.
Saraswat would say that he had been inspired to devote many years working on the recipes because of a barb from the father of French nouvelle cuisine, Paul Bocuse. On a visit to India as a guest of the Taj, Bocuse had said to Saraswat that Indian food tasted great, but it didn’t excite the eye and make one want to eat it. Saraswat rose up to the challenge, but his cookbook sank without a trace, just like Michelin-starred Vineet Bhatia‘s Mushk restaurant, which opened in 2002, where he courted Delhi’s palate with novelties such as truffle oil-flavoured naan or his favourite squid ink-infused black chicken tikka.
Both efforts were way ahead of their time. It was five years later that Varq at the Taj Mahal Hotel and the now-famous Indian Accent opened to a tepid response, and another five years had to lapse before Gaggan Anand, Saraswat’s former acolyte, dazzled the world from his Bangkok restaurant, ranked 17th in the world, with his brand of Progressive Indian Cuisine.
These thoughts raced through my head as I stepped into Farzi Cafe at Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub for a sneak preview a couple of days ago. A project of Zorawar Kalra, who has seen complimentary reviews (the latest in The New York Times) pour on his Masala Library in Mumbai, Farzi Cafe promises to give Delhi-NCR’s dining culture a new direction. The young man behind the show is 26-year-old Himanshu Saini, who had his first date with fame when he won Chicago/New York restaurateur Rohini Dey‘s much-publicised ‘chef hunt’ last summer by dishing up a sarson da saag quesadilla with butter milk foam.
To a traditionalist, Saini’s creations, and the artefacts they arrive in, may seem straight out of Mad Hatter’s tea party, but their beauty lies in the way they tantalise the imagination using the tools of molecular gastronomy (notably liquid nitrogen) without deviating from the real flavours of Indian cuisine. That is exactly what Modern Indian Cuisine is all about. Its practitioners don’t use, for instance, squid ink because it has no Indian connect.
When at Farzi Cafe you are served a mini raj kachori stuffed with kurkure bhindi surrounded by islands of chutney foam, each element tastes just how it is supposed to. As does the idiappam sushi with prawn pepper fry, or the sarson da saag gilawat kebabs, corn tostadas, chhaas spheres and masala popcorn, which may sound like a gimmicky reinvention of the Punjabi winter staple, sarson da saag–makke di roti, but actually tastes right while looking oomphy. This combination of the right marriage of flavours and the elements of surprise is the leitmotif of the Farzi Cafe menu.
The bhoot jholokia spare ribs not only melt in your mouth, but also make you feel braver after having the world’s hottest chilli; the chilli duck samosa with hoisin chutney and the galouti burger with mutton boti will leave you admiring the sheer ingenuity of the medleys of flavours and textures; the pumpkin khao suey, yet another flash of inspiration, will awaken you to the limitless possibilities of the humble kaddu; and you’ll smile when the chicken tikka masala with Cornish cruncher cheddar cheese naan arrives in a replica of a public telephone booth you’ll see all over London.
The same streak of innovation runs through the desserts (Parle-G cheesecake on a pool of rabri studded with Gems chocolate spheres) and the molecular cocktails (mixologist Aman Dua left me groping for words of praise with his mango spaghetti in gin with a grape infused in a red wine reduction), but the cherry on the icing is the paan gujiya, which is a dehydrated paan inside a candyfloss casing. That, in a sense, defines the Modern Indian experience: quirky but not contradictory.
MISTRAL MENU INTRODUCES DELHI TO THE JOYS DUCK’S EGGS
A MEAL with Reynaud Palliere, CEO (International Development), PVR Cinemas, is a lot of fun, for he may be crunching numbers for a living, but he brings a Frenchman’s passion for food to the table when he’s not running marathons (he has done New York, London, Tokyo and Sydney; Mumbai and Capetown are his next stops).
When we met earlier in the week, at Mistral adjoining PVR Director’s Cut at the Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, our conversation started with the amazing weekend Palliere had just spent at Tikli Bottom, the Chhattarpur hideaway run by a British couple, Martin and Annie Howard, at the far end of a village named Tikli (it’s a pilgrimage for every expat who lives in Delhi). I then got fixated on the fried duck’s eggs, which are a part of the restaurant’s all-day breakfast menu, served with a summery salad, hollandaise, toasted bread with parsley butter, and an orange-pineapple relish.
As I looked at the fried eggs, their perfectly semi-circular yolks appearing like twin images of the setting sun, memories of the summer vacations I had spent in Kolkata as a child flashed in my mind’s eye. Duck’s eggs are a delicacy among Bengalis — you get them fresh every morning in Kolkata, brought to the city by women from neighbouring villages who pick up what they find by the side of ponds where ducks, a strain of the Muscovy variety known as Chinae Hans (the name indicates the ancestors of these birds came from China), live in good numbers across rural West Bengal.
Mistral gets its duck’s eggs from the French Farm in Manesar, which is run by a temperamental yet much sought-after Frenchman named Roger Langbour (and his Muscovy ducks have nobler strains). The restaurant’s executive chef, Mayank Tiwari, a graduate of what I call the AD Singh school of hospitality, took nine minutes to get the perfect fried eggs, their uniformly proportioned whites balancing the bright orbs at the centre. There’s more to recommend the restaurant for — the gazpacho, pumpkin risotto and the Persian koobideh (seekh) kebabs are my personal favourites — but I can keep going back only for the duck’s eggs.
HAVING DUCK EGGS THE BENGALI WAY
DUCK EGGS seem to be in vogue, especially because they have thicker shells, which means they stay fresher longer; more albumen, which makes them best for cakes and pastries; and more Omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the brain and the skin. There’s one catch, though. They have double the amount cholesterol in chicken eggs, which is bad news for the heart. They also have very little moisture, which can be a problem if you are trying to whisk a duck’s egg, and fried eggs can become rubbery if you aren’t a skilled handler of duck’s eggs. I just love the way they are cooked in West Bengal — as a curry (dimer dalna). Duck’s eggs, funnily, entered old-fashioned Bengali kitchens much before chicken eggs were allowed!
MANJIT GILL’S QUEST FOR AN INDIAN DATA BANK OF RECIPES
WE LIVE in a cornucopia of cuisines, yet the world knows so little about our country’s culinary heritage. To bridge this knowledge gap, the Ministry of Tourism has teamed up with the national body of chefs, Federation of Indian Culinary Associations (FICA), to launch a multi-disciplinary effort to create a central databank of recipes (at least ten of them) from each of the country’s 640 districts. We owe this idea to FICA President and Corporate Chef, ITC Hotels, Manjit Gill, who was inspired by his visit to Bucharest, Romania, for the International Congress of Culinary Traditions earlier this year. And he found an eager listener, and doer, in Parvez Dewan, Secretary, Tourism.
Gill says his team will have 600 recipes, a tenth of what is intended to be collected, ready for the Modi government’s 100 days in power. Imagine the world this exercise will open up. Where else are you going to find the kind of variety we are able to savour even among jalebis! A Gohana jalebiweighing 250 gms apiece (almost like the ones dished up by Chandni Chowk’s Old & Famous Jalebiwala) is a story by itself, as is the dark brown Burhanpuri mawa jalebi, which is a Ramzan must-have at J.J. Sweets in Mumbai’s Bohri Mohalla. The national databank will make us understand this diversity and treasure it.
This column first appeared in the Mail Today edition dated July 17, 2014.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.