Monsoon season in Mumbai has its own menu mostly comprising of hot tea and a variety of fried snacks, consumed ideally in a balcony or near a window where a light spray from the rain would be a welcome companion.
But for me, the lasting memory of the Mumbai monsoon is the joy of eating freshly roasted corn on the cob, called bhutta, liberally coated with salt, chilli powder and lime juice. My mouth is watering just by writing this!
There would always be a man with a cart selling this delicious treat at Bandstand, in Bandra. Back then the corn was the smaller, paler yellow variety and not the bright American corn now available everywhere. He would roast it on charcoal in a small sigri (stove) and then dip half a lime into a bowl containing mostly salt and chilli powder and massage it into the roasted corn, till it was glistening from the lime juice and speckled with the spices! Then while still warm, he would serve it to you on a plate fashioned from the outer, pale green leaves of the corn.
And there you would stand, watching the high tide lash onto the rocks and dig into the corn till your teeth went right down to the very core. That explosion of the freshly roasted corn combined with the lime juice and spices was the best snack I have ever had on a rainy day.
Now when I want this treat, I need to roast it over a gas flame which doesn’t give quite the same taste as roasting over charcoal. But once the lime and spices go in, it still tastes damn good!
If there’s one thing I miss dearly about being in Mumbai, it is easy access to freshly baked pav – a soft, beautifully leavened bread that pairs many popular snacks and meals in Mumbai. Vada pav, dabeli pav, misal pav, usal pav, pav bhaji, kheema pav, bhurji pav…etc etc.
And nothing can replace pav. It may look like just another bread or dinner roll, but only only after you’ve eaten it in one of the many food pairings listed above, will you truly appreciate its worth.
Early in the morning you will see men on cycles with a large canvas bag hanging near the back wheel, delivering orders of pav to homes and bakeries. My grandfather used to have a standard order of 6 pavs that would be delivered home every morning. 2 of them would be reserved for our dog (these were the days when dog food was not available) and the remaining 4 to be had for breakfast, morning tea and then in the evening.
Living in Singapore meant I had no access to this bread.Friends told me of pav available at Mustafa – but I only found dinner rolls. Bread available at the local bakeries was good, but nothing like pav. And since I had always thought making pav at home would be impossible I continued to have to live without it. (There was an assumption that only the talent and effort in the many small bakeries across Mumbai could produce this wonderful bread)
Till one day I decided it was time to at least explore the possibility of making it. I came across countless recipes and videos on how to make pav which resulted in countless failed attempts to make it. The yeast was not frothy enough, the flour didn’t seem to be right, I didn’t get that miraculous first or second rise after proofing, it was raining, the oven was not hot enough….the mistakes and excuses I made were endless.
Till one fine day after patiently noting down and correcting everything that had gone wrong in earlier attempts, I finally produced a batch of almost perfect pav. Pav bhaji, here I come!
Couple of years ago we had a friend of Aniruddha’s visiting us in India for a holiday. Originally from South Africa, Sean had moved to Australia, where he & Aniruddha worked at the same company.
This was his first trip to India and of course we wanted him to experience as much of Indian food as he could. But we wanted to ensure he wouldn’t be too affected by the spices so we finished every meal with some form of yoghurt followed by other digestives – saunf (fennel), hajmola, paan, etc. Sean was so amused by the number of digestive aids he ate he joked that the second half of the meal seemed to be to digest the first half!
Solkadi is one such digestive aid. Its made from a coastal fruit called kokum which from the outside looks quite similar to a mangosteen. The outer skin of the fruit is dried before being used for cooking. The dried fruit has an odd slightly fermented smell and it is soaked in water to extract the juice which is somewhere on the colour spectrum from deep purple to red.
The juice can be used as a souring agent in curries in place of tamarind juice. But my favourite preparation from kokum is solkadi – a refreshing drink made by mixing kokum extract with coconut milk, ginger, garlic, cumin, pepper, curry leaves and dried red chillies garnished with fresh coriander. Best had after a spicy meal!
This piece is as much a plea to discover and love the Goan pork vindaloo for what it is – a beautifully balanced, hot and sour curry. Not an absurdly hot chili dump with no other dimension to the taste, you may find in a tray labelled vindaloo at the extreme end of a curry joint in England, Sydney etc. That dish may be many things, a vindaloo it is not!
The etymology is apparently the combination of the Portugese terms for wine (vinho) and garlic (alho) and the dish was developed by the Portuguese settlers in Goa substituting palm vinegar for the red wine they used back home with the addition of Kashmiri red chiles and Indian spices. For those who eat pork, it really is the best medium for the vindaloo flavours. I used a nice, fatty cut of pork and let it steep in the vinegar, red chili and spice marinade overnight and cooked it the next day.
Time is your friend with this dish – give the marinade time and then cook it, and the cooked pork tastes even better a day or two later with all the flavors seeping through the meat. A little fresh slaw to cut the heavy flavours and a piece of bread to soak up the gravy, and you’ve suddenly fallen in love with the vindaloo and wondered why you ate those four tablespoon red chili powder monstrosities before!
My favourite wedding receptions are Parsi receptions. They’re light hearted, everyone has fun, alcohol is always available yet no one goes silly over it, the band plays classic hits, old aunties and uncles shake a leg. And all of this is a side show to the main attraction – the food. Glorious, glorious Parsi food.
Having grown up with Parsi neighbours in Bandra and gone to a Parsi school, I am very familiar with their cuisine and absolutely love it. I always look forward to a Parsi wedding invitation because not only do you get served a feast featuring some of their best dishes, when you opt for a non vegetarian meal that is pretty much all you get on your plate 😀
The meal is almost always a sit down affair and there’s always a beeline for the first sitting. The caterers do grudgingly accommodate vegetarians, but relegate them to a corner of the seating area as a silent protest. My poor dad who is a vegetarian would eat his meal with other vegetarian guests, while my mother, sister and I would join the throngs for the non vegetarian meal.
A particular favourite of mine from this wedding feast is Patra ni Machhi or fish in banana leaves. This is made with Pomfret fillets which are coated with a green chutney and then wrapped with banana leaves. These parcels are then placed in a pan and steamed with some vinegar and water. The preparation is quite simple and its the chutney that gives the dish all its flavour – a soft mixture of fresh coconut, coriander leaves, ginger, garlic, green chilli, cumin seeds, pepper and lemon juice.
Khun is a beautiful fabric, made of cotton but almost appears to be made of silk thanks to the lovely sheen it has.
It is traditionally used to make saree blouses and worn as a contrast to the colour and design of the saree. Khun is available in a variety of colours and the more vibrant ones like the green and ochre yellow in the picture or turquoise blue and purple, are my favourites. Although available in Mumbai at Dadar, I asked my mom to source it from Pune where I knew I would be able to find a wider variety of colours.
Wanting to have something very unique and traditional, I had the idea of using khun as part of the table setting when we hosted people for dinner. The picture below is the table setting for a Diwali dinner, where I decided to fold the material in a way that the border would appear right down the centre of my table.
Khun is a really beautiful fabric and I have to find more ways to use it at home!
Aniruddha has been after me for a long time to serve my Tomato Saar (tomato and coconut milk soup) chilled, much like a gazpacho. Since I’ve only ever had it served warm by my mom, I have continued to resist the idea.
However recently I was introduced to the French Laundry cookbook and came across a recipe for Tomato sorbet. Inspiration struck! Never having tried a sorbet before, I boldly decided that my first attempt at making sorbet would involve making it with the tomato saar recipe.
So after reading the French Laundry and other tomato sorbet recipes I realized that my saar recipe already contained most of what was needed to make a fruit sorbet. It was only missing alcohol.
And so after a couple of attempts, which involved patiently freezing, churning and refreezing the sorbet (as I don’t have an ice-cream machine), I finally ended up with a most refreshing tomato sorbet. And the original flavours of cumin, ginger, green chillies and curry leaves make it even more special.
But in an ultimate stroke of genius, I decided to serve it with some tobiko (flying fish roe), finely diced yellow cherry tomatoes and micro greens. Aniruddha’s suggestion has finally been translated into reality…