Three generations in the railways….

My mum sometimes jokes that my generation – my sister and me – sadly broke the three generation run my family has had serving the Indian railways. First, my great grandfather who served in the then, British-run railway as a station master in present-day Bangladesh, my grandfather who worked across both the British India and Indian railways, and my mother who also worked her entire career in the Indian railway medical services.

My dad spent pretty much sixty years living in Railway houses (or quarters as they were called), moving across various parts of West Bengal and Bihar with my grand father and then we all lived in one of the famous Railway ‘colonies’.

Think my Dadu (grandpa) would have been amused if I told him we can’t seem to string two sentences together in a business meeting without using the word ‘platform’…because when he said ‘building a platform’, he meant it in simpler and more literal terms! (He was a key member of the team that built the Kharagpur train station platform – still one of the longest in the world).

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Model of the first locomotive that ran in India – nicknamed a ‘Bloomer’

Our holidays were always punctuated with a train journey at either end. I can still feel the excitement over ordering the egg curry on the 1-up and 2-down train we would take to and from Calcutta, and the excitement as the train pulled into Howrah station, as I was about to be spoilt rotten by my grandma, grandpa and Mama (uncle) over the holidays. But it was always the train journey and the pulling into Howrah that marked the start of that yearly gastronomic adventure. The tiffin carriers with mutton curry, puris, and snacks we carried onto the train (in case, heaven forbid we ran out of food!), and then all the snacks and meals on the train and even more importantly, all the wonderful food from the platforms! The puri bhajis, the omlette sandwiches, the cutlets, the bhajiyyas….

Maybe three generations of being in and around trains and railway platforms will do that to you, but even now, I get these Pavlovian hunger pangs every time I  get on a train for a halfway long journey. Maybe I should see someone about that!

The supper club pilots

Over the course of last year, we have done many trials of our supper club to check if the concept, the menu, the food, the courses, the quantities and the overall experience worked for our guests as much as it seemed to work out in our head!

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive giving us the confidence to finally launch the Bombay Howrah Dining Car 🙂

Here’s a look at the many dishes and fun evenings we’ve had so far…and here’s to many more to come.

Priya & Aniruddha

 

 

 

 

Eat sesame, say sweet things!

Today is Makar Sankranti, a festival celebrated across India to mark the beginning of spring and the harvest season. In Maharashtra we celebrate the festival by making sweets from sesame and when we offer the sweets to family or friends, we say ‘til gul ghyaa, goad goad bola’ which means enjoy the sesame and jaggery and say sweet things.

At home my grandmother and mother would make tilachi wadi or sesame and sugar syrup sweets. They would roast the sesame over a low heat till it released a fragrant smell and then grind it. Then make a simple syrup by heating the sugar and water and once it reached the needed consistency they would add the ground sesame into it, mixing it well to make a soft paste. My job was to then take the old wooden moulds we had and press the still warm sesame mixture out into little blocks and then top them with grated dry coconut. Such a simple recipe yet so delicious. Back then I could easily eat a couple of these sweets in a day but of course now I could manage only 1-2.

While the occasion of Makar Sankranti deserves a more worthy food post, not having made any tilachi wadi or til gul (sesame sweets or sesame & jaggery brittle) the only thing I could write about are these Sesame lavosh that I serve with our mezze platter. Made from a simple mix of flour, canola and sesame oil, black and white sesame and salt, they are super easy to make and taste absolutely amazing.

Perhaps later today I might make my semolina and sesame cake at home 🙂

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Sesame lavosh
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Sesame lavosh cut into slices

A cake that makes me feel chuffed!

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Lemon sponge cake with lemon curd

By right this post should be written by Aniruddha, since this is his effort and endeavour. But I was so proud when I saw the end result that I decided I would do more justice to the post by writing it myself.

One fine day, Aniruddha decided he wanted to learn how to make lemon curd – a noble ambition and one that I wholeheartedly supported. To top that he decided to make a lemon sponge in which he could then layer the lemon curd. Even more support from me, since lemon sponge with lemon curd is actually a dessert from my favourite bakeries in Mumbai – Candies and MacCraig!

And so Aniruddha patiently stood and stirred and made the most amazing and delicious lemon curd I have ever had. Bright yellow, tangy and lemony, as it should be! And if that were not enough, he then baked a light and airy lemon sponge cake as well. The cake was simply delicious. He took it to his office where I believe it was demolished in a matter of minutes.

And this from a man who till a couple of months ago had never baked or made any dessert, preferring to focus all his cooking effort on meat only. So, so proud! 🙂

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It was a Battenburg!

check cake

I realized only very recently that the Battenburg cake is actually my childhood cake treat called the checkered cake!

As a kid I used to love having this cake because of the different colours. And in spite of the fact that all 4 colours tasted exactly the same I would take the squares apart and eat them in a particular order starting with the green, yellow and usually leaving the pink or chocolate coloured square for the end.

The cake is made by Venus Confectioner’s and still sold in the same plastic wrapper and tastes pretty much the same. A very sweet cake best enjoyed with a cup of tea or coffee. So happy that some things haven’t changed!

Priya

My Introduction to Bengali cuisine

Before Aniruddha and I were engaged, my knowledge of Bengali cuisine was very limited. I knew that fish was a big part of their diet but I wouldn’t have been able to name a single dish. And my father had convinced me that the best Bengali sweets (notably sandesh) were available not in Kolkata but in Nagpur, his hometown.

Aniruddha and his family opened up the world of Bengali food to me and when I started experiencing the cuisine, I realized just how much I had missed out on. Fish was an integral part of the diet, but there was so much more to it.

I tasted unusual vegetable combinations and flavours in shukto and chorchori (mixed vegetable dishes typically cooked in mustard oil). I enjoyed dal preparations like cholar dal (slightly sweetened dal made from Bengal gram). I was introduced to paanch phoron, the Bengali 5 spices of onion seeds, fennel, cumin, mustard and fenugreek. I discovered kashundi, the Bengali mustard sauce. I learnt that poppy seeds are as much a part of their cuisine as they are in Marathi food. I experienced nulen gur (date palm jaggery). And of course I went through a wide range of Bengali sweets especially sandesh (a light dessert made of a ricotta-like cheese). I later realized my father’s love for his home town had clearly muddled his taste buds.

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Paanch Phoron – 5 spices
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Kashundi – mustard sauce

I learnt that the Bengali obsession with all things meat is second only to that of the Parsis. A Parsi wedding feast is slightly extreme. If you opt for non-vegetarian, that is pretty much the only thing you are getting on your plate 🙂 And vegetarians, like my father, are relegated to one corner of the dinner hall.

Bengalis are more inclusive. A traditional meal which is served in courses has vegetarian food served, consumed and done with before moving on to more exciting non vegetarian options. I learnt this the hard way at a dinner hosted by Aniruddha’s relatives. Not knowing that there would be courses, I tucked into the first couple of vegetarian dishes and had a lot of trouble trying to cope with the dishes that came in later. I also learnt that trying to argue with a Bengali hostess is in vain.

The Bengali opinion on culinary matters was another part of my education. Well, the Bengali opinion on anything and everything is also something to experience.

  • Evidence 1: To me, the samosa and shingara (fried flour pastries with a vegetable stuffing) look the same, though the filling is different (samosa is mostly potato while shingara has cauliflower and peanuts also). However to the Bengali they couldn’t be further apart and any insistence that they’re essentially the same thing with a different name can provoke an extreme reaction
  • Evidence 2: The pani puri vs. phuchka, both street snacks in the respective cities of Mumbai and Kolkata and made of deep fried wheat and semolina puffs stuffed with an assortment of boiled potato and/or lentils. The boiled lentil in the filling is a key point of difference between the Mumbai version which has it vs. Kolkata which doesn’t and which apparently makes the Mumbai version inferior. The second point of difference is the water that it is dunked into. Not willing to relinquish this debate, I still maintain that the Mumbai pani puri is better!
  • Evidence 3: The Mumbai frankie vs. the Kolkata kathi roll. Both rolls made from parathas and stuffed with meat or veg fillings. I believe the two should not be compared as they are quite different and both are good in their own right.

Mercifully since Aniruddha grew up in Mumbai he takes a benign view of these debates.

And so after almost 14 years of being married into the community, learning dishes from my mother-in-law and eating in Kolkata, a small part of me is also Bengali. Through the Bombay Howrah Dining Car, hopefully more people will be exposed to Bengali cuisine.

Priya

The chutney I grew up with…

We all have fond recollections of our mom’s cooking. Of coming home from school to be greeted with something comforting and hot. Of waking up on sunday morning and looking forward to a delicious breakfast. The unexpected home-made cake as a treat.

My recollections are no different. But the one thing I remember most fondly is my mom’s hirvi (green) chutney. A simple chutney made by grinding fresh coconut, coriander leaves, garlic, lemon juice, green chilli, salt and sugar.

This chutney went into sandwiches on school picnics or when friends came home to celebrate my birthday. It went into mom’s stuffed Pomfret preparation accompanied by a red chutney on the other side of the Pomfret. It appeared on the thali during Diwali lunch. Sometimes I ate it with homemade idli and sambhar. And if I got hungry and didn’t know what to eat, I would spread it on some bread with some cheese and toast it.

The years went by…but the green chutney is still in the fridge. It has moved from its white bowl with red flowers to my chini mati (clay) bottle. And from mom’s fridge to mine.

Priya
chutney