Greetings from India, TATTGOC faithful. Myself and Saagatha Christie are a month into a three-month Indian odyssey and the food has been by far the highlight of our trip so far. In the north we were treated to incredible rich curries and side dishes with a huge array of breads to mop them up with. I thought that east London was good for Asian food but it isn't even close to the stuff we have been served, breakfast, lunch and dinner all over India. Rotis, naans, chapatis and parathas brought to your table freshly made and glistening with ghee. One particular paratha we ate was mixed with potato and the result was like a giant tattie scone. We got served three slices of this with our thali and I worked out that it was equivalent to around nine tattie scones. Gut-busting heaven. My diet has been high-fat, high-carb, mostly vegetarian ... but maximum taste and flavour.
I've eaten my own body weight in bread and half of that in paneer cheese. The occasional chicken dish such as Delhi's United Coffee House butter chicken is some of the finest food I have ever eaten. A new dish to me is Malai Kofta, which is paneer cheese and potato in crumb-coated balls, deep-fried (kind of like a cheesy potato croquette) which sits in an exquisite creamy, spicy, cashew sauce (or gravy as the sauces are known here). "Delicious gravies" is a phrase which is as nice to say and hear in an Indian accent as the "gravies" are to taste. Amazing dhals (spicy or cooling), curd, fried okra and various pickles and chutneys all add to the depth of variety in the cuisine. I really could eat it all day, every day.
In our favourite restaurant in Fort Cochin, Dal Roti, the owner (a real character who reminds us of one of the guys that Eddie Murphy plays in the barbershop of Coming To America) told us that there are thousands of dishes in India – all which have a particular combination of spices passed down through generations. Change an ingredient slightly or the quantity of spice and you change the dish. Gordon Ramsay apparently cooked in the Dal Roti kitchen during his recent TV tour of India and used olive oil instead of coconut oil. Ramsay's meal was deemed inferior in a taste-off between him and the Dal Roti cooks. Ye cannae teach yer granny to suck eggs!
This, according to the owner, means that India is a nation of cooks, not chefs. They do not necessarily innovate; they follow the wisdom of thousands of years. I'm in no position to argue with that.
While in Kerala, myself and Saagatha Christie went on a day's cookery course with Nimmy Paul. We learned a whole host of Keralan dishes and then got to eat them. We learned to make sambar (a heart vegetable broth kind of like a dhal), rasaam (a fiery soup), marinated and shallow fried Karimmen or Black Pearl fish (like a perch) and Keralan prawn curry.
That was just for lunch ... our evening meal was as follows:
- Drumstick soup (drumstick is a vegetable called murungakkai ... nope, me neither)
- Paneer and potato curry with rice pancake
- Roast chicken, dhal and chapati
- Ginger cake and ice cream
All washed down with delicious Kingfisher beer.
The highlight for me was learning how to make my own paneer cheese. It's incredibly easy, actually. All you need is milk and lime. Bring the milk almost to the boil then add the juice of one lime. Turn off the heat and stir. Then drain off the liquid with a muslin cloth and put something heavy on it for a few minutes. Hey presto, delicious cheese!
We also made our own chapatis and paratha. A great day!
An honourable mention also goes to the massive blue King Prawns we bought beside the canal on a backwater boat trip in Kerala. The crew cooked them up for us and it was amazing – a really fiery, delicious treat.
That's all for now. I'm off to get some lunch ...