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Archive for the ‘bombay adventures’ Category

Last weekend, we drove to Hypercity in Malad. Hypercity is set up like an American grocery store, with fresh produce, grains, lentils, and packaged goods all under one roof, along with an electronics area, a book store, and a kitchen store. This is a novel concept in India.

I buy vegetables from the bhaji-wallas, who set up shop on the sidewalks. I know that the bhaji-walla near WIA club, carries “exotic” vegetables like broccoli, basil, cherry tomatoes and rocket lettuce, and that his corn is sweet. Once in a rare while, the bhaji-walla near Chandralok has excellent good avocados, but he’s also sold me awful ones before, so now I make him cut them right there, on the sidewalk, to show me that they really are a creamy green inside. Beets, tomatoes, onions, garlic, eggs- these are readily available at most corners in my area. But we have discovered that the “village eggs” (as opposed to the city eggs?) sold a bit far from us, have yolks the color of the setting sun. On Grant Road, vendors set up Bhaji Gully every day (except Sunday) – a large outdoor produce market- much like a farmers market in America.

We get grains, nuts, oils, imported goods like soy sauce or rice vinegar, and snacks, each from different stores. If I had no ingredients at home and wanted to make spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, I’d have to visit three places. Or Crawford Market, which is a collection of wholesale stalls carrying both imported goods and local produce under one roof.

Or, if I lived close to Malad, perhaps I’d go to Hypercity. Produce, cheeses, imported and Indian cereals, wine, beer, liquor, dals, aachars, every variety of rice imaginable, Indian and imported spices, eggs, food coloring, Pepperidge Farm cookies and Britannia cumin crackers, meat, sauces, frozen dinners, packaged dinners- it’s all there. We pushed our shopping cart through wide, well-lit aisles and picked up a pumpkin, Maraschino liquor, and a sweet-lime pickle. There’s also a section devoted to Waitrose products. Imported pastas, bread flour, tapenades, coffees, cookies, biscuits, canned beans, canned fish, sun-dried tomato spreads, and fancy olive oils and balsamic vinegars are what I remember seeing.

On the ground floor, they also sell pans and kitchen utensils; upstairs, though we didn’t visit, is a Crossword bookstore and electronics department. Oh, on the ground floor there’s even a counter selling diamond jewelry.

It was amazing to see this kind of grocery store in India, but also disorienting, because the system here is so different. On one hand, how convenient, especially for people who work long hours and might not have help at home (like much of America).

Yet, I realize I’ve gotten used to the fact that there are specific stores, or sidewalk stalls, where I’ll find my goods. I like knowing who’s selling the best corn and cherry tomatoes. At Hypercity we bought a bagful of tomatoes because we had planned to make a sauce later, and since it was a Sunday, bhaji-wallas weren’t working. Picking through the glossy pyramid, we noticed many yellow tomatoes, and bruised tomatoes, and it was with difficulty that we filled our bag with unblemished produce. That’s not a problem I have at a vegetable stall, where the produce is generally fresh. Later, we found that the beets and pumpkin we bought at Hypercity had no flavor, at all.

(I just spoke to BombayFoodie, who said that Hypercity’s produce is of much lower quality than what one can find elsewhere but they have priced out all the street side vendors in her area. In her area, there’s no other option of a place to buy vegetables, so now she makes a special trip to a market further away to get her produce.)

This sounds like the beginnings of the convenience versus quality problem- what organizations and people in America are trying to reverse by encouraging people to eat locally, shop at farmers markets, etc. instead of at chain grocery stores. America also has to contend with industrialized farms and genetically modified produce. In India, the logistics between farmers and consumers is a larger problem- Hrishikesh said that at a logistics seminar he attended some time ago, he learned that half of what is produced by farmers in India spoils before it reaches a consumer. Perhaps larger grocery stores (like Hypercity, Reliance Fresh and Nature’s Basket) are attempting to streamline the process and cut down on the middle men and also on wastage, but that doesn’t explain the poor quality of produce.

In a sense, Bombay already has a “farmers market” system- comprised of the vendors on the sidewalks, Crawford Market, and Bhaji Gully. These might not be as welcoming and easy to navigate as the Union Square Greenmarket, and they are not organized in the American sense- there are no pretty labels identifying the farms from which produce comes.  But, these vendors are a system that has been working well.

Hypercity is not the only grocery store in Bombay; Reliance Fresh and Godrej Nature’s Basket are also there, but on a much, much smaller scale. I think Reliance Fresh is pretty awful but Nature’s Basket, although the regular produce doesn’t look that fresh, often has a good selection of packaged Trikaya Agriculture produce- like Brussels sprouts, pea shoots and thyme.

People here are starting to become aware of eating locally and sustainably. The Mumbai Organic Farmers and Consumers Association has started a plan called Hari Bhari Tokri, that seems to be following the model of a C.S.A., pairing consumers with farmers to cut out middlemen, encourage consumers to eat locally, and encourage farmers to grow what consumers will buy. Hrishikesh and I signed up for the winter season, which begins in early November. I think it will be interesting to cook seasonally with mostly Indian vegetables, like snake gourd (padval), and flat beans (papdi).

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Sam Sifton’s creamy scrambled eggs are a revelation. After trying them, I truly have difficulty imagining how I ate regular, tougher scrambled eggs. These eggs are satiny and bright with lemon and the mildest bite of silky scallion.

We make these fairly often, mostly on lazy mornings in Alibaug, when the sun is too strong to do much besides recline and read, or submerge in the pool. These eggs take minimal exertion but to get them right, it’s still important to pay close attention. We pour the egg mixture into the pan and with our wooden spatula, make pretty swirls by pushing them all over the pan while they cook on low heat, but as soon as the first curds form, we add the lemon-cilantro mixture, swirl for another minute, and turn off the heat. The eggs continue cooking in their own heat, you see, so over cooking them in the pan will lead to the type of torn, rubbery eggs I can’t believe I ever ate. A little vigilance on a weekend morning produces such rewards.

We pair these with Sifton’s hash browns; Hrishikesh loves the idea of cooking in ghee (clarified butter). He wants to cook everything in ghee- literally, everything. I try to prevent him from doing this. Sam Sifton was having trouble making hash browns without burning his potatoes and asked the chef at Henrietta’s Tavern, Peter Davis, the secret behind that establishment’s “thick and crusted, brown and nutty” hash browns. He replied: ghee. Hrishikesh did a victory dance when he heard this. A victory dance for ghee lovers everywhere.

“Butter is a fat: a stick of milk solids bound with emulsified oil, suspending some water,” says Sifton, who explains that when you heat butter in a pan, it first foams, then browns, then finally, burns. He learns from Davis that by clarifying the butter- (removing the milk solids)- you can “heat the butter to a higher temperature without burning, make it hot enough to crisp your potatoes and allow the sugars within them to caramelize, to turn into crust.

These hash browns in ghee are buttery and crispy. (Recipe for clarifying butter is below. Or, you can probably find ghee at a specialty store like Whole Foods or an Indian or Pakistani grocery).

Scrambled Eggs with Lemon and Green Onions (or scallions)
adapted (liberally) from The New York Times

2 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
4 green onions, white and green parts finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon (or Indian lime) juice
6 large eggs
4 tablespoons milk

1. Heat 2 tablespoons ghee or butter in a nonstick pan until hot and foaming. Add the green onion, lower the heat, and cook gently for two minutes, then add the garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper, stir carefully to combine and cook for another minute. Add the lemon juice and cook for 30 seconds more, then remove the contents of the pan into a small bowl, and do not wipe off the pan.

2. Break the eggs into a small bowl, pour in the milk and mix together. Heat the pan on high for a minute, pour in the egg mixture, reduce the heat to low and stir gently with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook slowly, until the eggs begin to form into curds. Add the lemon-scallion mixture and continue to cook for an additional minute or so, until the eggs are pillowy. Season to taste. Serves 2.

Hash Browns cooked in Ghee (Clarified Butter)
from the New York Times

4 medium potatoes

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. Peel the potatoes and place them in a large pot of cold water. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium high and cook until you can poke a bamboo skewer through a potato, 40 to 50 minutes, being careful not to overcook. Drain and set aside to cool and dry completely, preferably overnight in the refrigerator.

2. Meanwhile, clarify the butter by melting it in a small saucepan over medium heat. When foam forms, use a spoon to remove and discard it. Cook, skimming, until the butter stops bubbling. Take care not to brown it. Strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and reserve. You should have about 5 tablespoons.

3. Heat a cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Grate the potatoes on the large side of a box grater into a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix lightly. Add 3 tablespoons butter to pan, swirl until it begins to melt and add the shredded potatoes. Cook until golden brown and crusted on the bottom, almost (but not quite) burned in parts, about 15 minutes.

4. Use a wide spatula to flip the potatoes, or quickly invert the pan onto a dinner plate and gently slide them back into the pan. Add remaining butter around the sides of the potatoes and cook the second side until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cut into wedges or spoon onto plates. Serve with eggs, grilled meats, toast and plenty of jam.

Serves 6. Adapted from Peter Davis at Henrietta’s Table, Cambridge, Mass.

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Hrishikesh and I visited the Panorama Hotel for lunch after spending our morning on an arduous two-hour walk along the quiet trails and smaller roads in Mahabaleshwar. Visible from the sunny street that leads to Mahabaleshwar’s market, Panorama’s restaurant looks dreary, cluttered with faded orange table-chair units clumped under lazy fans. On my own, I doubt I would have picked it from the hundreds of similar hotel restaurants in the hill station, but Hrishikesh recalled that he enjoyed their South Indian food as a child. So in we went to try it, that first time, and on many visits since then, walking through the maze of plastic chairs on swivels and peering through the darkness at our reflections in the large mirrors that cover one wall. We walked through the gloom to the outdoor balcony, where the plastic seats looked more appropriate, overlooking the bright, empty pool and small lawn where plump children scattered like stubby bushes.

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Let’s just say I’m the least timely person ever. I know Thanksgiving was almost two weeks ago but between my brother-in-law getting engaged and Bombay life in general, plus my knack for procrastination, this post comes late. But better late than never, right?

I was missing Thanksgiving at home and I wanted to do something to celebrate it here in Bombay. We had a bit of pumpkin lying in our fridge- not enough to make a pie, but after I boiled it and gave it a whir in the mixer, I had about 3/4 cup of puree*. I decided to make Rice’s mom’s squash rolls- these heavenly, buttery, barely sweet rolls that I used to inhale when at Rice’s house on the day after Thanksgiving. I had asked for the recipe two years ago but somehow never made these until yesterday- and I can’t believe I waited so long. I let the dough pouf up enormously, punched it a bit, shaped the rolls, brushed them with butter, let them rise once more, baked them until golden, and brushed them with butter once again. Warm, airy and meltingly soft, they were everything I remembered and more, which made them perfect for my first Bombay Thanksgiving.

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hi, from here

Hello, it’s been a while. What’s been happening here? The rains started and my mood has improved considerably. I know everyone in Massachusetts and New York is sick of their “monsoon.” I guess I would be too if I still lived there; I remember how I hated going down to the subway in the rain (or snow), where all that wetness would quickly steam into humidity. My mom told me none of the flowers she planted are growing because at the most they’ve received a few hours of sunlight. But after ten months of facing Bombay’s obnoxiously enthusiastic sun, the recent spurt of washed gray skies and steady showers have made me so happy. I feel calmer now when I look outside, and contrary to my feelings of being trapped indoors that came when it rained in America, here I feel like it’s finally temperate enough to step out. Hrishikesh and I have been walking when it’s not raining and though it usually starts midway through our walk, after the first five minutes,  we forget about our clammy clothes and instead enjoy the cold water as we climb up a hill. (Climbing down is another matter; I’m terrified of slipping and take baby steps while imprinting H.’s arm with my fingers.)

We’ve been traveling a bit: last weekend we were in Pune, where I spent two hours at the Landmark Bookstore stocking up on all the titles I can never find at Crossword in Bombay. We ate at a mediocre restaurant, Sen5es (Senses?), that’s supposed to be one of the nicest places in Pune. We skipped our usual Pizzeria meal since we had made both pizza and pasta from scratch the week before. The weekend before that we were in Alibaug, where for once, it was cooler than Bombay. We read and watched episodes of 30 Rock and Arrested Development on my laptop. One of the caretakers makes excellent food and one night we had his egg curry, which was a few boiled eggs partially cut and cooked in a red coconut soup. I think we went to Mahabaleshwar the weekend before that.

In the past few weeks, we’ve made: spinach with sesame sauce, mango sushi, roasted marinated eggplant sushi, amazing Tandoori cauliflower, mango salsa, Mexican beans, cold Chinese noodles, pumpkin ravioli, oven-dried tomato ravioli, mushroom ragout, lasagna with fresh spinach pasta, yellow daal, a tofu dressing (you can do amazing things with a mixer), homemade peanut butter (the ones in Rajat had hydrogenated oil and we had three pounds of roasted peanuts sitting in our cupboard), lemon, vanilla and cocoa cupcakes and paninis. Obviously, I’ve been lazy about blogging.

In my next post, I’ll tell you about the scones.

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More hype than bite

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After much googling and vacillating, I finally picked Aurus, the ultra-hyped outdoor restaurant-lounge in Juhu, as the site of my birthday dinner. The internet and our friends had positively reviewed both the ambience and food of Juhu’s number one nightspot. Since driving into suburban traffic is a journey that H. only undertakes for special occasions, I figured I should take advantage of this on my birthday.

From the road, Aurus is all but invisible and not even marked by a sign. We drove past the restaurant, calling at multiple intervals to ask for directions. Each time the hostess told us, “It’s opposite the Ajanta Hotel.” When we finally spotted the (unlit) marker, we advised the hostess to give better directions than obscure landmarks. She argued with us- I guess mystifying entrances contribute to the hype.

The inside of Aurus is uninvitingly dim compared to its gorgeous and peaceful outdoor area. Twinkling lights illuminate pots of plants and flowers and the low, white sofas contribute to the laid back lounge atmosphere. Some lucky tables can even gaze onto a quiet stretch of Juhu beach where a few stragglers hawk their wares against the vast stretch of sea.

Sadly, we enjoyed our surroundings and view of Bombay’s cool crowd more than we did the food. The rice paper rolls with avocado didn’t taste like much other than the mayonnaise-heavy dressing slathered inside them, and the mushroom-topped bread squares were also tediously creamy (the dish had a really appealing name but I can’t remember it). Our pastas tasted like they were made at Spaghetti Kitchen, a chain restaurant similar to Olive Garden. I don’t object to eating generic sauces and fillings at Spaghetti Kitchen once in a while because I know what to expect, whereas Aurus’ prices (at least double of those at S.K.), interiors, and misleadingly tempting menu had me anticipating food that was a tad more unique and exciting. Oh, and the hype. With all that hype from our friends and the internet, both of us did expect better food. (Perhaps the non-vegetarian food is good. I don’t know.)

Aurus’ alluring open-air vibes make it a great place to drink with your friends, but if you’re in the mood to eat a gourmet meal, then look elsewhere. It definitely didn’t fulfill my birthday dinner dreams.

Ground Floor, Nichani Kutir, Juhu Tara Road, Santacruz, Mumbai, 022 67106666

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Birthday dinners should be ultimate, exquisite. Whether I’m dipping bread into a pot of fondue at home or out celebrating at a restaurant, my meal should contain taste, effort, and decadence much beyond the tasty food we eat every day.

This birthday, I fretted for a week over where we should eat. Those with prior experience know that my process of picking a restaurant is painfully thorough, and on birthdays, I become even more obsessed with finding the perfect place. This being H’s first time celebrating my birthday, the poor guy was spent by my selection process.

But, while I admit I am pretty ridiculous and probably intolerable when it comes to picking a restaurant for a special occasion, trying to choose the ultimate restaurant in Bombay is about 100,000 times more difficult than in New York, or Boston. This is because:

  1. In those cities, besides word of mouth from your foodie friends, there are so many sources to consult for reliable reviews: New York Magazine; Time Out; The New York Times; Chowhound; Yelp, and of course, well-written food blogs. After consulting one, or a few of them, you’re highly likely to find a fulfilling restaurant. In Bombay, we’ve got Time Out…and, um, Time Out, probably our best resource, because most of the online restaurant review sites (like mumbai.burrp.com) are questionably written and don’t inspire me to trust the reviewer. Also, Bombay foodies haven’t yet developed the thousands of restaurant reviewing food blogs that New York’s foodies have, so googling a restaurant doesn’t yield many comprehensible results.
  2. Aside from Indian, the variety and quality of Bombay’s restaurant food simply does not compare to the delightful and assorted fare you can order in New York or Boston. But, how can it? The American cities were home to immigrants who tested their culinary creations and reincarnations before a panel of diverse tastebuds- other immigrants. Those dishes I’m so familiar with (dan dan noodles, onion tarts, pizza) have been refined and perfected over long immigrant years. Have you ever been to a Mexican restaurant in Bombay? The food is flat, sweet and sad (though, judging from the crowd outside New Yorker every Sunday, the Guju aunties love their ke-saaah-dyas for deener). (Of course there are other factors- the fairly new culture of eating out, the sudden expendible income, etc.)

I promise I’m not complaining, just explaining why it can be incredibly difficult to choose a place to eat in Bombay when you’re craving something other than Indian food or sizzling frankies from the sidewalk. So. I aim to change this, in a small way. Maybe one day I’ll open a restaurant that serves enchiladas how I like them, with no trace of that horrid, ketch up-y sauce, but until then, what I can do is write restaurant reviews on those occasions we manage to stop cooking and go out for dinner. It’ll be my attempt to make it a modicum easier for the discerning, or annoyingly persevering, vegetarian who loves to eat out.

And did the place I finally picked for my ultimate birthday dinner meet my expectations? You’ll find out in my next restaurant review.

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