Dum Pukht

I had written this a few years ago, found this among some stories that i have written. You may read this as a story, or simply a description of a place i been to, that is up to you, dear reader.

Khaanaa Aabaad, Daulat Zyaadaa.

The evening was magical. Dinner at the Dum Pukht. The ambience decidedly reminiscent of the Nawabs. Low lighting. Songs, sung to the accompaniment of the Haarmonium and the Tablaa, the variety that appeals to old fuddy duddies like me, at any rate. Did the gentleman who was singing recognize me from my earlier visits, or was he just being courteous? Not exactly chandeliers, though the lighting did add to the magic of the ambience. Bas, yoon samajhiye, shamaa ki qasar reh gayee. Even an electric one would have been nice.

I decided to venture for the Diwaan, the low seating arrangement. Definetely a pleasant change from the dining table. And, quite comfortable, too. Though, I hope they do something about the cushions which have this annoying habit of falling on you while you are eating. I would recommend taking off your shoes when being seated. Though its not mandatory, I like to believe that’s an essential ingredient of dining on the Diwaan. Otherwise, you are not doing justice to the ambience. They could, in my opinion, do away with the candles, and introduce a lamp in their stead. Would definitely add to the aura. The menu helpfully informs you that the technique of Dum was perfected in the royal kitchens of Hyderabad, Awadh, Delhi, Kashmir, Bhopal, and Rampur. They sure had it good, didn’t they?

I decided to play it safe on the opening night. And, you definitely cannot go wrong with the Dum Pukht Biryani. Its described in the menu as Basmati simmered with mutton stock (though I wonder whether they do it from dawn to dusk), and finished in a sealed Handi with saffron and cardamom (though I would prefer to be the one to finish this Biryani), served with its traditional accompaniment, the Burrani – the Raita that sings in garlic. Definitely not what your friendly neighbourhood dietician would recommend, for its loaded with Ghee, for good measure. But, I suppose if I was in the mood to listen to the dietician, I wouldn’t be sitting here, ordering this in the first place, would I? The Ghee, the cardamom, and the saffron surely do play their magic with the rice, and the mutton is just so. And, the raitaa, with the red chilli, and the garlic is the perfect accompaniment. The rice is coloured the colour of saffron, and the ghee gives it that texture. The raitaa gives it the flavour, and the meat is tender. Worth every morsel.

Day two, and I decided to skip rice for the day, and go for the breads. Being too lazy to go to the restaurant, I ordered from the restaurant in the room itself. However, the selection they provide from the restaurant in the room does not constitute variety by any stretch of the imagination. Mugh Aloo Khourma, a quintessential Hyderabadi chicken and potato Curry flavoured with rich Indian spices, was quite good as far as Chicken Curries go. Vastly different from the Chicken Curry that’s availabe in the northern part of the country, but definitely worth a go. The Parathdar Paratha, an exotic Ajwain flavoured multi-layered bread baked in the Clay Tandoor was more like a run of the mill paratha, and as for the Ajwain, well, I will take their word for it.

Whoever said Mughlai food is the sole preserve of those who deem the human race to be at the top of the food chain? Day three, and as I decided to go vegetarian, the Phulwari Kofta, vegetable dumplings finished in a gravy of special Dum Pukht spices, answered the question. Delectable gravy, and the Kokftas were quite good, too. To go along, I ordered Wara Pudina (though you can get the Sada variety too), which is wafer thin unleavened whole wheat bread, baked on a domed griddle. Somewhat like a Roomali Roti, but thicker.

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Bangalore Trip …

Usually, going to Bangalore is about work, and about business. This time round, however, it was a little different. To begin with, I was travelling from Bangalore to Chennai, by train (more on that soon), and then, we managed to eat at some of the places we usually don’t go to.

Take, for example, Kabab Korner, on St. Marks Road. Up a flight of stairs, down a narrow corridor, which doesn’t exactly inspire too much confidence, but does give a nice view of St. Marks Road, you reach the restaurant. The first floor has the AC restaurant, while the second floor is the non-AC outlet. And going by the difference in prices between the two, air-conditioning must be quite expensive here. But, the food is reasonably good. We had Chicken Pepper Tikka, which was nice, and Chicken Tikka Masala, but somehow, I feel they actually gave us Chicken Bharta. Nevertheless, it tasted good, so that was ok. Not extraordinary, but reasonably nice, I would say.
The next day, my friend and colleague, Uday Vipra, took us to quite a nice place. Tucked away on the lane next to K. C. Das, you could actually miss it if you walked too fast … this is a restaurant named Chung Wah. Reasonably priced, excellent Chinese food to be had in the first floor establishment. We started with Veg Manchow Soup, which is quite good, and followed this up with Vegetable Balls in Hot Garlic, which is reasonably good, lightly spicy. We had Ved Fried Rice, and followed this up with Veg Chow Mein … there were ample crunchy sprouts there. The piece de resistance, however, are the Pepper Salt Prawns … it would be ample to say that these are worth eating, anytime you go this part of town. If you haven’t eaten these, there is a wonderful Prawn dish you are missing out on.
Then there is the Moti Mahal Deluxe … the ambience does justice to the establishment they have setup at Gurgaon … in fact, it would be apt to say that the establishment here seems to be more posh, although I think they don’t serve alcohol here, which is a big negative given the general style of Moti Mahal. Nevertheless, the food is as delicious as anywhere … we started out with the Grand Chicken Tikka platter … this has the Methi Tikka, the Zafraani Tikka, and the Rajasthani Soola … the latter being definitely fiery, not for the faint hearted. And, they accompanied these with chilly coated Onion rings. Wonderful beginning. We followed this up with the Murgh Korma from Old Delhi … the Chicken could have been more tender, but the taste was definitely reminding of Dilli. Surely, a continuance of the legacy of Moti Mahal, with a bit more of the touch required, but nevertheless … this was accompanied by the Khushka, which is Buttered Rice … quite nice. Overall, an experience which one must savour … from my experience, Moti Mahal is a restaurant one must go to, again, and yet again … and this is no exception.
The food was not the only thing about this trip. I met an elderly gentleman on the street … and a conversation which got me thinking. He evidently took me to be someone else, but never mind. How old was he? I don’t know. And maybe it doesn’t matter, either. Suffice it to say he was toothless. Was he 70? Was he 80? Like I said, it doesn’t matter … so lets not think more about this. It turns out, this gentleman doesn’t work any longer. No, this is not the same as retiring. He has been forced into this. He used to sit outside the Bangalore GPO, and used to provide a simple service, yet one which was of more than adequate use for lot of people … writing telegrams. Today, he says, who sends telegrams? I don’t think there are many. He is of the opinion that with the advent of the mobile, telegrams have been made redundant, and this change has cost him his work. He doesn’t get clients any more. And this raised a question … how many such people are there … with skills which are becoming fast outdated, with skills which are no longer relevant in a changed world order. And more important a question … what are we doing to ensure that these people can be re-skilled? What are we doing to see to it that their experience, their productivity and efficiency can be tapped into, in order to build a society which is inclusive, and not uncaring for those who fall by the wayside, because a society which does that maybe cant even be called society … because the root word for society is social, and this, I think, is not.

Bangalore’s Ceasar’s …

When you go to Bangalore next … tucked away on M. G. Road (and i say tucked away, because if you drive too fast, which, by the way, isnt possible on M. G. Road … never was, but with the Metro rail making its presence felt, even more so …), is a restaurant which goes by the name of Caesar’s. You can even find it listed at burrp, but surprisingly, nobody has reviewed the place yet.
Surprising because this is a place, which, while being easy to miss, shouldnt be. Quite unassuming from the outside, and if you didnt know any better, you might not even think too much about going there … but, step in you must. Caesar’s has been around for quite some time now … the decor and the elegance tells you that. You go through an old-fashioned, elegant entrance to the dining area, which itself is well appointed. Not something which is quite contemporary … not too many straight lines, and sharp edges … the decor is rounded, and doesnt jar. Add to this a well-appointed bar, and you have all the makings of a place which is quite plush, though admittedly one which has seen days when it was far more visited.

Coming to the food … the variety here is quite interesting. But, something about the signature of a restaurant tells you what kind of food you should order here. And, i was going for something top of mind … there were Fried Prawns, Grilled Fish Sizzler, and the Fish and Chips. The Prawns were nice, though not among the most delectable. The Sizzler is nice, too, not disguising the delicacy of the Fish too much, leaving it grilled well, while keeping it quite tender, and the Vegetables are ok. The most recommendable dish here is the Fish and Chips. The Chips are crisp, and so is the Fish. Done just right, the Fish is not too hard, and not too soft, and cooked in a way that leaves the flavour of the Fish intact. Having eaten Fish and Chips at quite a few places, i must recommend this.


Romance Of, Romance At … Flury’s …

There are a few places which look very beautiful at specific times during the day. Some look very beautiful by day, and others by night. And then, there are a few which look beautiful any time of the day. Standing at Bandstand even with its proximity to Lucky’s (arguably the best in Mumbai when it comes to Biryani), or Persian Darbar, about which I have blogged earlier, is primarily an evening attraction. Nothing matches peering onto the horizon over the Arabian Sea, the majesty of Bandstand around you. Follow this up with a few drinks at Janta Bar, or Toto’s, with a few friends, and Dinner at Persian Darbar, which you could follow up with a nightcap at Hawaiian Shack, and you have a wonderful evening.

On the other hand, however, there are places which can attract your attention, and bedazzle your senses any time of the day. Park Street is one of those. Whether you are sitting by the window at Flury’s, having Breakfast at a legend in Kolkata, and a name which evokes dreams in anyone who has even remotely been attached to Kolkata, watching Park Street waking up in the pleasant morning breeze, people walking past the windows into a wonderful morning, or whether you are sitting by the window at Flury’s, sipping Assam, or even better, Darjeeling Tea, with Sandwiches, for a late-morning Brunch, watching the day mature into the noon-time of Calcutta, with the charm of Park Street slowly getting unveiled for the eyes of those who care to look (and those who don’t, and either know what they are missing, or don’t even have a clue), or having sitting by the window at Flury’s having Lunch, watching the crowd either pass by Flury’s to another restaurant for Lunch (and there are quite a few of those, most of whome are wonderful places to eat, and also, as good as Flury’s, though of course, this one is about Flury’s, so I will stick to the point), or waiting at the gate, to enter the wonder domain with the charm of the grand old lady, Flury’s, or a late afternoon snack of Pastries and Iced Tea, watching people sedentarily getting ready for the evening, or a cup of Tea late in the evening, before you head out for a sundowner (Olypub, anyone?) and more (definitely, if you are going to Olypub, you wouldn’t stick to a sundowner, would you?), Flury’s is one of those places which casts its magic on you, no matter what time of the day you come here, and no matter what you want to eat.

About Breakfast, well … Breakfast at Flury’s … has been a byline for the perfect Breakfast in Calcutta for a few decades now. The variety is nice, though the All-Day Breakfast is the all-time favourite. With Eggs, Bacon, Toast, Butter, the works … filling, and something you must have with your loved one, to start the day. Or, settle for the Beans on Toast, if you would … which are altogether wonderful, especially if you make full use of the chopped Green Chillies and Onions they give to accompany. Do make sure to puff contentedly at your Cigarette as you sip the Tea (not for too long, I would think, though …). If you are planning Brunch, you could also settle for the Mustard Chicken Sandwich, or the Mayonnaise Chicken Sandwich, or choose from the number of Sandwiches on offer … believe me, most of them are very good, though I prefer the Mustard Chicken, or the Mayonnaise Chicken … among others, of course. Quite difficult to make up your mind, but that’s par for the course if you are a Fury’s aficionado. Should you plan Lunch, try the Chicken Stroganoff. This is one of the best I have ever had. Of course, there are a number of choices which you could go for. No matter what you choose, do make sure to top if off with one of those wonderful Rum Balls which Flury’s is famous for. Or, the Tiramisu … my favourite, though, are the Chocolate Logs … with grated Peanuts stuffing! You could definitely do well to top this off with a Strawberry Shake. Late evening, too, the Chicken Sandwiches which I wrote about are a wonderful idea … little white triangles full of taste. Accompanied with either one of their wonderful shakes, or better still, try the Iced Tea to go … unless you are one for Darjeeling or Assam … though, of course, their Masala Tea is not bad either.

Of course, all this says that Fury’s is a place which you could go to any time of the day. Though, of course, I seldom venture there after 8 pm, for the simple reason that after that, the attraction of Olypub, or one of the other establishments which give Alcohol to go with Dinner, work much more wonders than the charm of Flury’s.

During the day, however, sitting by the window of Flury’s, watching the street waking up, and coursing through the day, can be an experience which, to my mind, cannot be paralleled by many. Sitting lazily, smoking, reading a book, watching the myriad faces pass by, from all across the world (I have come across people from myriad nationalities, as well, of course, from almost all parts of India here), most of them not being able to resist catching a glimpse of Flury’s as they walk by, if they are in a hurry, or stepping in, for a little portion of some of the delights Flury’s comes up with, can be a wonderful way to pass the day.

Tung Fong … Or Chinese Food In Calcutta

If you thought there wouldn’t be many more coming after I managed to tempt you with the Arsalan Biryani, think again. Here’s another one … another post, another institution. Another one … again Calcutta. But then, what to do … the city is so ancient (figuratively) that the list of ancient names is almost a legend by itself. Ask anyone who has lived in Calcutta, and you will understand what I am talking about. Folks here almost drool at the mention of these names … well, who am I to complain … so do I.

Coming to the point … this time I am writing about another legend … Tung Fong! One of the venerable names when it comes to Chinese food in Calcutta. And it could safely be said that Calcutta is the first city when it comes to Chinese food in India … which would make Tung Fong one of the most revered names for Chinese food in India … Mainland China notwithstanding.

Tucked away on Freeschool Street, a short walk from Park Street (oh, this has to be the centre of the world for all foodies … no matter what the French say!), Tung Fong is unassuming … till you step in, that is. Ambience which is delicately upheld by soft lighting, brings out a luxuriant atmosphere. Some beautiful murals, and elegant vases adorn the walls, and overall, this is a place you would like to go to.
Coming now to the core aspect of what I am writing about … food! One aspect of the restaurant which stands out is that they don’t believe in force-feeding you. This is a scenario which I find in most restaurants. If you go out to eat alone, you will find that the portion sizes are too huge for one person, which means either you waste food, or doggy-bag it. Here, on the other hand, they take care of the varying appetites of people … so, they serve most dishes in three sizes … from single (which serves one), to double (which serves two), to large (which, yes you guessed it, serves three). So you can choose which portion size you want to order, depending on how hungry you are. Or, even if you go out with friends and family, instead of ordering large portions of two dishes, say, you could order smaller portions of larger dishes … more variety to the meal!

We began with the Chicken Wanton Soup … this has to be the best soup I have had. Just the way it should be … enough flavour, and the tastes blending into each other with natural ease. Add to it just a dash of Vinegar, and a little bit of Honey-Chilli Sauce, and you have probably the best Soup ever. We followed this up with the Schezwan Chicken, Mixed Fried Rice, and the Garlic Lamb. The Rice is wonderful … a taste which is different. This reminded me of Malaysia … actually, the Rice tastes somewhere between the usual Fried Rice you get in Chinese restaurants in India on the one hand, and a Chicken Satay on the other hand … rather unusual taste, which brought back memories of Penang. And these just added to the taste of the Rice. The Chicken Schezwan was par for the course … not something which you would trek to Tung Fong for. The Lamb, however, is in a different league altogether. Here we had Lamb which was almost as tender as what you get when you go for Mughlai food, while at the same time, the flavours of the Lamb did bring out a taste which is quite original, and something which, while putting your tongue on fire, is definitely something you would remember, and walk down Freeschool Street for, again and again.

Arsalan

There are a few names in a city, which are names which are synonymous with the city … at least in the minds of the denizens of the city. In Calcutta (sorry folks, I still refer Calcutta, if I am writing in English), there are more than enough such names to go around. Of course, most of them are institutions by themselves. These are names which are revered, and well … in the case of the name I am writing about, drooled about. For generations, Calcuttans have drooled about one such … Arsalan! Yes, an institution by itself, Arsalan is a name synonymous with good Mughlai food in the city.

The original Arsalan which most Calcuttans identify with is at Park Circus … though we didn’t quite go there … tends to be a hot idea to go there and eat on a hot Calcutta afternoon … we went to the new outlet which they have opened at Circus Avenue. You have to be careful to not miss it. And the place is every bit worth the drive there. Getting there could be an adventure, depending on which part of the city you are driving from (we were coming from Camac Street), and this can be quite an experience at 1 pm (what with the traffic direction changing and all …), but its worth it. The ambience, as you can see, it quite nice. Its reasonably comfortable, without being overbearing, or for that matter, arrogant (ya, I find a few of them arrogant in their plushness!).

Coming to the food … we tried the Mutton Kasturi Kababs, which are the dream nuggets of a connoisseur. A dish which must be tried if you are even remotely interested in food. Definitely lip-smacking, though one has to be careful … don’t chomp off your fingers in the act! The Biryani (Chicken) here lives up to the formidable reputation of the establishment (generations have grown up on this Biryani, you see …), and the quantity is just right … doesn’t stuff you, and at the same time, you don’t feel hungry.

And of course, such a meal has to be topped with Dessert … and, whats better than a Firni at an establishment as revered as this? Calcutta, in fact, I find, consumes more of Firni than Delhi does (remember, the Firni is a native of the northern reaches of the country) … no, I am not complaining. Though, the Firni left a bit to be desired … nice, definitely nice, but … could have been better.

Coming to the service … well, we were a little early … in fact, probably the first ones to reach … but the service is definitely nice. Not too lax, and not too rushing, either. And, definitely pleasant!

Though, I wouldn’t like to end this on such a note … I would recommend Arsalan as a restaurant which is more than worth a visit next time you are in Calcutta, or the next time you go out to eat. And of course, if you would rather be home, then the take-away would be just what you could ask for.


India’s Food Map

This is a picture which is doing the rounds of the email circuit … too many people have sent me this one. My friend Arghaya has blogged about it, too. Even though, i couldnt resist the temptation to write about this. Given the current dietary regime i am going through (which means all the good things on the plate are out …), the only thing i could do with this was write … otherwise … yes, you got it … i would have been eating!

As you can see from this map, diversity is the buzzword when it comes to food in India. From the Gustaba, up north in Kashmir, to the Avial (and they missed out the Mutton Pepper Fry, an old favourite whenever down South …), and from the Dhoklas in the west, to the Momos in the east, variety is the one word which describes the culinary culture of India.

Of course, there is so much variety out there, that this map doesnt even begin to cover the different delicacies which are on offer in different. They dont talk about Missal Pao when in Maharashtra, or the Jalebis of Punjab (of course, had either by themselves, or with piping hot Milk), or the Kosha Maangsho of Bengal, or the Lassi of Punjab, or Banaras, or the Daal Gosht which comes with the people from Punjab, too!

Of course, there is no way this could have captured the wonders of Phuchkas at Vivekananda Park, or Pindi ke Chholle Bhature at Darya Ganj, or the Mutton Qorma at Karim’s, or the Missal Pao at Lalbagh … But, that would be going into too much of specifics, which i am sure is way beyond any map can draw!

These apart, this also doesnt even begin to describe how the same dish, made in different parts comes out different. Take the Kadi for instance … The way Kadi is made in Punjab, or in Rajasthan (which, incidentally, is where the Kadi originates), or in Gujarat is quite different. Or, the chhaunk in the Daal, which changes probably every 10 kms., much like the dialect of Hindi.
Overall, though, nice effort … Wonderful point to begin an exploration into Indian food! Now, time for Lunch … hey … you dont think i could resist eating, having written all this?