Saturday, February 27, 2010

In the Name of Chaats, Masalas and Holy Cravings....

Many warned me about the abject lack of imaginativeness in British cuisine...I thought they were exaggerating...I still do, because the cakes and other bakes in Britain are to die for... And I have had some reasonably good stuff at pubs here...But well, when it comes to the meat...they rather leave things a little less flavoured or seasoned...the salt has been drastically reduced from the national cuisine, I think, rather consciously...I remember one of the first outdoor campaigns that I saw, while on route to London from Brighton on many buses was the exhortation to make the already bland food blander still....Cut down on the Salt and Save your Life or something to similar effect was the slogan on the buses and just about everywhere else... Everytime I raise a fine point on cuisine, the problem is I try to drive it in with all the subtlety of a battering ram. But then I'm never allowed an easy point for, I have friends who love rubbing it in my face, that as an Indian I have no voice to complain. For isn't Indian food all about 'over-cooking, masking the flavour of meat or vegetables totally with about a million masalas and then deep frying the rest of the stuff'....And even as I protest vehemently, I think to myself....pooris and pakodas we fry...the meat is always 'cooked till tender' in our careful lexicon...which means there is no concept of lightly tossing the meat on a skillet with the bare minimum flavours or seasoning...and we can put just about anything in about 5litres of oil and chilli powder and pickle it for posterity...if that's not all, we can kill just about anyone with diabetes with the amount of sugar and condensed milk we empty into our desserts... Hmmm...that as it is...the reason why I'm willing to eat 'humble pie' is as follows...the friend, who I feel would gloat till he chokes, used to begin any conversation he ever had with me by asking me what I ate/ was having for breakfast/lunch/dinner. When I was in India, surrounded by everything that I gastronomically consider heavenly, I was of the opinion that food is merely for subsistence - ie, to give me enough energy to pull through a hard demanding day as a TV professional. Barring the occasional craving for something exotic, I would be hard pressed to remember wanting something specific for any meal... So asking me about what I ate, was like the most irrelevant, out of my interest area beginning to any conversation...and something I remember telling him quite pointedly too... These days, he often smirks at my status updates on facebook or my tagline on google messenger...It's either about craving chai or wanting pakodas or missing something else specific in the wintry loneliness of Brighton...And while I would have protested till I turned blue before admitting it, for once I feel the 'devil needs to be given its due'... For the past two days, I have been in a state of urgent want....for chaat...In fact, I was so sure I'd miss chaat so much that for nearly a week during my last month in Mumbai, all I had for dinner was assorted chaat.... If you haven't heard of panipuris and aloo chaats and ragda pattice and bhel puris...then there is a big chunk missing from the education your tastebuds deserve... For those unfamiliar with Indian street food, chaat is as unhealthy as it comes...well, atleast most of it is....but the speed with which it can be slurped and the immense satisfaction it leaves the eater with, is unparalleled...most of the ingredients are deep fried, dunked in sweet and sour sauces and garnished with starchy yummy potatoes and sprinkled liberally with salt and spices...and if potatoes are not the garnish, then they are the shallow-fried base for masala-infused lentils called chhole...Just writing about chaat makes me drool.... And then there is the pani's the simplest of them all....but in my book, the king of all chaat routine begins almost always with it...they are deep fried dough balls, the crust is lightly broken and filled with potatoes and other fillings, then dunked first in sweet date sauce and then dunked in tangy tamarind water before it is plopped into a bowl you hold...and as soon as the first one plops into your bowl, you gulp it down in one go and then drain the water that has escaped out of the dough ball into your bowl..... There you go....I am having foodgasms....I empathise with my friend I considered loony...In fact, I think I have gone three degrees loonier than him....I dream food, I crave food and when I manage to overcome the fierce pulls of laziness and inertia, I actually try to make some of it that I miss sorely in England... But the water is different....the ingredients lack the smell of India...and then there is the sterile prettiness to England, that leaves me feeling a little cheated when I try to recreate the food orgy that India alone provides.... And now after writing this post, I have just managed to increase my craving for chaat by about ten notches....Talk about therapy boomeranging!!! Hmppppphhhhh......


  1. You've really hit the nail on the head here. I love chaat and am quite happy to stop at these roadside stalls and stuff my face and then parcel one for good measure too. I'm about to fly to England for a two month break and I know that chaat is one of the big things I'm going to miss - not to mention all the other south Indian food as well. At the moment I'm stocking up my reserves - rather like a squirrel I suppose - but that's only going to last until I exit Heathrow.

    I'm not even sure you'd be able to get chaats in Hounslow but I suppose if anywhere in Britain sold them, that would be the place to go.

    I agree with you on the bland meat. For goodness sake, I'd sooner die happily of a salt-overdose than miserably on tasteless food. You need to try my mother's cooking though; can't beat it. (But then every son or daughter would say that about their mother).

  2. Oh, and by the way, masala puri is my particular poison; can't beat it and worth a trip to India for that reason alone.

  3. can't say how I envy you. next time you eat chat, pop a pani puri in my name too...maybe I might live vicariously through you...:) and as for your mom's cooking, well...isn't the proof in eating? I'm always game to change my opinion about english cuisine..;)

  4. Hey Deepthy,

    Next time you are in London...head to Southall. They have India shtyle stalls on the road selling very good chaat and sweets!

  5. Cooking is not for the British -- that includes the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish.

    Somewhere along the Empire, they became a military power and lost on culture or food.
    The British lack culture, so much that they even stole and plundered it from the places they ruled.

    Ruling India did not teach them anything about food or spices either.
    But yes, cake and bake and some bits of cheese.
    Even there, the French, Spanish and Italians beat them hollow.

    The British are good with science and technology, though,again because it's a way to make money and conquer people.

    You have provoked strong opinions here, Deepthy.

    But I do NOT want to tar all the British with the same brush.
    Because it's the British government that's ghastliest at war,but some common people did their heroic bit for peace.

    The Defence of the Realm and royalty is what you have to watch out for.

    Peace and love,
    - Joe.

  6. Missing Indian food desperately, huh? Well, I have to say, my dinner today featured a heavy course of vegetable oil with the modest combination of paranthas and Gobi Manchurian on the side.:)

    P.S I miss chaats too, street food here does not feature those heavenly chaats of Bombay.

  7. Hmmm, @the analyst, not Indian food per say, coz all the Indians in my student residence keep alive the hallowed Indian tradition of making food in huge quantities and force-feeding any unfortunate soul who happens to just pass by the kitchen around the time that we sit down for our communal postmortem of the day...That said, you cant replicate chaats even with the masalas that you bring from there..I could kill for a Shiv Sagar Pav Bhaaji right now...

    P.S: How is that atrociously Indianised monstroity called 'Gobi Manchurian' Indian? And i believe that dish which is the most abused 'veg Chinese' in India should be banned from the world for being the most ridiculous concoction by an Indian sadist out to defame Chinese cuisine..

  8. Nice to know that someone has such sentiments on Gobi Manchurian, It can't be called Indian, and not Chinese for sure, whoever came up with that name for lets say deep fried Gobi-chilli abuse had some long sighted plans on nomenclature of dishes I guess.Nice post btw.