Going retro: Try heritage foods this summer
Mob thinking tends towards the lowest common denominator and this is especially true when it comes to food.
Everyone fondly imagines that whatever grandma dished up during our childhood was the best, even though some of the things we ate as kids were truly gross. Rice pudding for example, or bun-butter-jam from the school canteen.
There is nothing better than the prism of nostalgia to Photoshop the past and allow us to entertain the delusion that we lived in a culinary golden age. That said, with food trends keeping pace with fashion, there are some things you ate when you were a kid that most millennials haven’t even heard of. Suggest kanji with leftover fish curry and pickled mango straight from the jar for breakfast to Gen X and there will be a chorus of, “Eeeuw, gross.”
But what do they know? At the risk of sounding snippy, I loathe the trigger-happy diner who has the annoying habit of physically restraining you while he shoves his iPhone 6 into your plate so he can upload his Instagram feed. “Dude, gimme a break, my food’s getting cold.”
Old is gold
There are some timeless classics that will never go out of style. Dal-chawal, for instance, with chutney and papad or curd rice with vada manga or puttu kadala, vada pav, poha or parathas. And practically every decent cook knows how to make a roast chicken.
All said and done, cooking methods have changed radically over the past three decades and things have reached the stage where people just don’t make food the way they used to.
This is partly due to medical scare-mongering and partly due to ignorance. After all the crap dished out over cholesterol, coconut oil and rice, it turns out that sugar is the single most dangerous thing in the kitchen, go figure. A soft drink is far more lethal than a sausage. Despite what they say about old wives' tales, try and eat what grandma ate and you’ll be fine; just don’t sweat the small stuff.
Here’s my list of some of the best heritage foods in our country….
Down memory lane
As a kid, I loved going to the unfortunately-named Gaylord’s on Mount Road where I would always order prawn cocktail. The resident chef would artistically carve a slice of cucumber in the serrated shape of a coxcomb and at the impressionable age of eight, I firmly believed that was the cock’s tail. Whatever, I’m not proud of it, ok.
The trouble started when the chef left and his successor skipped the garnish. Man, I gave the guy such grief right until the time I turned 10 when zoology became part of the curriculum. You don’t see many restaurants serving prawn cocktail nowadays.
Bed of ice in a cocktail glass, lightly steamed shrimp, mayo, ketchup, chilli sauce, squeeze of lime, finely chopped leeks and of course, an imaginative garnish. I tasted the prawn cocktail at Nola’s in New Orleans recently and it was magical. A long way from Gaylord’s but then hunger is the best sauce, right?
Indians are tone-deaf to PC which is why most people think nothing of inviting themselves over to a Muslim friend’s home for Eid, “Yaar, I’m sure your Mom will be making biryani and I always say there’s nothing to beat the way you guys make it…”
Biriyani is a much-loved heritage food
Yeah and some of my best friends are: fill in the blanks! There are as many opinions on the subject as there are variants of this classic concoction of rice with meat which has Persian roots!
Traditionally, chicken or mutton marinated in curd and fragrant spices is mixed with rice and slow cooked for hours. There’s Hyderabadi, Lucknowi, Awadi, Mudaliar, Moplah and about a dozen other modifications specific to various regions which is probably what keeps this dish interesting. Otherwise the very mention of biryani would bore you to tears.
While some keep it classic, many shady restaurants lagao a pre-cooked gravy over the rice to give that moist flavoursome appeal and then add chunks of meat. Whichever floats your boat, biryani is sexy, and the world knows it. My personal preference is Awadi style biryani served with a garlicky raita known as burrani.
Dahi batata puri
Who would have thought that chaat, the chatpata street food would be stealing hearts from Manila to Manhattan? From golgappas to dahi batata puri, ragda patties to bhelpuri, what’s not to love?
There was this iconic place in Colaba called Kailash Parbhat which dished up the most sinful dahi batata puri and channa bhatura but standards have slipped and Elco Market in Bandra is now the go-to destination.
Yep, the pani in the puri is made with mineral water, so you’re sorted even if you take your snooty NRI cousin along.
Kebab is a classic food that has stood the test of time
Lucknow is by far the best place for kebabs with Delhi coming in a close second.
Burra and tunde kebab (which spellcheck has an annoying habit of mutating into “tuned”) are magnificent examples of classics that have stood the test of time. These don’t melt in your mouth, it’s not ice cream for heaven’s sake, they are meant to be savoured and relished, bite by heavenly bite.
Chandigarh has the most amazing tandoori chicken (made without that revolting red food colour) but Ludhiana is the place to eat butter chicken, kalimirchi chicken, mutton bhuna gosht, shammi kebab and the most amazing kulchas, parathas and rotis. Veggies can trip on the paneer, sarson ka saag and makki di roti.
Here is a recipe of one of my favourite Prawn cocktail...
300g cooked prawns
4 lettuce leaves, washed and trimmed
5 heaped tbsp mayonnaise
5 tbsp tomato chutney
Apple & cranberry chutney in three jars
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp creamed horseradish
A bit of Horseradish root, chopped on a wooden chopping board
A tiny splash Tabasco sauce
A small amount of lemon juice
Paprika and pepper
Sprinkle the prawns over the lettuce and season with black pepper.
Take 4 cocktail glasses, fill halfway with crushed ice and put a lettuce leaf on top of the ice.
Mix the mayonnaise, tomato chutney, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish and Tabasco together.
Season to taste with lemon juice and salt and pepper, then spoon sparingly over the prawns. Dust the top with a little paprika and sprinkle with chives.
Put on top of the lettuce leaves in the cocktail glass serve immediately. The dish is delicious with brown bread.
For veggies, substitute prawns with paneer and use vegan mayonnaise.