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October 2006

Floyd on Indian Food- Forgettable


Watching 'Floyd on France' many years ago, as a rerun in India, was a revelation. That someone could make food so interesting and amusing was new to me and he was a partly responsible for my  greater involvement in the subject. All that tongue in cheek France bashing was in good humour and without bite.
Compare that enlightening experience of food on the box to 'Floyd's India', shot in 2001 for Channel 5 in the UK, but being shown in India for the first time. It is now running on the Discovery Travel and Living channel (before Kylie Kwong comes up with her 'French buttah' and 'say solt'), and it has been a catastrophic failure.
The nice thing about Keith Floyd in earlier BBC series was his joie de vivre, his obvious love of the food he presented and the relish with which he drank copious amounts of wine while cooking. His disregard for the politically correct and the documentary form was all part of the show and it WAS a show, but with significant things to say about a cuisine and ways of approaching it.
Floyd on India, is dismal. He looks miserable, hot and bothered. He cooks in the open air, to do away with the need for lights and keep production costs low, on ugly setups without the slightest regard for display. And the food! Oh my God, the food he cooks is ghastly.
Anyone who knows a little bit about Indian food will find the way in which he flings in the 'Tyumeric' horrifying. With an abandon which is uncalled for. He obviously knows nothing about the ingredient, its properties or taste. He never cooks the onions, he adds sour ingredients before the spices are cooked and he makes a hundred and one unforgiveable faux pas.  The food and the series make an altogether unappetising mash.
He never bothers to taste his concoctions and that is telling. Not even a little lick of the finger. And he is always in such a hurry. Can't blame him really. Who wouldn't want to get out of that burning sun.
He so obviously hates the whole venture from start to finish. He even looks as if he detests Indian food. I don't know if the recipes in the book which accompanies the series are any good. But a word of caution to all those who hope to pick up something about Indian cuisine by watching this series...forget it. Nobody I know uses spices in the way he does. Nor can you possibly savour any of the food the way he cooks it. "Ugh" is my honest opinion.

Khau Swe and the Duchess



Delhi was relatively cool. The rains had stopped and it was wonderful meeting old friends in new surroundings. Many have moved to kinder places,near golf courses and parks, with roads not potholes, and quiet streets, patrolled by friendly dogs that are fed daily by several animal lovers. People come in cars or on scooters or walking with milk, biscuits, rice and other fresh goodies for them. It showed that Delhiites have a soft corner for animals and a level of prosperity not common to other citizens of India. Though the frontier mentality remains, with aggressive men and buses that careen around with intent to kill, it is always refreshing to see the gardens of Lutyens' Delhi and the tall trees bordering the elegant wide roads.
Many new restaurants have opened since I went there last, some of them very good, serving authentic Italian, Thai or Mediterranean food.
The best food we had was home cooked, naturally. It was the vegetarian fare we ate at the place of a friend, a writer of books on Indian religion, history and spirituality, who teaches yoga in a beautiful space built for the purpose. The room is cool and generates calm.The air reverberates gently with the sound of our mantras.
She has taught her cook some wonderful dishes over the years and we stuffed ourselves quite shamelessly at lunch and dinner. Duchess, the cook, is so named because she has such aristocratic features and a very dignified bearing. I am just so grateful to be served tea by her, which is always perfect, with a pod of elaichi / cardamom, a teaspoon of sugar, topped up with half a cup of milk and half a cup of water, zapped in the microwave for 90 seconds and served in an impeccable porcelain cup.
While being a Malayalee, there is something a bit oriental about the Duchess. Her high cheekbones add to her sophisticated looks. And then at lunch I understood. She made us Khau Swe, or Kauk Soi as it is sometimes spelled. A recipe from Burma ( now Myanmar) where she was born. She made it vegetarian with carrots and potatoes and capsicum, but told me that chicken is the main ingredient and most Burmese eat it that way.
We all liked it so much that I took down the recipe to share has something so Indian yet South Asian about it. Like the Duchess herself.



1 200 gm packet of noodles, either rice or egg noodles.

1 kg chicken, skinned and cut into 6 pieces.
2 1/2 cups of milk made from 1 coconut.
2 onions
6 cloves of garlic
1 inch of fresh ginger
2 green chillies
1 tbsp of vegetable oil
1/2 tsp of haldi/ turmeric
2 tablespoons of besan/ chickpea flour
Lime Juice

4 tbsp of green coriander chopped.
4 spring onions chopped
4 eggs boiled and cut into 8 pieces each
1 lemon cut into 8 pieces

Boil the noodles, drain and set aside.

Pressure cook the chicken for 5 minutes at high heat ( about 2 whistles). Let it cool and remove all the bones. Cut into cubes and reserve the stock. In a blender grind the coconut till it makes a paste, add a cup of hot water to the paste and blend it again. Strain the milk from the coconut and return the paste to the blender. Add another cup and a half of hot water and repeat the process. Strain through a fine wire strainer or through muslin.
Grind the onions, garlic, ginger,and chillies into a paste in a blender. Heat oil and fry the paste till the oil separates from the mixture. Add the turmeric and the chicken. Fry for a few minutes then add the stock and the coconut milk. Make a paste of the chickpea flour and add slowly to the curry, stirring continuously so it does not become lumpy. Cook for ten minutes .When the mixture thickens add a tablespoon of lime juice and salt to taste.

Chop the coriander, spring onions and eggs and serve in separate bowls along with the noodles and the curry. Each takes as much noodles , fresh herbs and eggs as they like and pours the chicken curry on top. Squeeze a bit of the lemon on top. Delicious!

Tips to plan your golf trip

Of Gandh Raj and other living treasures



"Jyotsna Ben,

Just the other day a friend brought for me some special nimboos that I had introduced him to. You may know these; they are called 'Dahanu' Nimboos, as they are also grown there. They are unique as they have this lovely subtle flavour which renders everything very special with just one squeeze ! .... Sadly, I am not so lucky to find them often in the bhaji markets. But some rare vendors, who cater to Parsi clientele , keep them. They are largish ( compared to our normal limbu) and deep green in colour. When cut, they are a deep yellow inside and the juice, for it's flavour, as I said, is very very special!
Better still are their cousins in Calcutta, used commonly by the Bengalis. These they call the "Gandh Raj" ( a typical Bong will pronounce it "Gondho Raaj" ). They are aromatically more endowed and are something to die for ! So next time when R is visiting Cal, ask him to fetch you some and you'll know what you were missing! These Gandh Raj come closest to the Thai Nimboos you know as the Kaffir Lime.They are the ultimate in citrus gifts to mankind. They are really out of this world. Their flavour is truly heavenly and even the Kaffir Lime leaves are equally aromatic. The Tom Yum soup and so many of their wonderful curries can never be the same without them. Well then there are other Nimboos in the world including the Sicilian Lime and others...Apropos the different Rasas as they are described in the Indian Natya Shastra:the ras from these Nimboos are worthy of the same exalted place in the Paak Shastras ! Next time some sharing on the great Topli Paneer. Do you know it? Cheers to all that! Mahen"

Not a lot of people know that one of the best photograpers in India today is a gourmet cook . I am always grateful to Mahendra Sinh for sharing his deep knowlege and understanding of Indian cuisine and his pleasure in the food and wine of the world. He makes the simplest dish fantastic because his sensibilities are so attuned to the slightest note that each spice adds and he does not like noise.
Mahen, as any acquaintance of his will tell you, does not suffer fools gladly and in ringing tones will denounce misinformation, generalisations, and all half baked ideas based on inadequate facts. I am inclined to add my two paise bit to his castigation of the pompous and the pedestrian especially when they masquerade as art. And anybody in India, who follows the history and happenings of our arts today, knows how many "creations' are cliche, copied or kitsch.
His own work is wrested out of years of experience, of study and of observation. His own deep respect for the greats of photography from whom he has learnt is like a touching genuflection in their direction of all that is fine in creative arts. His work takes its place firmly in the evolution of photography in India and the world and in my opinion he stands head and shoulders above the rest .
Now about the "Gondho Raaj". It was a revelation. Gentle, not bitter, with a subtlety of taste not normally associated with lime. A teaspoon of the juice in a dal raises it to yummydom, a grating of the rind on baked fish makes it utterly delicious.
Thanks again Mahen.