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Guest Post: A Tale of Two Biryanis

The magnificent Biryani

The magnificent Hyderabadi Mutton Biryani (kachchi)

Only a few weeks ago, I undertook the seemingly herculean task of making a Bakr Eid biryani. Up until then I had just been an avid fan and a diligent consumer of the preparation. Have biryani, will eat. I don’t discriminate when it comes to the nawabi delicacy. Still, gun to my head, I would side with the Hyderabadi and the Murshidabadi variety. On this particular occasion, I decided to bet on the former.
I chose the Kacchi biryani recipe, consulted friends who were in the restaurant business on the correct way, went through a dozen web videos and recipe charts, memorized it and recapitulated it in my head again and again and then some. In stark contrast to my paranoid planner mold, my partner is more the take as it comes kind. However, I literally force fed the recipe to him and even revised it with him, night before Eid. He did his best to keep a straight face and I managed to not lose my cool.
As with everything too well-planned and rehearsed this biryani was doomed from the very start. The supposed aged long-grain rice, crumbled to the slightest duress (much like kheer rice) after its 30 minutes in waterbath. Then the mutton did not tenderize, in spite of the measured portions of unripe papaya. And the best of the lot, the sealed dum mold cracked open midway. Total sabotage. Long story short, I was staring at a resounding failure on a day when six expectant stomachs were counting on me rather hungrily. I can’t even begin to start counting the lessons learnt. But those are for me till I risk the next attempt.
I was especially heartbroken because the homesick me wanted to recreate a childhood memory. One of my fondest. That of a perfect, homecooked pot of biryani. As meals go, for me, biryani constitutes the start and end of perfection. Biryani meant summer holidays. Biryani meant festive. Biryani meant family. Biryani meant Sundays.
Growing up we were a wildly happy bunch. And Sundays for no rhyme or reason made us happier. And when we got too happy we cooked biryani. So my first memories of a Sunday cook were filled with aromas of onions slowly caramalising to a crispy sweetness, rice boiling in whole spices, meat stewing to juicy tenderness and fat potatoes being prodded and poked, baked and crackled with the intimacy reserved for old friends. It was like a montage right out of a lovely French film. Such beauty. Such visual generosity. Such homely warmth. We were smiling from our stomachs. All guts and glory. What went behind the scenes was another story.

Chicken Reshmi Kebab

Chicken Reshmi Kebab

I took the longest time to fall in love with my plate of food. I don’t really know what it was about my childhood that deemed mealtimes as merely a four-time necessity to be gotten out of the way as quickly as possible. Not surprisingly those four times were the most dragging part of my day that required stories, threats and coaxing on my late mother’s part. Quite a task considering taste buds and appetite were never my strong suit as a kid. Gritty woman, she did get every mouthful to its designated destination, sometimes prying my jaws open with a spoon, if and when needed. At least I remember it that way. I salute her a thousand times every day as I now run after my finicky toddler at mealtimes.
But the summers were different. Summers at Grandma’s. The only time when food was something more than just a daunting routine. The only time when food turned into something more festive. Not suggesting a change of heart towards meals though. (I still hated those rude, unwarranted intrustions into my playtime and daydreaming). It was the hoopla around food. The sights, sounds and aromas.
My mother was the eldest of five sisters; all married with two kids apiece. That made my grandma’s ancient two storied house a veritable epicenter of boisterousness. Ten cousins in all shapes and sizes seeing each other once a year generated enough revelry that could literally bring those wooden beams down. A little insight into what food represented in my family. From where I come, a man’s character and likeability was plainly shown in his palate and his plate. If you nursed a healthy appetite you were pretty much golden. And that required  at least three additional servings/helpings at the table. Yes three was just about ideal. Anything less than that was considered an insult to the food and hospitality. (So if you happened to find yourself saying, ‘No thanks’ after the first helping, consider yourself judged forever). I have actually seen some of my uncles with superhuman capacity for food and abyss for stomachs who wouldn’t shy away from five or more helpings. I kid you not. But of course, each of those addendums (or the very suggestion of it) were to be politely declined at first. Till the host piled the ladle-full on the plate, that is. It was one of those joys you couldn’t deny the host. This joy of love demostrated in terms of vertiable forcefeeding. You could literally see the eater’s hand defending the front of his plate in a mock protest with due shyness but abandoning it at the behest of the host’s greater will.
Now considering that my Grandma was fond of all her sons-in-law, one can imagine the quantity of food prepared and the chaos and clamour surrounding it. She took an inhuman amount of pain and pride in her food. Not joy so much. Never actually.  The kitchen was her cross and her crown. I guess when you have been doing something for five decades it becomes second nature and the spark of it as an accomplishment fades. Or maybe she lived in times that saw culinary brilliance as a prerequisite rather than a cause for applause. Every plate of food she put up had a beautiful narrative to it. But it went largely untold. I can’t even imagine her telling anyone about making a brilliant pot of stew or taking a picture of it. It would just about embarrass her perfectly. She lived years before the validation or gloating of social media invaded our kitchen counters and table tops and poked it’s nose right into our food plates with the ‘Like’ buttons.

Mutton Shami Kebabs

Mutton Shami Kebabs

To tell you the truth I have really never seen my grandmother anywhere outside her kitchen except when she slept next to me at night. Her frown was chiseled on her forehead and with her horn rimmed glasses she was the matronly masthead, the epitome of domestic dictatorship presiding over all things dead or alive entering the four walls of her kitchen. Trespasser were prosecuted. Her penchant for perfection was characteristic of her generation. She didn’t budge an inch from her recipes (all handed down through generations). So while the summer holidays were fun for us kids, Grandma with ten hungry children and five set of parents had her task cut out.
Work, always, started a day before. Everything was shopped early morning from the local bazaar. The trusted family butcher (you just needed to tell him what you were cooking and the rest was his job), the spice seller, the vegetable woman – all those people who were part of my childhood and unknowingly made so many of my fondest memories- would instinctively know what to suggest when told about Grandma’s feast.

Soya Chop, for the vegetarians

Soya Chop, for the vegetarians

And so would begin the grand undertaking. Under the watchful eyes of Grandma. With my mother and aunts played minions. Since Sunday biryani could never mean just biryani, there was a separate meat dish or two, a few vegetable preparations, sweets and salads on the menu. And everything was made right from the scratch. There was peeling, chopping, cleaning, grating, mixing, grinding and dozen other processes undertaken, while abundant gossip and tea broke the austerity. Rows of sun-kissed spices, saffron steeping in a now golden milk, sheets of wet muslin and a beautiful langour covering everyone. Kids were left alone with a simple brief. ‘Go play. Don’t disturb.’ (I was 13 when I was first allowed to set foot in the hallowed space only because I was making my first dish ever- green banana koftas in gravy) Now, while on regular days this would be a God send, these happy Sundays made us crave for the grown-up attention. Resultantly, one or two of us would loiter around stealing a peek, taking in a whiff and hearing a bit of gossip before we were chased out of the circle with an earful.
Once the prep was over (and we are still around 9 in the morning), the shiny brass and copper cauldrons and pots (all big enough to fit two of us five year olds inside) would come out. It was an alfresco event, our biryani. The fire was lit on the terrace and each of the ingredients would be carried up. No longer able to hold our curiosity, we would run amok, knowingly risking being swatted along with the flies.

Chicken in creamy gravy

Chicken in creamy gravy

The cooking part was tricky. Of course, there was the rice to be prepared, then the meat to be prepared, then the layering and the final Dum. But ‘tricky’ lay in handing over the ladle to one of her sons-in-law each of whom claimed to know more than the next. To quash the cacophony Grandma ended up squatting under the canopy monitoring and bringing in a much needed restrain as everybody got a chance to stir the pot. There was always a fight about how much of water to be added. But I guess they reached a consensus when Grandma punctuated the flying arguments with one of her coughs. As we neared lunchtime, the aromas wafted through the whole house and garden and I bet the neighbourhood. It wasn’t unusal for one or two neighbours to drop in claiming they ‘happened’ to pass by.
Rows of food in shiny brass and copper utensils, embroidered sheets running from length to length of the room. After a day of regimented exercise, this meal could stretch till evenings at times. Slow, easy, filled with conversation and anecdotes, laughter and such copious amounts of bonhomie. Sitting there listening to it all, food was the least of my thoughts. In fact, it would be years before I started to revel in the succulent, melting pieces of meat or draw happiness in the alchemy of ghee or rejoice the versatility of potatoes in the magic rice. Till then all I cared about was the happiness at being a part of it all. It was my carnival.
I was relatively cheered up when friends dropped in with Eid biryani the next day. A little more when my Maasi made the same biryani and the usual accompaniments I set out to make and promised me a cauldron full during her next visit.

Maria Bilkis is a Mumbai based writer, visual artist and committed foodie. Follow her journey as the amateur food writer and new mommy learns the ropes in her tiny kitchen on Instagram and Facebook

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Guest Post: The 150 foot journey within Bangalore’s Food Street

Akki roti

Akki roti

Two months to know a city. That is all I can think of. Two Months. Can it ever be enough to know or see something of a city that is home to zillions of people coding-decoding the mysteries of life, or uhm, the daily grind at least?

I am moving to the capital soon. Delhi – with its wide roads and scorching summers. Delhi – of history in each stone and politics in each message. And Delhi with, hopefully, yummy street food. Street Food in itself is a funny concept, is it not? You eat something on the streets of a certain city. And the same thing is sold in restaurants in a different one. Pav Bhaji in Kolkata. Dhokla in Bangalore. Idli-wada in Delhi, chicken rolls in Hyderabad. But the only way to eat the food of any region and to understand what makes them tick, is to eat it in that city itself. Imagine being served a steaming plate of Missal Pao in Kolkata. Looks like daal with chanachur/ mixture on it. I would probably slot it in the evening snacks genre. And yet in Maharashtra, that is a staple breakfast. Similarly Poha Jalebi would never be breakfast for someone in Mumbai, but for people from Indore, it would be a way of life.

So to understand the nuances of lip-smacking ‘south indian’ food above and beyond the Idli-Wada-Dosa that I have eaten since childhood, I agreed (very readily, if I may add) to my friend’s invite of visiting Bangalore’s Food Street.

Known as Thindi Beedi, this stretch in VV Puram, Bangalore, is a foodie’s delight. But of course, you have to be open to experimenting. Thanks to my fabulous guide to everything food in this city, we knew exactly where to start.

Thindi Beedi

Thindi Beedi

On one end of the stretch, standing proud and tall is VB Bakery. This place is easily 40 years old, or maybe more. But the smell of freshly baked puffs and sweet honey cake wafts through as soon as you enter. We tried our hand at the honey cake and the incredibly named, Congress Bun. The Congress Bun is actually a Khara Bun lathered on the inside with a paste of peanuts with Turmeric and Chilli. Spicy and yummy till the last bite, these get their name from the colour – which resemble the political party’s flag colours.

Congress Bun!

Congress Bun!

This is probably just me, but I notice the bakery culture being more pronounced in Bangalore than any other city I have lived in. Bombay did have bakeries, but those were for chicken and mutton cutlets, rolls, chips, sometimes kebabs etc. The best one for – from where I have often got breakfast and party food alike – has been A1 bakery in Bandra, though I am sure there are many strewn around town. However, in Bangalore, bakeries are mostly vegetarian, serving home baked breads, biscuits, cakes etc. There is probably one Iyengar bakery every few hundred metres. Just as there are hot chips stores. (I wonder if everyone who grew up here, grew up on tapioca/ banana chips and honey cakes. Sigh!)

Paddu being made fresh

Paddu being made fresh

Paddus!

Paddus!

Going ahead from the bakery, we strolled till we found one big stall with a crowd thronging around the counters. Some strategizing later, we decided to go ahead and order almost everything we could see – which included Akki Roti (made with rice flour) with curry, Paddu (Smaller, lightly fried idlis), Kodbale (rings which taste like murukku on the outside but are softer inside). We stood on the street, ate up with our hands, looked at people coming in from all sides, and kept wondering if each country has such a huge variety of food, and if all foodies across the universe feel the same rush of excitement when they see something new.  The end of the journey came with the spicy taste of Masala Puri. However, the best, the very best, end to the non-extravagant but extremely satisfying dinner would have to be Shivanna’s Butter Gulkand ice-cream. As I stood there and watched with no-idea-what-I-was-getting-myself-into, a man with practiced ease put a spoonful of butter into a leaf-bowl of gulkand, whisked it and topped it with some ice cream and chopped fruits. Delicious.

Masala puri

Masala puri

Butter Gulkand fruit ice-cream

Butter Gulkand fruit ice-cream

So, in one day, I ate more than I had in the last 6 months in this city, and fell in love with the cuisine. All for less than Rs 150! Since then, I have tried many more authentic-Bangalore stuff. From the Dosa and Mangalore Buns at MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms) to the Chicken Biriyani, Kaleji fry, Ragi Mudde served on banana leaf plates at a tiny Military hotel (the old and very basic hotels where the old Bangaloreans would get their non-veg fix). And each have, thanks to friends who know the city and servers who talk with pride of their food, shown me one more aspect of a city I was not so sure about.

Holige which will be served hot, with ghee

Holige which will be served hot, with ghee

Sohini loving Honey Cake!

Sohini loving Honey Cake!

Kodbale

Kodbale

My two months are almost up. And here I am loving this city a bit more. Om Nom N—I meant, love.

Sohini Sen is a blogger, journalist, dancer and traveller. Follow her journey on IndianCuriositea and North Wind’s Journey

Guest Post: Enjoying Holiday Food, Staying Guilt Free

Holiday food can inspire anxiety or ecstasy or both. The good news — average weight gain in the holiday season is just one to two kgs. The bad — while that might not sound much, research shows that if we don’t lose it that adds up year after year. Sweet treats and rich meals can be landmines for health-conscious people, yet no one wants to feel deprived during this time of the year. There’s no need to fear as there are sensible ways to navigate this territory. Here are my tips for making it through the holiday season without feeling guilty:

My Christmas plate. Enjoying everything in small quantities!

My Christmas plate. Enjoying everything in small quantities!

Eat what you love, leave what you like

Instead of piling your plate a mile high with things that don’t really tantalize your taste buds (fruit cake, we’re looking at you!), pick only the foods that give you true enjoyment. If something doesn’t make you swoon, leave it.

Keep your treats to one day a week

The biggest mistake we make is feasting on all days instead of a one-day indulgence. Rather than letting your holiday feast roll into pie for breakfast, limit your splurges to one event per week.

Nix the guilt

Feeling guilty after eating foods you don’t usually allow yourself to eat can breed more unhealthy behaviour. So abandon those negative voices in your head, give yourself permission to enjoy the indulgence guilt-free, and then remember to get back on track the next day.

Indulging in one brandy butter frosted red velvet cupcake!

Indulging in one brandy butter frosted red velvet cupcake!

Eat low to high (when it comes to calories)

Start with a broth-based soup or salad, then move on to lean protein, and by the time you reach those triple fudge brownies, a few bites will be all you need to feel satisfied.

Alternate alcohol with soda water

On an average, most adults consume almost 100 calories a day from alcoholic beverages. Since avoiding alcoholic beverages altogether may be hard during this time of merriment, alternating between alcoholic and a zero-calorie lime water can help you avoid pouring on the pounds. Bonus: You’ll avoid entering the hangover zone, a not-so-happy holiday tradition!

Balance acid with alkaline

Holiday foods are full of ‘acid formers’ like sugar, alcohol, and meat; so make sure you balance all those rich foods with plenty of ‘alkaline formers’ like lemons and greens. To not upset the Ph balance, eat plenty of greens with heavy dishes.

Veg-out on veggies

Try swapping light pureed cauliflower for carb-heavy mashed potatoes and add side dishes with more vegetables, like bell peppers and broccoli, to bolster nutritional value.

Don’t be fooled by the ‘health halo’

File this under sad-but-true: You can gain weight even if you eat healthy. You can overdo it with the veggies and dip or creamy asparagus soup, just like you can with ice cream. Make sure you’re not eating something based solely on its health-food aura. Keep in mind PORTION SIZE.

Bring out the skinny jeans

Elastic waistbands, ‘relaxed fit’ sweaters, and other loose clothing are practically an invitation to overeat. Bring out the dresses, skinny jeans, slim-fit suits. Not only will you look good but the outfits will stop you from over-indulging.

Just say NO… to food pushers

Whether biscuits or chocolates, you may feel forced to keep eating because people keep offering them to you. Put on a smile, politely decline and then offer a compliment. “These chocolates look amazing. I’m too full now but could I take them home?”

Be a snack smuggler

Traveling, shopping, and running errands during the holidays can lead to fast food and skipping meals. To keep your appetite in check, never leave home without a snack. Choose options like nuts, protein bars, fruits and greens.

Detox your taste buds

Over time we adapt to eating ‘hyperpalatable’ foods (high fat, high salt, high sugar or all three). We often erode the ability to appreciate subtle flavours, and train our taste buds to accept hyperpalatable as normal. You can reset taste buds by cutting out processed foods for just one week. Then, when you indulge, you’ll be able to appreciate all the flavours and be happy with just a few bites.

Three bites and good night

For desserts, the first bite is the best, the last the grand finale, and every bite in between is the same. In three bites, you get the full dessert experience.

Trim the trimmings

Most traditional holiday dishes are not that unhealthy—think lean chicken, vegetables and nuts—but adding in all the additional trimmings make the calories soar. Simply eliminate extras like gravy, cream sauces, butter and pie crusts.

Eat mindfully

It sounds silly, but lots of people don’t even realize when they’re eating. Taking the time to choose foods you really want to eat and then actively focusing on enjoying the smell, taste, and texture of each bite will naturally help you slow down and stop when you’re full.

Eat breakfast

Don’t skip breakfast as that leaves you more likely to overeat later. Start with something that has lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and some healthy fat to give you energy until your next meal. My favourite is an omelette made with one egg and two to three egg whites; easy-to-cook veggies like spinach, mushrooms, or sautéed onions; fresh herbs and a touch of grated Parmesan cheese. Add fresh fruit and whole-grain toast to round of the meal.

Use the ‘fork trick’

It’s hard to be able to tell when one is full. So try this: Once you take a bite of food, place your fork down on the plate and let go. Chew your food, swallow, and then pick up your fork again. The key to this trick is actually letting go of the fork so you eat slowly and realize when you’re body is telling you to stop.

Drink half of your body weight in ounces of water

It’s easy to confuse thirst with hunger leading to mindless snacking. Drink half your body weight in water.If you weigh 70kgs, aim for 70 ounces of water in a day.

Deepa Nandy is a Mumbai-based consulting nutritionist and diabetes educator. She can be contacted on deepanandy@yahoo.comFollow her Facebook page — Deepa Nandy’s Nutriguidefor day-to-day tips!

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Happy New Year folks! Hope it was a great year for you all. See you in 2016 with new travel stories, food recipes, reviews and much merriment. Thanks for tagging along with me this year 🙂

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