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Pistachio Rose: Rethinking Indian Desserts

26 May

At a chocolate tasting event in London in February, I met Rekha who was in the process of starting her own range of Anglo-Indian desserts inspired by her bi-cultural heritage. A month later, her boutique bakery Pistachio Rose was born.

Last month, Rekha and I chatted over chai because I felt that her inspiration behind establishing Pistachio Rose resonates closely with the essence of this blog – how cultural heritage and identity influence what people eat, cook and share culinarily with others. Typically, Anglo-Indian cuisine is a term used to describe dishes that adopted aspects of British cuisine and blended them with Indian spices and ingredients during the British Raj. However, Rekha’s inspiration draws not from nostalgia for a past era but her personal reference points of growing up in an Indian-English household.

Born to an English mother and a Gujarati father whose family migrated from Uganda to the UK in the late-70s, Rekha has had a penchant for cooking and baking since as long as she can remember. “For me it’s always been about flavours and delicately balancing them, which requires time and attention” she remarks also recalling how even as an 11-year old she prepared a 3-course meal on Mother’s Day.

Rekha began her career in food buying for a large UK supermarket before transitioning into working as buyer for Amazon. A few years down the road, she no longer found her chosen career path fulfilling and craved a change. A trip to India in 2010 for a cousin’s wedding provided the required impetus for her to consider formalizing her passion for baking and cooking into a formidable product line.

As much as Rekha’s inspiration is derived from childhood memories of spending time on the counter-top of her paternal grandmother’s kitchen in Bracknell nibbling on churma, a major motivation has been what she feels is the underrepresentation of Indian desserts in the London foodscape. As she observes, “often, what you find in the market is Indian sweets that are artificially coloured and sweetened and dripping in oil. I wondered what sort of desserts could be created that are authentic but also clean and simple in their flavour profile.” She believes that Pistachio Rose is all about recreating Indian sweets improvised and perfected over time in a manner that retains their heritage. The English influence is reflective in the clean flavours and presentation and making the sweets less overwhelming.

Rekha started her baking business with cakes such as the eponymous Pistachio Rose cake, recreating the classic sweet gulab jamun  – a deep-fried cardamom-spiced sponge served in rose syrup and sprinkled with pistachios, and then developed a range of chocolate products such as the tarts and naans.

I have tried the chocolate naans and spiced chocolate tarts and was blown away. The white chocolate tart is infused with a blend of crushed fennel seeds, aniseed & menthol and the dark chocolate tart is infused with a signature chai blend. The subtlety with which she has introduced the spices into the tarts is admirable since you can taste a hint on your palate without the flavours being overbearing.

Her latest creation, which I have yet to try, is the mukhwas – a beautifully aromatic biscuit containing a gentle blend of betel leaf, areca nut & other spices, decorated with candied aniseed & fennel (pictured below).

Rekha gets excited at the prospect of being able to create and present an afternoon tea banquet experience featuring her signature desserts and a lot more. She has many other interesting creations up her sleeve that are a twist on the Indian dessert, which I won’t divulge now but remain excited to see how they shape up.

She has participated in the Chocolate Festival in Bristol and the Taste of India in the last two months. To remain updated on where she will be next and what’s next on the horizon you can follow Pistachio_Rose on Twitter or browse through her blog Crumbs and Chronicles

**Note: All photographs in this post are courtesy of Rekha

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La Gelatiera and the Renaissance Ice Cream Men

31 Mar

The origins of ice cream can be traced back to the Tang period in China 618-907 AD where the Chinese heated buffalo, cow and goat milk along with grounded rice, allowed it to ferment and then buried it in snow. Some accounts suggest that the Chinese taught Arab traders how to combine syrups and snow, which morphed into an early version of what we now know as the sorbet and it was then the Arab traders who taught Venetians and Romans how to make this novel frozen delicacy.

It is also widely believed that the tradition of Italian gelato began during the Italian Renaissance. The famed Medici family in Florence sponsored a contest, searching for the greatest frozen dessert. A man named Ruggeri, a chicken farmer, happened to win the contest for his tasty frozen dessert of sweet fruit juice and ice. Other popular accounts suggest that gelato was infact invented by Bernardo Buontalenti, an Italian architect who was hired by the Medici family in 1565 to cater banquets. He created frozen desserts from a mixture of frozen sweet milk with egg yolks and other flavorings, which became widely popular but mainly among the elite.  Meanwhile, in the South, the frozen rendition was lower in fat, predominantly water-based, slightly higher in sugar content due to the intense flavourings and was called Sorbetto, known today as Sorbet.

* * * * * * *

Let’s come back to 5 centuries later. My mother is the sort of person who will skip a meal just to be able to eat double the amount of ice cream you should typically have as one helping of dessert. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit her passion for this frozen treat.

But that didn’t deter me from discovering La Gelatiera, an artisan gelateria in Covent Garden, through a Chocolate Walks deserts tasting event in February. Ever since, I have returned every week, sometimes even more frequently not just to enjoy the delectable range of inventive flavours that never cease to surprise me but also the conversations with the friendly staff and owners.

Opened by three friends; Antonio, Simona and Stephane, La Gelatiera is truly a labour of love. Antonio’s paternal grandfather was a gelato maker in Calabria, southern Italy and this new venture is his homage to the tradition of gelato-making that he fondly remembers from his childhood.

One can sense the owners’ passion and dedication towards their craft and the choice of name (which literally means the machine that churns gelato, photographed below) embodies their desire to share the gelato-making process with those who visit. You can also peak into their lab through its transparent roof to catch a glimpse of the gelato churning process.

La Gelatiera

Co-owner Antonio spent a year researching and carefully studying books on gelato-making and he describes the process as being somewhat mathematical since it involves meticulously balancing the sugar, water and fat content in each of the ingredients that is used. It’s as much chemistry as it is an art. This approach lies at the heart of artisanal gelato-making and lends La Gelatiera’s products the depth that communicates the effort and love that went into creating them. 

The owners are inspired by the Slow Food movement, which originated in Italy to preserve traditional cuisine and agricultural biodiversity. La Gelatiera is committed to sustainability not only in the use of fresh, seasonal and organic ingredients but also by using reclaimed wood for the stools and small tables and using a water recycling machine. The milk is locally sourced, organically certified and pasteurized on premises.

With flavours such as black sesame, saffron, prosecco and peaches, wensleydale cheese and blackcurrant, La Gelatiera is pushing the boundaries of creative experimentation. My favourite is the salty caramel that is nearly as good as the salted butter caramel ice cream I had at Berthillon in Paris in January.  The mango gelato is also delightful especially since they clearly know that the best mango gelato can only be made with Pakistani mangoes! The flavours change on a daily basis so there may be days on which your preferred flavour is not available.

I was curious to know whether innovation in gelato flavours is also taking place in the Italian foodscape. According to Antonio, experimentation in avant-garde gelato flavours is not very common but it is taking place largely focused in the North of Italy in cities such as Milan, Florence and Bologna. Antonio draws inspiration from Japanese and French cuisine and he recently collaborated with a French chef to develop a savoury gelato flavour – Delice des Cabasses provencal goat cheese with real truffle & honey. He hopes to continue the practice of collaborating with other chefs to merge flavour profiles and influences. In addition to gelato, you can’t escape the aromas of La Gelatiera’s home-made cakes and desserts such as panettone and tartufo, which are freshly baked on premises and inspired by co-owner Simona’s family recipes from Modena.

Panettone

La Gelatiera

27 New Row

Covent Garden

WC2N 4LA, London

MEATliquor

12 Dec

I’m always on the lookout for a great burger. Not just any burger but the kind that you crave more and more with every bite. During a trip to NYC in September, my friend, A, and I had a conversation about the best burgers in NYC. The criteria being the texture of the bun, the quality of the beef patty and lastly the choice of toppings. We both had a long list of the best burgers we had tasted in the city based on those attributes but we recognized that we had not been very adventurous with burgers in London. So when MEATliquor opened its doors in London in early November, the brand new eatery was a must on my to-try-list. It’s only been a month and I’ve already clocked in 3 visits.

From the outside, the location is unassuming but the interior is gothic and edgy with black, red and white animal murals painted on the walls and ceilings with and red neon lights screaming ‘LIQUOR!’ The blaring rock music is quite loud so let’s just say this may not the most date-friendly location.

I haven’t tried the drinks so unfortunately can’t comment on the ‘liquor’ half of the establishment but there is plenty to be said about the food. I tried the deep fried tangy pickles, incredibly crunchy and moreish and wonderful when smothered in the accompanying garlicky blue cheese sauce. I liked the shoe string fries that were served on my first visit but by my second visit they just seemed like regular sized fries.

The menu is fairly straight-forward. No mention of the provenance of the meat or types of cheese etc. I, personally, don’t care much for detailed descriptions as long as what is placed in front of me blows my mind. As I took the first bite of my chilli cheeseburger I knew I was in meat utopia. The meat-to-bun-to-condiment ratio is just right and the burger itself is big enough to satiate you but not heavy enough to make you feel like you can’t move after eating it. The sourdough bun encases the patty, which is juicy, chargrilled on the outside, pink in the center; topped with melted cheese, onions, and ketchup and in this case abundant green chillies (very spicy even by my standards).

The burgers are priced between £6 to £8 and the sides are between £3 to £5 making this a very affordable meal.

MEATliquor is a ballad to the meat lover but probably a vegetarian or even a kosher abiding person’s worst nightmare. Be prepared for long queues at peak dinner time. In order to avoid that, I went on a Saturday just after noon and got a table instantly. MEATliquor is closed on Sundays and Mondays but brace yourself for some meat and cheese goodness the rest of the week.

Meat Liquor
74 Welbeck Street
London W1G 0BA

Roti Chai – Indian Street Food Kitchen

23 Aug

Roti Chai is the new entrant on the casual Indian dining scene. Dubbed as a new concept in Indian Street Food, the menu features a selection of roadside cafe staples found in India. Having had a soft opening last week, I decided to check out what the initial buzz was all about.

The first thing I noticed upon entering were stacked bottles of Rooh Afza on display, which may not have been my favourite drink from childhood but it certainly does evoke fond memories of home. The decor is quite minimal with turmeric hued ceilings and fixtures and a brightly painted kitchen wall with posters of Indian product advertisements but given the amount of space they have, they could be doing more with it.

The menu is not expansive but it is varied and I believe menu additions are in the works. I ordered Chicken Lollipops (spiced chicken wings) and Bun Kebab (spiced lamb patty inside a bun). The lollipops were succulent with a delicious and flavourful marinade served with smooth mint chutney. I would DEFINITELY go back for more.

When I think of bun kebab, it invokes an image of velvety shami kebabs smothered in chutneys served inside a toasted, buttered bread. This variation of the bun kebab was not reminiscent of that but it has the potential to head in that direction if the spicing and seasoning is kicked up a notch.

The eponymous chai is not much to rave about. Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the food and would come back to try more items. Moreover, the service was excellent. I do wish the ambiance and food presentation reflected more of the street food culture and earthiness.

Dishoom Beach Bar

14 May

Dishoom – one of my favourite restaurants in London that I blogged about here has decided to go on a trippy summer holiday. As part of the Festival of Britain 60th anniversary celebrations they have recreated a psychedelic beach bar along the Southbank serving Indian snacks and drinks all day long oh and did I mention fruity golas (that can be ordered naughty or virgin)?

This brand-new set up which opened doors yesterday is essentially, as the owners themselves put it, “Dishoom on an acid trip”

A  large part of going to any restaurant is not just the food but the entire experience and by that I don’t mean simply decor and service – it’s how welcome a place makes u feel and the vibe it exudes. The experience of visiting a restaurant can have the potential to transport you into another world and Dishoom does that for me.

Onto the food itself:

The menu has been scaled down to include a few signature favourites such as the Dishoom calamari and pau bhaji but new features are crunchy bhel with pomegranate and chutney, vada pau, which was reminscent of the aaloo bun kebab I used to eat in primary school in Karachi for Rs. 5. I enjoyed the Dishoom frankie (a naan roll with minced lamb doused in a spicy sauce). I, personally, would prefer if the portions of bhel and calamari were a bit larger.

There is a selection of cocktails and beers and not to be missed chilled Limca and Thums Up perfect for the summer weather.

Once again, attention to detail in the design is meticulous and you can also tell they really had fun doing it. They have used recycled colourful carrier bags for the walkway and created an entire wall of recycled English and Hindi newspapers rolled and stacked up.

….and an ingenious clock, which needs to be seen to be believed.

I’m also loving the bright neon t-shirts with amusing captions that the staff have been wearing.

It’s fun, it’s spunky and it’s the perfect place to hang out with friends this summer.

Details:
May 13th – October 4th
Monday – Thursday: Noon – Midnight
Friday: Noon – 1am
Saturday: 10am –1am
Sunday: 10am – Midnight


Queen Elizabeth Hall Terrace,
Southbank Centre,
Belvedere Road,
London SE1 8XX

From Bombay to London: Irani Cafes & “Dishoom”

12 Mar

On the several walks from my apartment to the hustle bustle of Soho and Leicester Square I had frequently walked past  the restaurant “Dishoom” – somewhat intrigued by the 1970s ‘Bollywoodish’ title. On the recommendation of my cousin, I finally paid a visit last month and wondered why it had taken me so long to make this first move. There are countless reviews on the blogosphere that have discovered “Dishoom” much before I did  so I am, clearly, tardy to that party and hence don’t intend on simply “reviewing” the restaurant.

What struck me as the most charming and defining feature of Dishoom” was the concept that it pays homage to, that of, Irani cafes in mid-20th century Bombay. Irani cafes appeared in Bombay and Karachi after their Zoroastrian-Iranian owners came to India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries following earlier settlers from Persia.

An Irani Cafe in Bombay - Photo Credit: Expressindia.com

In the last few years, such cafes have either been converted into pubs and restaurants or are simply closing down mainly due to fierce competition from other market players and the economic migration of younger generation of Parsis outside of India. Poignantly, the dwindling number of Irani cafes in Bombay and Karachi mirrors the shrinking of the Parsi community itself that has barely 70,000 members living in Bombay and only 2,000 in Karachi.

A fringe religious community in both India and Pakistan, Parsis  have made immense contributions in various spheres of life in both countries. The Irani cafes or restaurants were set up predominantly by Irani Zoroastrians who fled persecution from the Iranian provinces of Yazd and Kerman. Since they lacked the capital to establish themselves in shipping, banking and industry as had the earlier Zoroastrian settlers, the Irani Zoroastrians established modest cafes.

Irani cafes gradually became iconic institutions in themselves attracting clientele from students, struggling artists, tourists and Parsi families. They were also seen as very welcoming and were touted as being a microcosm that was “classless and casteless” where religious boundaries and societal divisions were blurred.

While there is ample material to be found on Irani cafes in Bombay, I was also curious to explore their roots in my birthplace, Karachi.

My father who was has spent 4 decades in the city recollects his experience of these cafes:

Irani cafes were dotted all over Karachi in yesteryears and were known for providing quality food on a budget. The cafes were owned by Bahai community people who were living in mostly coastal cities like Bombay and Karachi but somehow in local parlance they were called “Iran Kay Hotel”. The bun muska (crusty bun with butter) and ovaltine chai (milky tea with sprinkled ovaltine) was the meal for many office goers and students. These cafes also used to be political centres of Karachi where student and political activist used to rendezvous for hours. They used to bring a full glass of water before any serving while the fingers were dipped inside the glass. Some of them were centrally located  like one at Regal Cinema in Saddar and Khairabad on I .I.Chundrigar Road which was in those days the Fleet Street of Karachi where all newspapers offices were located. Outside these cafes were paan shops where people used to buy one cigarette of Wills or Capstan and lit their cigarette after a hearty meal by rope made of jute (jute used to come from East Pakistan). Irani cafes were institutions which have unfortunately faded out from the cultural scene of Karachi and more synthetic and fast food chains have replaced them. Anybody who has lived in Karachi in the 50s, 60s, 70s can recall all such cafes.

Now on to “Dishoom”

“Dishoom” opened its doors to Londoners last July. Adorned with sepia toned portraiture and popular imagery from the 50s and 60s against the backdrop of powder blue walls, it is obvious that much thought and effort has gone into the decor and cultural referencing. The attention to detail in the interior was for me a highlight since eating out is equally about the experience as it is about the food itself.

I admit to this bias but given the plethora of Pakistani restaurants in London that serve food exactly how I would enjoy it back home, I rarely venture to Indian restaurants. However, Dishoom has changed that for me. During multiple visits I have enjoyed the simple, clean flavours and moderately spiced food. The stellar item on the menu is, undoubtedly, the chai. Sacrilegious as this may sound, I’m not at all a chai drinker but this has me hooked. It’s traditional milky tea with a lingering aftertaste of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and a hint of ginger. The pau bhaji and dishoom calamari are excellent as starters as is the accompaniment of velvety roomali roti, which I had the last time at the iconic Karim’s in Delhi (that was a meal not to be forgotten).

Pau Bhaji

I always order the grilled items, which are amongst the best I have had in London. In particular, the spicy lamb chops and dishoom chicken tikka are perfectly seasoned and flavoured. The lamb biryani is also worth mentioning. They also serve a chicken berry biryani, which I have not tried as yet but it’s a signature Parsi dish. The rose and cardamom lassi is delicious and refreshing. The samosas and fish fingers were standard and not particular stand-outs. The chilli omelette and the breakfast bake are worth getting up early on a Saturday morning for.

While, I would not term this as a meal on a budget, the items are fairly priced. They have a no reservation policy so expect a long wait for tables during peak meal times on weekends.

Recently, Dishoom has started hosting events such as book readings and musical performances, which one can follow on their social media outlets (Twitter and Facebook).

Oh, and they also serve Thums Up 🙂

Dishoom

12 Upper St Martins Lane
WC2H 9FB, London
020 7420 9320

Sources:

Naomi Lobo (May 20 2007). “Irani cafés: Inheritance of loss”. India Express.

http://heritageinstitute.com/zoroastrianism/irani/cafe.htm

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/JK27Df01.html

mmmmmMooli’s – Old Delhi meets Tokyo

24 Nov

What: Moveable Feasts at Mooli’s

Where: 50 Frith Street, W1D 4SQ

WHY?

A couple of weeks ago, my London Pakistani crew raved “OMGRidayouaregoingtoloveit” regarding Mooli’s – a year old cosy eatery serving Indian street food in the heart of Soho. Needless to say, it took me just one trip to get hooked! The creators of Mooli’s claim that “mooli’s are old delhi meets tokyo” and this is certainly reflective in the decor as well as the design of the menu. I won’t commit the sacrilege of terming this as a South Asian version of a burrito since it’s not, it’s simply a moolia roti roll with tasty, wholesome fillings and flavourful chutneys. The term mooli itself, for those unacquainted with Urdu/Hindi, translates literally to radish – the really pungent white vegetable that I (and perhaps you as well) avoided eating as a child. However, this is one interpretation of the term mooli I am certainly not avoiding!
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Turkish-Indian Fusion Treat

28 Oct

Spending Sunday afternoons at Spitalfields/Brick Lane Market in East London is slowly becoming a weekly ritual. The Brick Lane Food Market is home to an array of food from all over the world – from Sri Lankan to Mexican and Brazilian to Japanese. As aromas of pickled curries and fried dumplings waft through the air, one can’t help but be enticed by what each stall has to offer. For me it has become a weekly predicament to decide where to try food from!

Two weeks ago I noticed a food stall serving Turkish-Indian fusion food called Roti Roll and decided to check it out.

I was very intrigued by the idea of combining two of my favourite cuisines that seemingly have little in common. To the credit of  Mona and Tamercan who spend the entire Saturday night cooking in preparation for the influx of eager, tourists and locals the following day, the amalgamation of the two cultures and cuisines results in delicious, flavourful food. Interestingly, Mona and Tamercan are from India and Turkey respectively and cook food that represents their national origins merging the Mediterranean flavours with the Indian spices and garnishes. I found it somewhat fascinating to note this is not a trendy attempt at fusion but rather mirrors the reality of perhaps many multicultural households – where what is prepared in the kitchen and served on the dining table is a delightful marriage of distinct ingredients and flavour profiles that individuals bring from their individual cultures.

Roti Roll serves lentils and rice, hummus and falafel as well as delicious wraps with fillings such as kababs (either in the form of  kofte – meatballs or slender seekh kebabs), garlic chicken, masala potato, chicken tikka. The choice of roti or wrap is also varied, you can choose from plain, cheese and onion or chili and corriander all cooked freshly on a tawa. The meat or vegetarian filling is drowned in mint sauce, chili sauce and feta cheese and fluffed with some cabbage and lettuce. As you take a bite, there is an explosion of flavour in your mouth. Everything on the menu is under £6. Try it out and let us know what u think!

– R

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