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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


Ministry of Crab

25 Jan

Last month, Ministry of Crab opened its doors to seafood aficionados in the newly restored and charming 400 year old Dutch Hospital in Colombo. The resteraunt has kept the original design of the building intact, including the high ceilings and tiled floors with the addition of the simple orange and black color scheme for it’s interior. It is co-owned by cricketers Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene and their partner Dharshan Munidasa (also the founder and owner of Nihonbashi – Colombo’s premier Japanese restaurant).

Sri Lankan mud crabs are widely famous, particularly in Singapore but prime quality crabs are rarely available locally. Ministry of Crab is committed to changing that by creating a local market for export quality crabs. The restaurant doesn’t only serve crabs but also other varieties of seafood including calamari, squid and cuttlefish, black tiger prawns or fresh water prawns. All the seafood on the menu is absolutely fresh and nothing is frozen in fact the crabs are kept live in a tank at the back of the kitchen for patrons to take a look before they are cooked.

The open kitchen

According to the “constitution” Ministry of Crab aims to be one of the lowest “food-mile” restaurants in the world i.e. they do not import any major ingredients. This was reiterated by co-owner Dharshan who told us that he prepares his own version of sauces like Tabasco. He laughingly remarked, “good food is like good people, you have to be honest with it.” In the same vein of not using or selling commercial products there is no Coca Cola or other soft drinks on the menu.

After repeated attempts at making a reservation, we finally headed there one evening for dinner in early Jan. Upon arrival, we were handed some sturdy bibs so we anticipated things getting messy!

The crabs come in six sizes, small (700-800g), medium, large, extra large, extra extra large and colossal (1200g upwards). We indulged in the small Pepper Crab (above) on Dharshan’s recommendation, which was accompanied by claw breakers to extract the meat from the claws.  The pepper gravy was thick and generous, not too overpowering and wonderfully seasoned.

The prawn curry (below) packed in a lot of flavour with just the right amount of heat, allowing the rest of the ingredients to shine through. It works well with the redolent garlic rice, which was ridiculously delicious. I could give an arm and a leg to learn how to prepare rice in that manner. We also tried the leek fried rice, but I preferred the garlic rice over this one.

Prawn Curry

Ministry of Crab is by no means easy on the pocket, expect to pay around Rs. 2,500 (US$ 25) per person (without alcohol) but once you bite into the succulent and tender crab meat you will forget the price tag. Also keep in mind you are also being served fresh and high quality produce and ingredients, which are all locally sourced.

Ministry of Crab

Old Dutch Hospital,
Colombo 01
Tel: 234CRAB (2342722)

Haleem – A Subcontinental Delight

14 Oct

The advent of Muharram every year was a period of excitement for all the young ones who were fairly oblivious to the religious significance of the occasion but eagerly anticipated the food adventures that awaited them.

Muharram, for the unacquainted, marks the commencement of a period of mourning for Shia Muslims to mark the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, Muhammad’s grandson in the epic Battle of Karbala (modern day Iraq). In Karachi, where I grew up, the first ten days of Muharram witnessed a series of gatherings eulogizing this historical event. At the end of these gatherings, tabarruk, which literally translates as a token of blessing would be given to all attendees. It included an assortment of food items both sweet and savoury including haleem. 

Haleem – words can’t do it justice but at best it can be described as a combination of cracked wheat, lentils and shredded meat (usually beef or mutton) cooked tirelessly over slow heat for hours preferably even overnight and pounded to reach a thick consistency. It is then decorated with caramelized onions, slivers of ginger, finely cut green chillies, and sprinkled with lemon juice and served with naan.

I can’t remember a time in my life where I haven’t craved eating plate after plate after plate of haleem. Partly because of childhood memories and partly because it’s the most satiating dish I have ever tasted – the ultimate comfort food.

It remains unclear why haleem came to be associated with Muharram. A tradition, though unverified, reveals that a member of Hussain’s family ordered the dish to be cooked after the tragedy of Karbala. Even to this day, amongst Shia Muslims in the Subcontinent haleem is associated with Muharram.

The origins of Haleem, however, may not necessarily have been subcontinental:

“According to food historians haleem was a pastoral West Asian dish, primarily Persian, that travelled across continents and time to finally find fame and sophistication in Hyderabad. Given the Persian origin, haleem is eaten during Muharram and Ramzan by Shias, which explains why it didn’t gain popularity in places with predominantly Afghan or Burrani influence, such as Delhi, Rampur, Bhopal.

In its robust rusticity, haleem is much like the other Ramzan dish, nihari, began life as an unsophisticated, one-dish meal prepared by soldiers and sailors. Its popularity in the Barkas area near the Charminar in Hyderabad, where the Nizam’s barracks were, is probably testimony to its military past. Later, as it started being served in the finest homes of Lucknow and Hyderabad, two royal courts with a larger congregation of Shias, the recipe evolved.

(Source: The original ‘slow food’ staple – )

What is fascinating to me is the inherent contradiction in when the dish is cooked and served. It is associated with celebratory occasions such as weddings and iftaars (the ritual of opening the fast at sundown) in Ramazan but equally with periods of mourning such as Muharram. Yet, no matter what time of the year or time of the day, the narrow lanes of Burns Road in Karachi are inundated with haleem vendors serving plate after plate from ladles dipped in large pots. The hygienic standards may be questionable but the taste never is.

Lamprais: Green Lump of Deliciousness

1 Oct

Lamprais, is one of the cornerstones of Dutch Burgher cuisine in Sri Lanka. The origin of the word remains unclear but it is thought to be the anglicized version of the original Dutch words – klomp (lump) rijst (rice). 

Traditional Lamprais consists of a mound of samba rice boiled in stock served with a piquant mixed- meat curry (chicken/beef/pork) accompanied by “frikkadels” (breaded meatballs), brinjal  pahè (deep fried eggplant cooked in a traditional sauce), blachan (a spicy shrimp paste), ash plantains and a side of seeni sambol (fried onions caramelised in sugar).

The entire meal is wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed – allowing all the flavors to infuse together into the rice. When you open the banana leaf packet you can immediately smell the delicious aroma of the assortment of the spices blended deliciously together with the rice.  If you don’t fancy a mixed-meat curry you can choose to get your lamprais with a chicken curry instead !

Lamprais is commonly available throughout Sri Lanka – however it may not always be authentic as several variations of the dish exist and most don’t taste half as good as the original dish. Authentic lamprais can be quite rich hence it’s served in smaller portions reserved for special occasions so if you find yourself with a huge packet of lamprais – chances are it’s not really lamprais. Purists argue over what exactly constitutes lamprais – this is a never ending debate since everyone has their own version and variation of the dish.

Some of the best lamprais comes out from the home-kitchens of Burgher women using traditional lamprais recipes that have been passed down through generations. My personal recommendations of the best lamprais I have had so far in Colombo is:

  •   Perera & Sons
  •   Green Cabin
  •   Mrs Warusawithana’s Lamprais

So next time you find yourself in Sri Lanka make sure you try some Lamprais!

PS: You can check out Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation’s episode where he tries out authentic lamprais

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.

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

Let’s Go Eat Dhedo – Nepal’s Forgotten Staple

20 Apr

Contribution by Sneh Rajbhandari

Dhedo khaana jaam” (Let’s go eat Dhedo)

Changes in diet patterns have led to an increase in malnutrition in the mid and far-Western parts of Nepal– traditional and nutritious meals of dhedo (a thick doughy mixture made of buckwheat, millet, or maize) are quickly being replaced with bhaat (polished white rice grains).[1] One of my friends just got back from a trip to Dadeldhura (a district in the far-western region) and he stressed how eating rice has become part of one’s status quo – people take pride in sharing how many meals of rice they can afford to eat in one day. What they don’t realize is even if they are eating more meals a day, they are not getting the required nutritional content, as vegetables and lentils are found in small quantities, shadowed by a mountain of rice in the middle.[2]

Having grown up in the city, dhedo was as foreign a concept to me as injera. It was only something that I knew of from vague references by my parents, and a name that provided a romanticized image of rural-hilly life. A quiet reminder of the charmed village life and the nutritious food needed to carry out daily laborious tasks in difficult terrain, the meal has slowly made its way to local restaurants in the inroads of the cities and served to locals and foreigners alike. Dhedo has a somewhat doughy texture and has no flavor of its own, but tastes delicious when dunked in a bowl of chicken curry, vegetables, or lentils.

My last dhedo khaana was at the Mona Lisa Thakali in Pokhara, a city in the Mid-Western region of Nepal, served with black lentils, a spicy (local) chicken curry, greens, spicy potatoes and fermented radish. Much healthier than daal-bhaat (lentils and rice) and a truly filling meal, we need a major awareness campaign to encourage families to go back to eating this protein-rich food item, rather than eating disproportionately high amounts of white rice in their daily meal intake. If you are in Kathmandu, or Pokhara, or traveling via road around Nepal, be sure to try this meal, which will keep you going for hours and leave you satiated with its earthy flavors mixed with savoury curries.


Cricket Club Café: Where Cricket is the Main Course

21 Mar

This post is derived from the article “Cricket Club Cafe: Where cricket’s the main course” by Jaffer Bilgrami published in Dawn Magazine on 20th March 2011. F has added a few more details to supplement it.

This past Saturday was a typical late March evening in Colombo, humid and muggy as the full moon shone down and the Pakistani batting lineup thrashed the Australian bowling attack at the Premadasa Stadium. In another part of town, fans had thronged to an upscale cafe usually known for social gatherings but that evening was somewhat different. The result of the match had created one of the greatest milestones in the history of the Cricket World Cup – Pakistan had beaten invincible Australia to end their 35 match victory streak in the World Cup.

The rapturous applause with jeers and booing was noisy and deafening but it wasn’t an unusual scene in this cafe. Called “Cricket Club Cafe” but known more widely as CCC in local parlance, this cafe is perhaps the only venue  of its kind anywhere in the world which has  adopted the game of cricket and the culture surrounding cricket as a theme for its business venture by drawing on not only the history of the game but also vocabulary of cricket and references to prominent cricketing personalities.

Located in the heart of the city, the cafe is owned by a cricket loving Australian couple James and Gabriel who came to the island for their love for surfing back in the early nineties but fell in love with the country and decided to make it their permanent abode. The couple felt the absence of an off-beat bistro like restaurant in the city which was dominated by many five star hotels. Realizing the fanatical love for the game of cricket by the local population they instantly decided to set up a cafe by using the theme of cricket and dedicated every aspect of their business establishment to the culture surrounding the game.

Using their old Australian connections, both James and Gaby started collecting cricket souvenirs and memorabilia and packed the cafe with an astounding array of cricket related items. To begin with Ray Lindwall the Australian pace bowler of sixties gifted his test playing pull over to them. More and more items kept on pouring in the cafe turning the cafe more into a museum.

However, it’s not just the walls of this cafe that are adorned by cricket memorabilia, the menu boasts of an equal dose of cricket. Signature dishes at the cafe are creatively inspired by the names of past and present players. Items include Ganguly’s Grill, Murali Mulligatawny, Imran’s Pakistani Pumpkin, Jayasuriya’s Triple Century to Sachin’s Sausages & Mash to name a few. The waiting staff wear customized CCC cricket jerseys that are also available for sale.

The menu covers quite a broad spectrum of cuisine ranging from finger food, soups & salads, pasta to burgers and wraps.  Some personal favorites on the menu are the Murali’s Mulligatawny Soup, Dickie Bird Burger, Pollock’s Parmesan and Miandad’s Mango Magic.

The Dickie Bird Burger contains a lightly breaded fried chicken fillet coated with garlic mayo &  ketchup served on a bed of lettuce and tomatoes sandwiched between two sesame buns with a generous helping of french fries. Even my vegetarian friends love CCC because it has several vegetarian options in the main course that don’t only consist of salad. One such dish being the HOWZATT India Samosa Burger which contains a potato patty drenched in mint yogurt and spices sandwiched between two buns.

The Dickie Bird Burger

With an innovative menu and appetizing food all encompassing cricket, the Cricket Club Cafe has very rapidly achieved  popularity not only amongst the locals but also among the expatriate community in Sri Lanka. At the entrance a black board lists the daily specials all dedicated to cricket. Once inside, the quaint colonial style house  one can sit in the main restaurant which is sprawled into various segments while open lawn is always there to greet you.

It is obvious that the place is more than about food – it is about Sri Lanka’s favourite sport.

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