Mum’s Chicken Rice

I’ve inherited close to a ton, from my father. Like him, I’m an unnecessary level of logical. Inherently pessimistic and resourceful (which makes me one of the best people to stay close to during a zombie invasion, if you’re taking notes). I have a dimpled chin and narrow set eyes like he does, and I’m almost as awkwardly sarcastic in uncomfortable situations.

I’ve also inherited a few things from my mother. Not much, but a tad. I like to think I’m as resilient as her (my friends have informed me that I’m actually not). I might even say I have a fraction of her sense of humor and her aversion to housework. Apart from that, the most precious things I’ve inherited from her is a camel-colored wool winter coat, a very rare bracelet made of uncut diamonds and all the recipes in her repertoire.

I have to, at this point, put it out there, that my mum is no accomplished cook. She won’t be offended at this, because more often than not, when she’s asked to cook, we end up with either under-salted or over-salted food. But like many uninterested cooks out there, she has a handful of recipes that she’s brilliant with.

Chicken sandwiches, for one. You could live off my mum’s chicken sandwiches. She always makes them with marbled bread. The chicken is shredded and pummeled with salt, cracked black pepper and even more butter till it resembles handmade paper. And there’s always a smidgen of mayonnaise. On occasions I’ve supplied her with homemade mayonnaise, but she swears that the sandwiches work better with store-bought. Don’t ask.

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What we eat

You know what the rains are like here. We get swept away and washed off of all our sins every season. Then we roll right out of bed, grab black umbrellas left behind by our grandfathers, go back to work and dream of khichdi.

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Khichdi with fried aubergines and cubes of potatoes coated in a poppy-seed crumb, crispy fried of course, and a large dollop of ghee on top for good measure. Khichdi, like this, or with flaked fish British-style, is something I will cook forever. I have done my research online trying to find poetry or pretty prose that might have been written on khichdi, but I have been unsuccessful so far. With fried hilsa fish, with popadoms and mango chutney or with an omelette on top. It is not a head-turner in any sense. It is not something you’d find in QP LDN’s menu for sure. But let’s be real here. As much as I enjoyed QP LDN’s food last summer, I did walk out of there still feeling a little hungry (and lighter in the pockets) and ended up gorging on a quarter-pounder form Burger King. That should tell you a lot about how we eat. And more importantly, what we eat.

A man I had dated for a very short while, had studied my Instagram feed very carefully. He said, “You really love food, don’t you..”

I do. But he wasn’t really asking a question, it was more of a self-assured whisper under his own breath, as if he was looking for clues to help him decide what to give me as a birthday gift. He then proceeded to observe, “You eat fancy!”

He didn’t last till my birthday, but I still think of that conversation.

The sausage salad

The truth is that we don’t eat fancy at all. We eat out. We visit our favorite Indo-Chinese establishments or stroll to the neighborhood burger place that has, in recent times, turned magnificent. We get biryanis home-delivered. But those meals, although scrumptious enough to swear by, are hardly ever the kind of fancy you would want the world to be envious about. Good food. Great food, even. But not fancy food.

Most of our meals are home-made. Cooked or slurried together due to lack of time. A mutton curry, the recipe of which was handed down to my mother by her mother, with fluffy white rice. A homemade vanilla cake my colleague baked for Christmas, that we had with coffee. I found myself with some cooked pork sausages yesterday. I threw them in a bowl with a 6-minute egg, day old lettuce that already had a few brown edges, and dollops of mayonnaise. I then called it a sausage salad. That’s my daily level of fancy-ness. It may be comfortable, mediocre or cherished. But it is what it is.

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We took a whirlwind tour of Bangkok, Singapore and Bali. I travel to eat — for the most part — and I was not disappointed. Big bowlfuls of kuay chap, rolled noodles with crispy pork, hokkien mee, unctuous plates of Hainanese chicken rice, nasi goreng, barbecued pork ribs, piles of seafood by the beach and cups of robust Luwak coffee with sweet coconut milk. Nothing plated, ready for Instagram. But everything made to fill an insatiable appetite for good food.

We returned to a rain-drenched waterlogged city. And within 24 hours of arrival, I was craving khichdi. A steaming plate of gooey rice and dal, to warm you up in the chill of monsoon. So we had khichdi for lunch. And a quiche for dinner.

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Biryani and Other Love Stories

I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.― Nora Ephron

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Lovers on a bench, Dominique Amendola

When you grow up in the sweltering heat of India, sitting in a brick-clad classroom stewing in your own sweat, listening to your professors drone on about Structural Design, there is very little motivation for you to even like summer, let alone love it.

After your nineteenth birthday, you decide that it is time to fall in love. And the right candidate comes along very soon. A senior at the University and although his arms are a little thinner and danglier than you would have liked, he seems perfect. Tall, dark, almost handsome with a carved beard that makes him look like one of the Bee Gees. He also likes to dress in black from head to toe.

But the clincher? He owns a motorcycle — a ratty Yamaha RX-100 that champions at sputtering. That machine splits through the silent night air, every night and wakes up everyone at the girls’ hostel. He has the faultless makings of a “bad boy”.

It starts with phone calls that last through the night while your classmates Read More »

A chicken roll that won’t let you forget

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“Isn’t it to die for?” My friend gushed breathlessly between bites of Kati Roll.

I was meeting her after 10 long years smack dab in the middle of rain-infested New York City, and she’d dragged me to Greenwich Village to taste a popular Bengali import (or export? Import, if you’re anywhere out of West Bengal).

The chicken roll.

Except that the Kati Roll Company is calling it the Kati Roll.

Versions — diluted, exaggerated and almost always awful — of the quintessential roll in various parts of India, do actually go by that name, so I can’t blame them.

Gujarat (and the Indian West Coast in general) has a version, inexplicably known as a Frankie, where the chicken is tomato red in color and amount of spice will produce a hole in your chest. Delhi’s back alleys produce “rolls” that are made of succulent kebabs wrapped in flimsy rumaali roti. Note how the word “roll” is within quotes.

I once also had a Bengali cook at an Indian food stall on Portobello Street make me chicken roll that had a white yogurt-based sauce that brought forth the same kind of emotions that underwear stuck in your butt-crack brings.

“Isn’t this the best chicken roll you’ve had outside of Kolkata?” She gushed again, this time looking directly at me. I nodded vigorously, making sure my mouth was too full to speak and hoped she couldn’t make out how much I wanted to dump that roll on her head.

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we do nice things with roast chicken here

fenugreek roast chicken

When you’re single, envious of your married friends, self un-assured and plummeting towards 30 like nobody’s business, you start making promises to yourself. About your future no less. Yep. You have very little clue where you are in your present, but nevertheless, you make promises about your future. The word you’re looking for is “optimism”.

When it’s late enough in the night and you find yourself tossing and turning on your bed trying to find a cool spot on your pillow, or you’re hungry enough to constantly keep opening up the refrigerator door as if something suitable to eat would magically pop up any second — that’s when those promises show up at the forefront of your mind. And they refuse to go away till either you resort to counting imaginary sheep, or till you’re distracted by something smothered in chocolate or by someone with an invite to the latest bistro (apparently) in town. Oh but I’m rambling.

I made myself a few promises, quite a while ago, notably while eating greasy strands of bacon over the sink at midnight after returning from work. It was cold and damp like most English evenings, the house was as quiet as death and it was a quick dinner after a long day.

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get your Asian on.

I don’t know what to call this.

Tamarind & Honey Chicken

It is technically not bibimbap, due to the lack of beef or kimchi for that matter. There’s no Chinese fried rice in there; I haven’t used a fluffy omlette and it’s not nearly as colourful as fried rice ought to be. However, it is definitely more colourful than your typical everyday Singaporean chicken rice, so we can’t go there either. No Indian or Thai curry I’ve ever seen came with a sunny on top. I’ve had two bowlfuls of it for dinner almost three hours ago and I still don’t know what to call this.

However, I do know that you need to get your Asian on and make this now. Or the next time you’re craving Chinese take-away.

Tamarind & Honey Chicken

There is deep satisfaction in making Chinese food. There aren’t too many ingredients as Indian or Thai food demands. There aren’t the fussy bits of rolling or fiddly bits of technique that French food demands. It doesn’t take the kind of time British food normally does.

If it sounds like I’m dissing all the other cuisines of the world and awarding the trophy to Chinese food…well, I am. Get over it. And you secretly know that I’m right. You secretly know that you love it too.

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sunday and other things.

Walnut Cake with Tamarind Sauce & Whipped Cream

It has been a weepy Sunday so far. You know how we feel about Sundays out here. Especially one that comes with a side of soft rain pitter-pattering against the bay windows. The kind that fails to pull you out of bed in time to taste mother-made French toasts (that are rarities in this household) and hence you end up losing all the egg-y goodness to your brother, who then proceeds to strut around the house boasting of a belly full of fried bread.

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