My answer will and always will, be hilsa

“What’s your favourite kind of fish?” asked Priya.

dog

Her mouth was full of badly made chicken patty and her legs were propped up on the center table, on which lay few more chicken patties, more horrible than the other. The 6-month-old puppy that hardly looks like a puppy anymore, sniffed around for scraps.

We’d tried to get as much work done on the Help Center article for our travel website, as possible. Curiously, it has given us a lot of clarity. Priya, someone I haven’t introduced to you, is a childhood friend. We met when we were both in the sixth grade, at a dinner party her family threw. She talked my ears off and I just sat there wearing a kimono.

Nineteen years later and we’re partners in a travel start-up, yearning for a nomad life and 26-inch waists. I mean what is the point of running a travel website, if you can’t travel and look fucking fantastic while doing it, right?

On Sunday, we were watching Dipa Karmakar on the vaults during dinner, when the topic of fish came up. In all honesty, we’re Bengalis — we’re always talking about fish. We could be sitting in our grandfather’s armchair complaining about the heat or traipsing the Salt Flats of Utah solo, but we would always talk about (or even better, eat) fish. It can’t be helped, you know. Throughout our school days, we woke up early to Read More »

We are of the seafood

Very rarely would you find a Bengali hauling a bag of squid or octopus home, to have for lunch.

It could be faintly surprising to outsiders considering how religiously we’re devoted to our seafood. No, really. We mummify dead fish, with shiny scales and twinkly eyes and exchange them as gifts at weddings. In case of a death in the family, it is customary to break a 14-day mourning period by eating, that’s right, fish. The bonier the better.

calamari

We put fish, fried, braised or steamed, on our plates everyday, at least for one meal. At least. We know and love our seafood as much as we love our Darjeeling and our afternoon naps. We pick the bones out with our fingers, eat them with our hands, suck and chew on the soft fish heads, lick our fingers clean and heave a giant burp out of our full bellies when were done. We are of the seafood.

Are you slowly backing away out of here yet?

egg

If not, then you’re in for a treat.

Read More »

with a bucket-load of mayonnaise

I feel like I’ve been lying to you all this while, dear readers.

I give you cake and beef stew, brownies and silky caramel. I give you smoky mushrooms and baked and caked coffee and then I make it seem as if that’s what and how I eat every single day of my life. Which is far from the truth really. I don’t cut thick slices of cake after every meal on weekends or even have a baking routine. I don’t make deep amber stews for lunch every day. Every other day my oven remains switched off even.

In fact, I’m one of those people who will quite happily settle down with a piece of toast slathered with store-bought mayonnaise and topped with thick-cut fries that came from the ‘Frozen’ section of the supermarket. There was also the time when I contentedly tucked into fake fake(!) crab. Also let me tell you that a suggestively fat keilbasa – the kind that comes vacuum packed – along with a whole bar of Lindt 70% and a tumbler of Diet Coke is a perfectly acceptable dinner. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

I understand that this is the exact opposite of what I probably should promote as a food fanatic, and that too, one with a blog (how did that happen?!). Cooking from scratch is where all the action is and it is where I want to be – most of the time – if I can only get over my predilection for shortcuts and quick fixes. And besides, I spent the first two decades of my life pumping mayonnaise and two-minute noodles into my bloodstream every time I found myself alone and having to think about my next meal. Old habits, darling, die hard.

I spent most of 2009 working in small architectural firm in Mumbai. One of those cities that claim to never sleep. And every morning before leaving for work, I actually packed myself a wholly homemade lunch – something that I still find hard to believe! During the course of eight months, I had wrestled twenty recipes for chicken in my repertoire, along with two potato salads, a twangy mushroom pilaf and most importantly, a plethora of vegetarian concoctions (my soul sister and then-room-mate Fauri, was a staunch vegetarian and I didn’t want her to murder me in my sleep for all the birds that I seemed to be consuming).

 But every now and then I found myself – and find myself now – slipping back into the comforting arms of microwaveable chicken wings and canned tuna, which incidentally, tastes fantastic on savoury digestive biscuits. In my defense, I have no issues with £5 shoes, junk food or white lies as long as they look pretty, taste good and make everyone happy. It hasn’t changed much since then, but I’m trying, dear readers. And I’m telling you all about it. I’m laying it all out right here for you to see. Please, don’t judge.

Potato and Tuna salad for lazy-bones, with a bucket-load of mayonnaise

This salad obviously requires a minimal amount of cooking, is smothered in mayonnaise, or Ranch, if you have any lying around and canned tuna. Its so easy, that you might even feel ashamed of yourself while you eat it, but it will see you lovingly through to the bottom of the bowl.

Note on potatoes: The best potatoes to use here would be either Jersey Royal or King Edward. If these are difficult to find where you live then go with small new potatoes or red-skinned ones. Try not to use Yukons or Russets because they disintegrate pretty quickly on steaming.
Steaming/boiling time depends on the kind of potatoes you’re using, especially their sizes. For bigger potatoes like Jersey Royals, its best to scrub them, halve them and boil them in water for 20-25 minutes or till tender. The amount of water used should just be enough to cover all the halves and the pan should be covered while cooking. The cooked potatoes should be cooled before the skins are taken off and then chopped into bite-sized chunks. For smaller potatoes like new potatoes, you just need to scrub them and then boil till tender.

Note on cumin and fennel: The best way to go about using any spice is to dry-roast the seeds in a non-stick pan till they give off a faintly nutty smell. These seeds should then be ground up finely before use.

2 lbs (1 kg) Jersey Royal potatoes, quartered and steamed (see head note)
1 1/2 cups of mayonnaise
2 tbsp of honey
2 cans of tuna packed in brine or sunflower oil [the brine/oil needs to be drained off]
1 tbsp of ground cumin
1/2 tbsp of ground fennel seeds
1 cup of chopped coriander leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste

Steam/boil the potatoes (see head note). After they have been cooled and cut into bite-sized chunks, combine all the ingredients except for the fennel and toss them together. Sprinkle the fennel on top before serving. The salad is best eaten cold.

  

blue hair, black lipstick, crab crostini and lots of dancing

This is not exactly appropriate behaviour expected from 27-year olds, especially those who’ve relatively been scarce in the nightclub circuit so far. Although I’ve had my share (fair or not) of hip-swinging action at loud, obviously dimly lit, smoky discotheques, I’ve never actually warmed to the idea. If I decide to dance, I will need room, I’m allergic to most kinds of smoke, and, music does not have to be all that loud. Hence, I try and restrict nightclubbing for special occasions, for e.g., milestone birthdays, dancing away heartbreaks and New Year celebrations, of course.

So this year, instead of battling the crowds tonight, we decided to get it over with yesterday. And untrue to my real colours, on a whimsy, I inadvertently agreed to sitting under the hairdresser’s mercy as he stuck blue extensions to my curls and stretched them straight. And then I slathered my lips with black lipstick. I didn’t think I had it in me.

The night was a blur. Pretty much a regular routine with a few tequila shots more than I’d like to admit to. The only exception was a good-looking man, probably in his mid-thirties, with visibly thinning hair who raised his glass at me from a nearby couch. In return, I gifted him with a tight-lipped smile which might or might not have made me look slightly constipated.

Its a little after noon right now, and I’m sitting munching on crostinis with my hair slathered in coconut oil and wrapped up in a hot towel, trying to get rid of residual glue. Hopefully everything will return to normal before the dinner party tonight. Yes I enjoyed blue hair, marginally less than the time when my head faintly resembled the inside of a purple potato. But, I honestly don’t think that the black lipstick is going to come out of my beaded purse anytime soon.  Nightclubbing, however, is definitely not off the list. Come next year, the next calorie-loaded birthday or the next man with heartache on his wake, I’ll be ready to shimmy again. Meanwhile, let’s just eat already.

Have a happy new year folks!

Crab and Tomato Crostini

Generally sandwiches for breakfast are preferred over crostinis where I’m from. But this one plays off of what we had for our Christmas dinner. I had frozen fish-sticks in my freezer which I’ve used here, but feel free to use fresh or tinned crab meat, which, would probably taste better. Also if you’re using tinned crab, drain off the liquid before cooking.

Slices of French or Italian baguette
1 tbsp unsalted butter + enough to butter both sides of each baguette slice
1 tbsp olive oil + enough to drizzle some extra on the finished crostini
250gm of fresh or tinned crab meat
2 tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp of dried thyme
Salt, to taste
Cracked black pepper, to taste
Tabasco sauce, if you like it hot
Freshly chopped coriander leaves, to garnish

Heat the butter and oil in a non-stick skillet. Add the garlic when the butter melts. Stir till it starts turning colour. Add the tomatoes, crab meat, Worcestershire sauce and thyme. Stir well and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Keep aside to cool.

Heat a griddle pan. Butter both sides of each baguette slice. When the griddle pan is hot enough, plop the pieces on the pan. Each side would need about a minute or minute and half to brown up at the edges. There is no need to continuously flip the slices. Flipping them once is enough. Transfer on to a plate.

Top the slices with the crab mixture. Sprinkle cracked black pepper on top. Drizzle with a few drops of Tabasco sauce and a generous doze of olive oil. Serve with a garnish of chopped coriander leaves.