Around lunch

Strictly speaking, this is not a post about food. Its a post about the stuff about food: the drink at the beginning and the dessert at the end. The drink was perfect for a hot summer day: loads of ice, cucumber for flavour. What was the hot orange marigold doing in there? Its become quite a fashion to serve drinks with inedible flowers. I just hope they have no traces of insecticide left on them.

The dessert was my favourite at this place: a perfect tiramisu. You can tell how much I like it. I remembered to take a photo only after finishing more than half of it. It does miss the ladyfingers soaked in coffee, but the mascarpone cream and cocoa are spot on. It is such an easy recipe that I wonder why so many places mess it up completely. Lightness is the essence.

Science da kamaal! Posts appear automatically while I travel off net.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Pandemic-honed expertise is awash through the world. The Leafless is not fond of sweets and desserts, but she spent the lockdown perfecting her baking skills. She turns out legendary biscotti by the kilos now. She’s stopped baking a daily cake since she realized that the reason her husband, Mau Mau, had put on weight was because he was trying very hard to empty a place on the table for the next day’s cake by finishing the previous one.

So, when we had lunch at their place last weekend The Family was very surprised to find that there was no dessert. The Leafless sighed and told us that she’d tried making a Bengali dessert called bhapa doi, made by steaming a sweetened yogurt, and it had not come out well. I couldn’t imagine how those ingredients could turn into a disaster, so we insisted on a taste. Bhapa doi should have the consistency of a custard. The Leafless had steamed it a little too long, and her experiment had settled into firmness.

As we spooned it up The Family said “It tastes very good. It’s almost like a cheesecake.” Mau Mau agreed, but The Leafless demurred. “A bit grainier than a cheesecake.” True. But this was a consistency I’d tasted. I searched through alternatives. “Like a chhana poda,” I finally realized. The consistency of that Odiya sweet was quite close to what we were eating. There was general agreement. Satisfied, we went on to finish the chhana poda-bhapa doi.

The end and the beginning

Niece Tatu passed through and spent a night with us. We decided to take her and Niece Moja out for dinner to our favourite restaurant. This generation refuses to be surprised, so Niece Tatu researched the place and pronounced herself satisfied. When I mentioned this to The Family, she said “Who does that remind me of?” Don’t look at me, I don’t do that with restaurants. Okay, maybe some times. But how do you go beyond the curated experience? Our simple solution was to order every dessert on the menu. Fortunately, this restaurant turns over its menu rather frequently, so while there were a few old favourites (deconstructed and dressed up, like the gulab jamun and ice cream in the featured photo) there was also enough new to keep me interested.

By the time we got to the desserts, it had been a long evening, even though Niece Moja managed to come in earlier than her usual (she must have cancelled a few appointments). Before she breezed in, we’d worked our way through the first round of cocktails. Niece Moja had chosen to follow The Family into non-alcoholic terrain for the second round. I wanted to settle in with something solid and interesting, but new. After some quizzing, our psychopomp for the evening suggested that I try an Eight Finger Eddie. The bottle and Niece Moja arrived together. She inspected my drink, decided to be my poison taster, and then ordered something else. The proven-safe drink turned out to meet my expectations. It was new to me, but not to the youngsters. They were fun kids, but so much more interesting as adults.

A quiet dinner for two

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I was back from China, and The Family was missing all the Chinese food she hadn’t eaten. So we decided to compensate with a visit to a new pan-Asian restaurant in one of the by-lanes of Colaba. Pan-Asian is a silly name because it is based on a “race” classification in the US which seems to lump together Malays and Koreans, among others. To be more accurate this restaurant served modern food influences by countries to the east of India.

The shrimp roll to start was a choice that we were very happy with. The steamed rolls with shrimps and fresh veggies rolled in a thin chapati made with rice flour came with a peanut and soya sauce options, and shavings of deep fried onions and garlic on the plate. The peanut sauce was an interesting combination, heavy, without hiding the freshness of the roll.

The cocktails were really exciting. The Family made the most interesting choice: a margarita infused with rice kanji. We had a sea bass for the mains. The little dab of green that you see on it turned out to be a very flavourful coriander based sauce. This was light and perfect as the major protein. The dessert was the amazing dish you see in the featured photo: a lemon tart topped with black sesame ice cream, black and white sesame wafers and little shavings of almonds. The food will bring us back to this small, quiet, and intimate place.

Güllaç, Baklava and Ekmek Kadayifi

When we planned to visit Turkey during the month of Ramazan, one of the things we looked forward to was the food. “There’s bound to be special food that’s only made in this month,” The Family told me. So when we finished our dinner on the second of the month, we asked the friendly waiter about special Ramazan sweets. That’s how we encountered Güllaç (pronounced guellash). We were too full to try one of these enormous helpings that evening (featured photo). When we did later, we were charmed by the thin layered pastry, filled with crushed nuts and pomegranate and oozing milk. The food of Ramazan is usually very traditional, so Güllaç is probably close to the origins of Turkish food.

Our evening’s guide through the esoteric world of Turkish sweets led us to the counter where varieties of sweets were on display. Another speciality of Ramazan, we were told, is the Ekmek Kadayifi. Ekmek is Turkish for bread, and the name of this dish would translate to bread pudding. It is essentially bread soaked in syrup and topped off with clotted cream (called kaymak). What made it special? Perhaps only a cultural connection with this month. I understand that the Id which signals the end of Ramazan is celebrated as Seker Bayrami, a time when plates full of sweets are served to family and friends. The simple Ekmek Kadayifi finds a place on this plate.

The cafe was full of Turkish families at their Iftari dinner. The children were happy at this treat at the end of a long and stressful day. Many of them ended their meals with Güllaç or Ekmek Kadayifi, but a significant fraction also had the perennial favourite, baklava, on their table. Baklava was another syrup soaked delight that I would get to love a little too much. After the trip I had to work hard to shed a couple of kilos which I attribute entirely to these nut-filled syrupy pastries.

Breakfast of Champions

When I was young, so much younger than today, I wouldn’t mind having a stiff drink in the morning. Now those days are gone and I’m happy to spend an evening in a nice cozy table for two next to a nice well-lit bar trying to choose from a long menu of options. I selected something that I could stick with through an evening.

When we’d finished dinner, The Family asked “Dessert?” I said I could take a spoon or two from whatever she ordered. What we got was a plate which reminded me of breakfast. It wasn’t really a sunny side up surrounded by scrambled egg, as you might have guessed. The central “egg yolk” is mango, with a layer of ice cream below it. The scrambled egg is custard “fried” in liquid nitrogen, and the “greens” are pistachio. It was served up with wonderful drama, with the server breaking eggshells filled with custard on to a frying pan, then dropping liquid nitrogen over it while moving it with an egg whisk. Brilliant, and it tasted good too. The Family said “That’s more than a couple of spoonfuls you’re taking, you know.”

Wasabi and Chocolate, Raspberry and Nitrogen

A long lunch with friends was interrupted by an unasked for little dish. A crescent shaped bowl, with a dab of dark red, immersed in a dense fog. This was a visually arresting little thing between courses. What was it? A raspberry sorbet served over a plate with a drop of liquid nitrogen. Immense drama, and a delightful palate freshener. I was won over.

Later we shared a plate of chocolate tart. I don’t usually want an ice cream in such a dessert, because I want to concentrate on the flavour of the chocolate. The chocolate was nice and bitter. The Family said “Try the ice cream.” I did. What was it? That interesting flavour? Wasabi! And the sauce under the whole thing was sour mango. Little bits of candied ginger with it all. A dessert, but full of unexpected flavour. Such a wonderful accompaniment to the conversation.

A month’s worth of desserts

The cheesecake which you see above came close to being my favourite sweet of the month. The old-fashioned Parle-G biscuits around it gave a nice crunch to the dish. The sauce at the bottom of the dish was a rabdi which did little jiggs on your tongue. The Gems on the plate looked nice, but I couldn’t imagine they would do anything to the taste, so I let the secret sharers take them away. A lovely retro-modern dessert, which I wouldn’t mind eating again. This was The Family’s favourite of the month.

A working trip to Odisha wouldn’t be complete without digging into chhanapoda. This is lightly sweetened chhana bunged into a hot oven until it becomes crusty. It can be lightly dusted with cinnamon, or not. I like it either way. It doesn’t last more than a day, so I spent my youth hearing about it without ever eating it. It was not so far back, on my first visit to Odisha, that I finally tasted it. I can’t do without it once in a couple of years.

This is a kairi tart to beat all kairi sweets from your local canteen. The taste is amazingly tart on the tongue, with an aftertaste of sweet. The mango flavour suffuses the dish. The salt, the light sprinkling of red chili powder, and the crisp pastry all go so well together, that The Family took a photo of me grinning loopily after finishing this. This was definitely the dessert of the month for me, and the runner up for The Family.

This was a nice chocolate sweet which wasn’t very inventive. Good cooking, nice presentation; just the thing to have with two nieces who are both chocolate fanatics. I wouldn’t mind having it again when I’m ahead of the game in terms of calories.

What a lovely presentation for a coffee mousse! It is billed as a hoity-toity Kerala coffee, sweetened with jaggery and accompanied by banana fritters served on a banana leaf. It is just coffee mousse with banana fritters, but a nice end to a meal. I liked the fact that it was served in a coconut shell. And I loved the plate it came on.

The enumeration of the month’s best wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the mouth freshener. It came in this complicated stand which holds lollipops filled with Bailey’s. This is undoubtedly the most interesting digestif that I’ve had in recent times.