Easing back into a changed world

Chef Floyd Cardoz was the first person in my world who died after a COVID-19 infection. We’d been to his restaurant in Mumbai the day before it closed to the pandemic. We stilled the small panic in our hearts and visited it again the day after it opened. There are major changes now. Chef Thomas Zacharias, who had introduced me to the farm-to-table philosophy, and taken the time to demonstrate ways of retaining fresh flavours in food, has decided to move away. Chef Hussain Shahazad is now designing the menu. I was not very comfortable in a closed dining space, even though the staff was masked and tables well separated. The pandemic has not finished with Mumbai; people we know are still falling ill, and eating in a restaurant is not the safest thing to do right now. But we were tired of eating at home. We’ve had fancy food delivered, but even that requires us to assemble each dish. And, no matter what, there is always cleaning up afterwards. So we gambled, as we do sometimes.

There were many changes to the menu, now much smaller. A wonderful invention is the dish called Paya with Momo. I had encountered tangbao, soup filled dumplings, decades ago in a long-vanished Chinese restaurant called Nanking in Colaba, and encountered them again in our travels in Shanghai and Nanjing. Chef Shahazad has reimagined them as momos filled with paya. A momo covering is thicker than the tangbao that I’ve had, and Chef Shahzad goes with the momo. The paya (soup of trotters) was wonderful, quite comparable to the local slow-cooked version that The Family and I enjoy so much. The topping, a tangy and spicy chutney, is a lovely complement.

Chef Heena Punwani has added a very small selection to the menu; that day we saw only two of her creations listed. We decided to try what she calls Strawberries and Cream. A simple description would be a chhana poda doughnut sliced through to hold a lime infused cream, roasted pistachios and slices of strawberries, topped with a strawberry sorbet. Chhana poda, or baked paneer, is heavy, frying it into a doughnut would make it heavier. The Family was a little reluctant, but went along because of the strawberries. The whole thing was surprisingly light and delightfully fresh. Well-roasted nuts are almost a signature with her, and the sorbet was wonderful. I’m looking forward to more from Chef Punwani.

I will miss Chef Cardoz and his singular focus on exploring and popularizing India’s culinary heritage. I look forward to seeing Chef Zacharias doing something new. But I’m glad that a place that we have haunted for years continues to reinvent and showcase the immense variety of Indian food.

Not our daily bread

Another Friday. Another look at delivery options. There was a restaurant on our radar which we hadn’t managed to visit before COVID times. We looked through their short emergency menu and found that it was well chosen. Miyan bibi were raazi, so the delivery was inevitable. I’m sure that they would have taken more care with plating the confit de canard than I did, but it tasted good. I saved some of the jus to soak up with bread.

The Family loves coq au vin, and judges French-style restaurants by the quality of this dish. I could see no pearl onions or croutons in the delivery, but she pronounced herself satisfied. I could get to dip my fork in the sauce, rich and flavourful on the tongue. I think we might order more from them in future. There aren’t too many interesting restaurants doing delivery right now.

The Family has been learning new recipes and amazing herself with a dedication to perfecting techniques. As a result, my role has been to assemble ingredients. On Thursday night I streamed an episode of Ugly Delicious, and something connected with a slow running discussion on parallels between Mexican and Indian food that I’ve had over at another blog. I put a methi thepla and a sweet, sour, and chili hot Parsi chhunda together with onions, tomatoes, shredded cabbgage, and a seekh kabab to make our very own Mumbai taco. Later I remembered that Chef Floyd Cardoz was there before. It is fine with me, tacos cover a lot of territory, and there is always space for a new variety.

A personal loss to the epidemic

We never met Chef Floyd Cardoz, so we weren’t alerted by calls made to the people who met him just before he left Mumbai on March 7. If we had, we wouldn’t have been so very shocked by the news that he died of COVID-19 on March 25. For five years now we’ve made his restaurants a regular fixture on our calendar. His interpretation of Indian food is (was!) something we loved, like many others. The amazing Egg Kejriwal, the surprising Arbi Tuk, the playful deconstructed samosa, the seasonal fried fish, the superb Desi Taco, you name it, and we’ve tasted and loved it. Chefs Thomas Zacharias and Hussain Shahzad will continue to do the marvelous job that they are known for, but we will miss Floyd Cardoz.

He started learning at Les Roches in 1986, was at the Taj Mumbai and The Oberoi the next year, eventually becoming a Sous Chef at Raga, New York. It was as a Sous Chef in Lespinasse New York that he began introducing innovative Indian dishes on the menu. In 1997 he opened Tabla, and a decade later Paowala, both in New York. His ventures in Mumbai started five years ago.

Here is Cardoz on Indian food: “There were other cuisines we enjoyed when we went out to eat at restaurants—especially Mughlai, Chinese, and South Indian, or sometimes street fare of Chole Bhature. To most of us this was what we called Indian food. The food at home was never considered “Indian cuisine” as it was more Goan or Kashmiri, or Maharashtrian. The nicer restaurants predominantly served “restaurant food,” which was primarily Mughlai with a bit of tandoori or Punjabi food thrown in. Over the years the cuisine slowly evolved and Indian restaurants spread to other parts of the world, making the diners believe that this was Indian cuisine.

“When I started to cook, I had no interest in cooking the Indian food that restaurants had made popular.

A new take on sweets

“I love Indian cuisine, the variety it offers, the cooking techniques, and the use of flavor and texture. I want the world to enjoy and celebrate this multiplicity in food that India has to offer. However, the use of an all-encompassing term “Indian Cuisine” does this wide range a disservice. We don’t group French, German, Italian, and Spanish cuisine into a broad group of “European cuisine.” Calling our food “Indian Cuisine” does not cover the depth, or showcase the nuances of the wide variety. I want to champion this diversity and beauty of regional Indian food. There is so much to discover, so much to acknowledge.”

The sour mango cream with salt and chili in the dessert whose photo you see above is part of the wave he started.