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.

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 evening’s guide through the menu 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.

Two memorable desserts

Every now and then I go back to the restaurant I consider Mumbai’s finest. The dessert sticks to my mind as much as to the rest of me. This time was no exception. I’d been there twice in the same week, which is a bit of overkill. My excuse? The first time was a dinner with colleagues after work, the second with family. One of the things I like about this place are the very helpful suggestions made by the staff. The first time we went, everyone wanted a dessert by themselves. The server suggested that after a big meal some of the desserts could be shared. He was right.

There is a lot of turnover in the menu, so going back makes sense. The family dinner ended with two desserts I’d never had before. The strawberry cassata (featured photo) was a playful nod at the famous dessert of the 1970s, when, for the first time one could have an ice cream flavour other than vanilla and chocolate in India. This was a modern version, fabulously light and fresh, a tart taste of the fruit uppermost, with the crunchy nuts supplying a very satisfactory finish. The other was a great take on the other Mumbai special: a falooda. This was The Family’s favourite growing up, and I’m just a johnny-come-late to the Badshah falooda. So I’ll just quote her: “Damn good.”

Farm-to-table

The registrar of marriages and deaths decided many years ago that The Family and I would forever celebrate Einstein’s birthday. So this Albert’s day we went off to have a nice dinner at one of our new favourite restaurant: The Bombay Canteen. When it opened a few years ago it was an instant sensation, with its completely re-imagined Indian food.

The first time we went there we had something they called the Arbi Tuk. As you can see in the featured photo, it looks totally undistinguished: like a simple dish of chopped onions and tomatoes. A mixture like this on top of crisp puris is a staple of street food all over Mumbai. Not only does this clever dish look like the traditional bhel puri, it even fools your palate for a moment after you bite into it. Then you realize that the puri is not puri, it is fried arbi (taro). Its a lovely fresh taste. We talked to chef Thomas Zacharias, and he gave us a plateful of one of the ingredients to taste. The beans which are chopped into it are fresh, and hard to find in the markets. I asked him where he sources his flavourful tomatoes, and he shrugged. The Bombay Canteen is famous for taking extreme care to source local vegetables from local farmers.

Halim with khamin roti

Every time we go to this restaurant there is something new on the menu. This time around the list of new dishes included the Haleem. We consider ourselves to be Haleem experts. The deep umami flavour of mutton was satisfactory, but over this rode a wonderful new flavour of roasted jowar. We would go back to a restaurant just for a Haleem like this. We consider ourselves lucky to have found this place before we knew what a lovely Haleem they make.

We ordered Thomas’ version of a tarte tatin, called the Guava Tan-ta-tan. It is was the ultimate in street flavour. The Family and I love to eat guavas from street-side vendors, cut open with a little red chili and salt sprinkled on it. This tarte tatin was made with guavas instead of apples, and came with a scoop of red chili ice cream on it, placed in a plate smeared with runny and spicy guava jelly.

Alice Waters may have started the farm-to-table movement in California, but The Bombay Canteen has perfectly adapted it to Mumbai.