Fish, bean, and fruit

Chikoo is a wonderful fruit. You can scoop out the sweet and slightly grainy flesh with a spoon, whisk it into a puree to mix with rum, and, after you are done, as I discovered, use its peel to cook with. If you don’t know what a chikoo is, look for sapota. The problem I was trying to solve was what to do with chunks of basa. This fish has taken over the cheaper end of the market since it can be easily farmed at high density, and being scaleless, can be rapidly bagged. I find that the lean meat is a little tasteless. In this second lockdown I’m back to having trouble getting interesting deep sea fish, so we land up with basa every now and then, and I have to make it interesting.

“How many r’s in intolerable?” the Egg asked. “Two”, said the Crumpet. “Why?”

P.G.Wodehouse (Eggs Beans and Crumpets)

A quick cook is what I promised myself. The fish came cut into small slabs, so I cut into half the usual cooking time of two minutes to the first side, and one for the other. I’ve always seasoned oil with a bay leaf and jeera, and even now that I use only a teaspoon of oil in the pan, I continue with both. After quick frying the fish, I turned down the heat, doused the thing in a 1:2 mixture of dark and light soya sauce, dropped in a de-seeded green chili sliced lengthwise, and added chikoo peels. I brought the liquid to a boil quickly, reduced the heat, added a dash of water, covered it and let it simmer for five minutes. I took the pan off the heat, threw away the peels, chucked in some chopped spring onions as garnish, and covered the pan again and set it aside for serving. I like the spring onions to wilt before they reach the plate.

“Well”, said Oofy, beaming, “this will certainly be something to tell my grandchildren. I mean, that I once lunched with a member of the Drones Club and didn’t get stuck with the bill.”

P.G.Wodehouse (Eggs Beans and Crumpets)

The other thing I made for a east-Asian flavoured Indian meal was tofu with beans. I’d cooked a slab of tofu earlier and kept it for a couple of days in the fridge, soaking in dark soya sauce with a de-seeded green chili, hoping to use it on a day when I needed to bulk out something. I took it out when I found that we had a small quantity of fresh green beans. I stir fried the beans to keep their crunch and freshness, and served them with the tofu.

It was a twice- or even more than that- told tale, but the Bean embarked upon it without hesitation. “That ass Bingo Little. Called upon me at my residence the day before yesterday with a ravening Pekinese …”

P.G.Wodehouse (Eggs Beans and Crumpets)

It’s nice to be able to take ingredients from across Asia and Central America and bring them together.

Tofu improvisation

If tofu is the only thing you have, you cannot make teriyaki tofu. I learned this only after I drained the tofu and my hunt for rice powder and teriyaki sauce yielded nothing. My brother was fifteen minutes away, and the Youngest Niece is always excited and hungry when she gets to our place. I had to finish the tofu fast.

Step 1: Lightly dredge in potato starch and fry till teh cubes are golden outside and soft inside. Replace rice flour by besan. Medium heat for the oil is needed to do a quick cook. This step went well. Cook one side thoroughly before flipping the pieces. (Forgot to order the tongs!) Cook till all sides are brown.

Step 2: Drop teriyaki sauce into the pan, add katsuobushi, and let the sauce coat the tofu cubes and thicken. Impossible. Improvised a mixture of soya sauce and a spicy fig chutney to get a sweet and sour taste. Can’t add this to the pan, so I plated the tofu and poured this over the cubes. I realize I should have added more soya to make it run. But when I taste the scrapings from the mixing bowl, I like it.

Step 3: Garnish with shopped spring onions and gari (pickled ginger). Woe is me. I run to the balcony to pluck a few leaves off the ajwain plant to replace the missing spring onions. I look at the sorry gari I made, but go with it. The bit hits of taste: chunks of ginger and ajwain will be easier on the Indian palate.

I can hear the guests at the door. My hands are not very steady as I put the garnish over the tofu cubes. I haven’t seen my niece in almost a year, since I got back from Wuhan. She enters the kitchen, and I hand her the plate. Big grin. My heart melts and drips on to the plate.

This is not teriyaki tofu, but that was the inspiration. I’m happy that it goes so fast. It is a recipe I’ll use again.

Food heaven in Guangzhou

Casting about for one, just one, place to spend a few days in China, we decided on Guangzhou for one simple reason: the food. When you look at lists of Michelin starred restaurants in China, about half of them feature Cantonese food. The food of Guangdong is famous even inside China. Normally I do all the reading about food and restaurants, but this time The Family spent some time looking at descriptions and reviews of restaurants. I left Mumbai with notes on about ten restaurants which we might like to visit.

We found a hotel in the Liwan district of Guangzhou and were surprised to find that several of our top choices were within walking distance. Our first lunch was in the restaurant named after the city, Guangzhou, on the Shangxiajiu pedestrian street. This is a very popular place. A soon as we entered, we were asked whether we wanted lunch or dim sum. We opted for lunch and were given a table on the ground floor. We struggled with the enormous menu, flipping back and forth, until a couple at a neighbouring table offered to help.

The photo above shows the excellent goose that we took on their advise. They spoke excellent English, and turned out to be residents of Hong Kong. They were in Guangzhou for a lunch to celebrate their anniversary. Since the train between Hong Kong and Guangzhou takes only an hour, this seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. That someone would come from Hong Kong specially to this restaurant for their anniversary was as good a recommendation as you could get.

One of the things I like about Cantonese food is the freshness of the ingredients. The sauces are not heavy, and they allow the meat to speak for itself. I also like the huge variety of vegetables that one can get. We went back to this restaurant again the same night. In the absence of our serendepitious guide, an English speaking waiter came to help us. When we had finished ordering he asked whether we might want some vegetables. Of course. We quickly added a plate of steamed cabbage to the order (photo above).

The dish of the night was the tofu and shrimp dish which you see above. This has entered our personal history, when we sigh sadly about food that we would like to eat, but we cannot, this is the dish that we talk about now. It was a surprise, because this is not a combination that I could have predicted that I would like. Food in Guangzhou restaurant is not the kind you find in a Michelin starred place; it is not heavy on presentation. Whatever we ate seemed like old favourites. They should be, since the restaurant has become somewhat of an institution since it opened its doors in 1935. There are now many branches of this restaurant but this three story place is where it started.

I seriously thought of having every one of my meals in this restaurant, but The Family was quite stern about trying more places on our list. So I had to leave with a few photos of its famous indoor pool. The one you see above was taken from the third floor.

Shibuya and my discovery of Miso

A satisfying end to a day in Tokyo: grilled cod with miso dressing, pureed radish and grilled chilis.


Shibuya Crossing has been shown so often in Hollywood films that it is now a modern global icon. I took exit 2 from the Shibuya metro station and came out near the statue of Hachiko, well-known in Japan as the epitome of the faithful the dog. Then I added to the count of people crossing and went into the L’Occitane cafe. It was full of young women recovering from their shopping; I must have been the oldest male there.

All tables overlooking the pedestrian scramble were taken. The maitre d’ was kind enough to find me a table close to the window on the highest floor of the cafe. It was a good table to look out on the plaza from, but not good for photography: I guess that was the intention. I had a lovely view of the giant screen which shows a walking dinosaur in “Lost in Translation”. It was showing zany enough advertisements while I ordered.

I dawdled in the cafe until the light had faded enough to make the man-made lights look better, and then walked down to street level. The place is seething with tourists who, like me, wanted to take a photo which, with luck, would eventually be here. I don’t think I got one, but some of the others may have got lucky. (If you are the young Belgian tourist with a braided beard who was carrying the extra long lens, then I would like to see what you shot with it.)

The luckiest part of my evening came when I wandered into the Shibuya Hikari by accident and found the dining space on the 6th and 7th floors. After strenuous reading of many menus, I finally decided on a place in one far corner of the 6th floor which said it specialized in miso. I’d had miso soups before, but I didn’t know that you could specialize in beans. This was reason enough to sit down. This time I got a place by the window, and managed to over-order. I had two starters: a fresh tofu with pickled black beans, and a chicken with ume and miso. Both were excellent. The cod steak which followed was outstanding, and then I had the rice and miso soup. Now miso soups are usually fairly bland to non-Japanese palates, but this could stand up to my jaded Indian tastes. It was so thick that I discovered the scallops inside only when I held up the bowl. I was really happy to have an excellent meal without sushi, sashimi, tempura or katsu.

I like traditional Japan, but I really love modern Japan. Eating in Japan is a discovery each time!