Weightless

HBY Kitchen 1960s

My late mother (see picture above, taken in the 1960s) was averse to weighing machines.

When she visited the doctor and had to be weighed, she did not want to be told or in any other way infrormed of her weight.

Her dislike of weighing machines extended into the kitchen. There were no kitchen scales in our home. A good cook, she managed without them. However, she did use a conical measuring device made by the Tala company. This contains printed markings that allow the user to dispence known amounts of powdered ingredients such as, for example, flour, rice, and sugar.

Years after my mother died, I married a lady from India. She told me that in the olden days, professional cooks of Indian origin often measured out cooking ingredients by feel rather than using a weighing device. For example if a cake required an equal weight of egg and flour, the cook would hold the egg in one hand and estimate its weight by feel and then measure the required amount of flour, also assessing its weight be feel alone. I do not know whether my mother possessed this skill, but regardless of that she was widely recognised to have been a competent cook.

If you are there, you must try…

TAHARI blogg

I had always wanted to visit Gulbarga (now ‘Kalaburgi’) in northern Karnataka (India), not far from Hyderabad, because of the richness of its medieval Islamic architectural heritage.

When my friend in Bangalore, Mansour, a great gastronome and connoisseur of fine foods, knew we were in Gulbarga, he said:

If you’re there, you must try tahari

Well, we had no idea what this dish comprised, but if Mansour reccomended it, it must be worth trying. A search on Google revealed that the Limra Tahari was highly rated. We rang to make a reservation and were told that was unnecessary. Also, we learnt that the place only took cash payments.

One evening, we hired an autorickshaw to take us to Limra. However, the driver had no idea how to find it, and eventually dropped us near a different restaurant, saying;

This is a restaurant. You can eat here.

It was a totally unsatisfactory eatery.

Next evening, we were fortunate. A rickshaw driver knew where to find the Limra. When we arrived, he told us that he would wait for us as we would not be long and, also, it was difficult to find autorickshaws in the area in the evening. We wondered why, but soon found out.

The front of the restaurant was unprepossessing, to put it mildly. The place was separated from the street by a pair of ageing red curtains, rather like that found at a theatre stage. The steps leading up to it from the street were littered with old newspaper and other rubbish. I looked at my wife questioningly. She seemed happy to enter, so we parted the curtains and stepped inside. The interior was spotlessly clean.

To the left of the entrance, an old man sat behind a small cash desk. To the right, there were a couple of men preparing food in huge metal post heated by smouldering charcoals. Limra’s dining area was simple. There were several long narrow rectangular metal tables, which were probably screwed to the floor. All of the diners were men, except my wife.

Before we had time to ask for a menu or what was on offer, a boy slid two metal plates across our table towards us. Each plate was laden with tahari. He added a third plate that contained an unappetising looking greasy sauce. We ordered a couple of bottles of mineral water and began our exploration of tahari.

The tahari consisted of spicy yellow rice which contained a few lumps of well-cooked tender meat. The sauce turned out to be delicious and not at all greasy. The tahari was very tasty and delicately spiced – a real treat. Tahari is, I later discovered, an Awadhi dish from the region of India where Lucknow is located. It is typical of a certain style of Mughal cooking. It is, as we saw when we entered Limra, slow-cooked.

When we finished our tahari, we noticed the menu on the wall behind us. It consisted of two items: tahari: full plate, and tahari: half plate. No wonder, we were served our food immediately. There was nothing to choose from here! Our bill for two full plates and two bottles of water came to only 80 Indian Rupees (about £0.90 sterling). It took us no more than 10 minutes to finish our scrumptious meal. We understood why our driver decided to wait for us, and we understood why the restaurant did not accept anything but cash as payment. So, if you are ever in Gulbarga, you must try tahari!

Burgers

Everyone, who eats them, can reccommend a place that serves the very best beef burgers. Naturally, most people have their own favourites. So, it would seem that there are many places that serve the ‘very best burgers’.  I havetried a few of these highly reccommended places and have with one exception (Gourmet Burger Kitchen – a chain that originated in New Zealand) been disappointed. Most ‘very best burgers’ turn out to be ok (usually) but an anti-climax (mostly).

Now, I am going to seem very conceited. That is because I believe that I make the ‘very best burgers’ myself in our home, and so should you. My recipe is dead simple. I take minced beef with a lowish fat content (10% or less), add a pinch of salt and a small spoon of oil (sunflower or olive) and, after washing my hands, mush the three ingredients together before hand shaping patties of the  sizes preferred by those who will eat them. Then, I cook them on a griddle. That’s all. No egg or breadcrumbs are added.  Try this for yourself and you will no longer be wasting your money on overpriced, mediochre burgers.

 

ham burger with vegetables

 

A patty of minced beef 

Mould-ed by hand

Enjoy burger perfection

 

 

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

Getting to grips in the kitchen

 

Just in case you have not got one in your kitchen, here is an implement that is extensively used in Indian kitchens and tea stalls.

The sandasi (pronounced roughly like ‘sun-er-see’ said fast), which is is also known as a pakad (from the verb ‘to hold’ in Hindustani) or a chimta (from the verb ‘to pinch’ in Hindustani), is essentially a pair of sturdy hinged metal (stainless steel) tongs. The handles of the implement are several times as long as the gripping elements. This means that quite heavy things may be lifted with the beaks of the tongs without any risk of them slipping out of their grip.

The sandasi’s long handles also mean that the user’s hands can be kept at a safe distance from the hot cooking vessels that are lifted with this pair of tongs. For example, the tea maker can lift and manipulate with ease the huge pots containing several litres of a bubbling, boiling mixture of milk, tea, and spices. 

I find the sandasi very useful for gripping the edges of large casseroles when I am stirring hot food like stews or curries.

Cooking tongs are, of course, available in countries other than India, but the sturdy construction and long handles of the sandasis have much to reccommend them.

Tastes differ

 

food toast meal morning

 

When I was a child, I spent a great deal of time with my aunt and her children. They lived a few minute’s walk from our family home and I enjoyed spending time with them. Often, my sister and I used to spend a whole day at my aunt’s house, sometimes over night especially when my parents were away on a trip.

My aunt fed us. Sometimes she made us fried eggs. Then, I was a very fussy eater. In those far-off days, I only liked the white part of the fried egg, not the central yellow bit. One of my cousins only liked the central yellow part, but disliked the white surrounding it.  My aunt was an extremely down-to-earth individual, laden with more than a fair share of common sense. Her solution to the fried egg situation was that after making the fried egg, she used to carefully dissect the yoke portion of the finished product and serve it to my cousin. I was given the white portion of the egg with a neat hole in it where the yellow had been.

Today, many decades later, I am not keen on any part of a fried egg and do not eat eggs prepared in this way. I much prefer omelettes and hard-boiled eggs. However, I do enjoy making them for other people, The challenge is to avoid breaking the yoke. 

 

 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Fryers delight

FISH

 

Sometime during the summer in the early to mid-1980s, when I was living in Kent, two young people came to stay with me from land-locked Hungary. Because travelling opportunities were limited and money was short in the Communist country, people did not travel abroad as much as people in Western Europe. My two guests had never seen the sea, except in photos and on the TV or cinema screen.

One evening, I drove my guests to the Kent coast to see the sea. We parked by a beach. As soon as we had stopped, the two lads leapt out of my car and ran into the sea fully clothed. That is how excited they were to see real waves and the sea.

After experiencing the sea, they asked me about ‘fish and chips’, which their English teacher in Budapest had mentioned. We walked to a nearby fish and chips shop and placed an order. When the fillets of fish arrived wrapped in crisp golden batter, my friends looked at them, wondering whether or not they had been served pieces of fish. They had never seen fish prepared like this before.

Fish prepared, fried and covered with batter, as it is served in British fish and chip shops is actually not a dish of British origin. According to that mine of knowledge Wikipedia, it was the Sephardic Jews, who settled in the UK from the 16th century onwards, who introduced fish prepared this way. Alexis Soyer (1810-58), the famous 19th century chef wrote in his A shilling cookery for the people, published in 1854:

There is another excellent way of frying fish, which is constantly in use by the children of  Israel … In some families … they dip the fish, first in flour, then in egg, and fry in oil“, which is more or less what happens in a fish and chips shop. 

This leads me to the real subject of the article: a reccommendation. There are many highly-rated fish and chips shops (‘chippies’) in the British Isles. The ‘Fryers Delight’ is one of them. This unpretensious shop, whose decor seems unaltered since the day it opened back in in 1958, serves excellent fish with superb chips cut in the shop’s kitchen, all fried in beef dripping. I have eaten there twice, and look forward to my next visit. The staff are friendly, and the prices are very reasonable and the food is good value for money. 

The FRYERS DELIGHT, which is open from noon to 10pm every day except Sunday is located at:

 19 Theobalds Rd, Holborn, London WC1X 8SL

Let loose in the kitchen

There is no love sincerer than than the love of food

George Bernard Shaw

Most people think highly of their mother’s cooking. Many people thought highly of my mother’s cooking. She was an early disciple of Elizabeth David, the cookery book writer who introduced Mediterranean cuisine to British kitchens.

My mother regarded our kitchen as her territory. Being highly protective of my sister and me, she would not let us near the cooker nor sharp knives. However, she was quite happy to have us accompany her in the kitchen for two main reasons. One was to give her company while she cooked. Another was to do the washing up of crockery and cutlery. I did not much mind keeping her company, but washing up was not much fun.

Eventually, in the 1960s we acquired a dishwashing machine. This did not prove to be much of a labour saving device because my mother insisted on us, often me, washing every item before putting them in the machine. And, unloading the dishwasher and stacking everything away was as time consuming as washing up manually.

Sadly, my mother died young in 1980. By then, my sister had left home. As my father had no interest in cooking, the kitchen became my own territory. At last, I could begin to use the cooker and all of the kitchen utensils that my poor mother had guarded so jealously. This did not compensate for losing a beloved parent, but it did open a new door in my life experience: the art of food preparation.

My love of cooking commenced. At first, I followed recipes from an excellent series of cookbooks published by the Sainsbury’s supermarket company. Then, I experimented with Indian food guided by a cookbook written by Madhur Jeffrey. Later, I made use of a very practical Chinese recipe book written by Ken Hom and published by the BBC. For middle eastern dishes, I was guided by the well-known Claudia Rosen, who has also written a very good book of Italian recipes, and a superb one by the lesser known Arto Haroutian. For Hungarian food, the book by George Lang is hard to beat. Since marriage, I have been guided in the art of cooking by my wife, who is a superb cook.

I suppose that over the years I have become a ‘foodie’. ‘Foodie-ism’ seems to run in my family. My sister, a very competent cook, ran a restaurant in Italy for about 15 years; she was the chef. My mother’s sister was an excellent chef and her two children, my cousins, have inherited her culinary skills. Our daughter has also inherited the foodie gene, both from me and my wife, both of whose parents had discerning palates.

There are those who consider food simply as fuel. They are missing out on one of the pleasures in life, which I value greatly: the preparation and enjoyment of cooking and eating.

Let me end by wishing you all A DELICIOUSLY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Claim your steak

STEAK

When I was much younger, my parents often took my sister and me to eat dinner in restaurants.

Before we looked at the menu, my late mother used to examine the plates and cutlery on our table. If there was a blemish on the cutlery or a crack or chip in the porcelain, the waiter would be summoned to replace the defective item(s). Often this delayed the arrival of any food. If we looked reproachfully at my mother, she would say:

“You can eat off cracked plates if you like, but I am not paying good money to eat off bad plates.”

She said this in such a way that meant that really there was no way that any of us could eat off damaged crockery, even if we wanted to.

As the years went by, I used to look at my plate and cutlery carefully as soon as we sat down. If I spotted a defect, I used to casually lay my hand on it so that my mother would not see it. I was always hungry before a meal and wanted to get on with it rather than having to wait for perfect eating utensils to be fetched. Once any defective cutlery/crockery was replaced, the meal could be ordered.

My mother was fond of beef steak. Rather unfashionably for London in the 1960s, she preferred her steak rare, almost what the French call ‘bleu’. This simple request was the real test for a restaurant. Frequently, the rare steak would arrive cold. My mother would then summon the waiter or maitre d’hote.

“My steak is cold.”

“Madame, I will ask the kitchen to heat it for you.”

The steak would then be returned, and my mother would begin cutting it. Soon the waiter would be called again.

“My steak is no longer rare; it is overcooked. Take it away and bring me another one cooked rare and warm.”

Any restaurant that could get this right without fuss, won my mother’s custom. She would then return there frequently.

Today, rare steak is the ‘in thing’. Most good chefs and discerning diners prefer the insides of steaks to be red, if not bloody.

Writing of steaks reminded me of Monty Modlyn (1921-94), a radio presenter and journalist. Occasionally he would speak on the early morning Today programme on the BBC Home Service (now ‘Radio 4’). He would report on steaks and other meat he had eaten. He had a metal ball that he would drop onto pieces of meat. The depth of the indentation made by the ball’s impact was his measure of the meat’s quality. It all sounded a bit mad to me when I listened to him when I was a young boy. Apparently, what he was doing was quite sound. The quality of raw meat can be judged by indenting it with a finger tip and then watching how quickly the indentation disappears. If the meat recovers quickly, then the quality is likely to be lower than if it recovers slowly.

Chicken 65

HAMPI 2a

The state-run Mayura Hotel at Hampi is conveniently located in the midst of the extensive, picturesque ruins of the once very prosperous city of Vijayanagara. The former city was once the world’s second largest metropolis, but it was destroyed in 1565. I have stayed at the hotel on at least three occasions despite its shortcomings, some of which I will describe below. It is only fair to point out that the last time I stayed at this hotel was at least nine years ago. Things might well have improved by then.

On one occasion, we were driving to Hampi from Bangalore, and were running late. We rang the hotel to tell them that we would be likely to turn up by 6 pm. They replied that it would not be a problem: our room was waiting. And, so it should have been because check-out time was 12 noon. Whoever had occupied the room on the previous day should have vacated their room by noon.

When we turned up at the hotel, we were told that the room we had booked was still occupied. We were not pleased. The receptionist explained that the occupants of our room, who should have vacated it by noon, were still using it. We remonstrated and asked for an explanation. We were told that the family that was overstaying in our promised room had also arrived late the day before, and the hotel was kindly letting them extend their stay at our expense.  We were tired and not amused.

The receptionist and another member of staff settled us temporarily in a small bedroom while we waited for our room to become vacant and cleaned up. After a couple of hours, we were shifted to our allotted family room. There were several workmen in the bathroom. They were trying to turn off a jet of water, like a geyser, that was shooting up from the floor. They managed after about an hour.

There were no towels in our accommodation. By now it was well after dark. We asked for towels and were told that we could not have them because the person with the (presumably only) key to the linen cupboard had gone home.

At the end of one of our stays at the Mayura, we asked to have breakfast at 7 am, when the dining area was supposed to open. When we arrived promptly at 7 am, there was no staff too be seen. Apart from us, the dining area was empty. After a few minutes, I walked into the kitchen: it was empty. All of the kitchen and serving staff were standing in a crowd in a nearby room, their eyes glued to a television screen. We learned the reason when, eventually, someone came to look after us. The television was showing the funeral of the much-loved Kannada film star Vishnuvardhan, who died on the 30th December 2009. Vishnuvardhan’s family were dismayed because his loss was not so greatly mourned as that of another star Rajkumar, who had died three years earlier. People had committed suicide on hearing of Rajkumar’s demise. Nevertheless, our driver thought it would be safer if we drove with a photo of Vishnuvardhan attached to the window as a mark of respect. Without it, we might have been attacked!

During one of our stays, we were curious to taste what appears on many South Indian restaurant menus. It is something called ‘Chicken 65’. What appeared resembled breaded chicken nuggets. They were bland and tasteless – very disappointing. 

Some days later, we had dinner with an elderly Dutch couple, who were back-packing around India. It was clear to us that they had had enough of spicy food. We suggested that they ordered French fries (finger chips in Indian English), which, like omelettes and tomato soup, are almost always available wherever you are in India. Their eyes lit up at this suggestion. Also, we recommended that they order Chicken 65, which we assured them was not at all spicy. 

After a while, the chips were served along with a plate of chicken pieces that did not resemble the Chicken 65, which we had ordered a couple of days earlier. Our new friends tasted this dish, and their eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. What had been served to them as Chicken 65 was far from bland; it was fiery hot. It seemed to us that the chefs in the kitchen paid little attention to what was ordered by the customers. We later learned that Chicken 65 is supposed to be hot and spicy. What we had been served before we met the Dutch people, was definitely not that dish.

The spicy dish was originally created at Buhari’s Hotel in Madras in 1965, hence the 65 in the name (see: https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/the-hows-whys-of-our-chicken-65/article5042658.ece).

While we were staying in the hotel one visit, a tour group of Italians had dinner one evening. One man, who had had enough of spicy food, shouted out in a hysterical voice: “I want chicken, plain chicken with salt, nothing else, just chicken and salt, no spices, just chicken and salt.” He kept repeatng this, and we thought: “He should be so lucky in this eatery”.

Despite its elements of “Fawlty Towers” hospitality, the Mayura is a lovely place to base a few days of exploration of the substantial  ruins of a once great city.

HAMPI 3