Buttered buns in Bombay

LOOKING A BIT LIKE A GRUBBY SWISS chalet, Yazdani Restaurant and Bakery is in a busy lane within a stone’s throw of Bombay’s elegantly designed Horniman Circle. Named after the Persian city of Yazd, where one of the nine Athash Behrams (the highest grade of Zoroastrian fire temples) still stands, this establishment was founded by a Parsi family in the very early 1950s. It has been suggested that the premises occupied by Yazdani were previously occupied by a Japanese bank.

Yazdani, which looks as if it has not been redecorated for many decades is one of Bombay’s many ‘Irani cafés’, which were founded by Iranian zoroastrian refugees, who had fled to India (in the early 20th century) from other parts of Asia to escape religious persecution. Irani cafés, like Yazdani, retain a nostalgic charm, providing an atmosphere that transports the customer’s imagination back to a gentler and simpler past. Sadly, the number of Irani cafés in Bombay is diminishing.

It was at Yazdani, when I first visited it a year ago, that I bit into my first bun maska. It was love at first bite. What is it, you may well ask, that gave me so much pleasure? It is simply a round bread bun, often very soft, filled with a generous, if not excessive, amount of butter. Some of the buns available at Yazdani contain bits of raisin and others, the brun maska, have crisp crusty coverings (similar to ‘crusty rolls’ available in England).

Bun maska has become popular outside Bombay.For example, I have discovered good ones in Ahmedabad (at Lucky’s and also at the New Irani Restaurant).

In addition to bun maska and brun maska, Yazdani sells bread, apple pie, and a variety of delicious biscuits. Everything is baked on the premises at Yazdani, which calls itself “La Boulangerie”. Tea is served at simple tables within sight of the aging glass fronted cabinets that are constantly being restocked with freshly baked products. It is common for customers to dip bits of bun maska into the tea.

On one wall, there is a large poster in German advertising Bauernbrot. Apparently, Yazdani is popular with German visitors to Bombay. Portraits of various Parsi personalities also hang on the walls.

Unless you are gluten intolerant or trying to lose weight, a visit to Yazdani is a real treat, and not a costly one.

A few footsteps away from Yazdani, stands another treat. This is the Peoples Book House. It is a small extremely well stocked bookshop which supplies mainly, but not exclusively, left wing books. Whatever your political leaning, you are likely to find fascinating books here (in English, Hindi, and Marathi, mainly). In its window, you can spot, for example, “Das Kapital” and books about Karl Marx translated into Marathi. I bought what promises to be an interesting book about the naval mutiny in Bombay that occurred just after the end of WW2 (early 1946), an event that hastened the British decision to quit India for good.

So, visit Yazdani to fill your stomach and Peoples Book House to feed your brain.

Italian abroad

I ENJOY ITALIAN FOOD. Very occasionally, I discover Italian restaurants abroad that serve authentic Italian dishes, food that makes no compromises to non-Italian tastes.

Back in the 1980s, Giovanni’s in Chatham (Kent, UK) was an oasis of superb food in the then desert of mediocrity, the Medway Towns. Apart from other beautifully prepared dishes, his spaghetti with pesto was perfect. Unfortunately, Giovanni’s, a justifiably expensive place pf good taste, went out of business several years before I ceased practising as a dentist in the Medway Towns in about 1993.

Grahamstown in South Africa was another surprising place where, in 2003, we discovered a remarkably good Italian eatery rin by an Italian family. I do not remember its name but it was near where we were staying on Somerset (?) Street. I doubt tje restaurant still exists.

Manhattan is rich in Italian eateries. One which we visited by chance on a street in East 50s, was superb. I forget what we ate, but after we had eaten we read the reviews hanging on the window. We might have missed this restaurant’s gastronomic treats had we read the review which related that the establishment’s prices were “vertiginous”. The reviewer was not kidding.

When Unity Mitford was in Munich in the 1930s, she developed a crush on Adolf Hitler. His favourite restaurant in Munich was the Osteria Bavaria, an Italian restaurant, which still exists but has been renamed Osteria Italia. Unity used to sit in the Bavaria at a table near to that occupied by Adolf, and was often invited to join him and his dining companions. In the early 2000s, I had a meal at Adolf’s renamed restaurant, which has retained much of its original decor. The Italian food served there was magnificent. I was amused by the establishment’s apt motto: “In touch with history”.

One of the best Italian meals I have eaten in London was at Asaggi near Westbourn Grove. Another memorably good Italian place I have tried is Zafferano near Knightsbridge. I forget what I ate, but that evening Sean Connery also ate there as well as the shorter of the Two Ronnies (British comedians). Sean Connery ate in a private room, guarded by a waiter, who told us: “We ‘ave to be careful this evening. We don’t want no trouble with James Bond.”

In India, there are plenty of restaurants offering Italian inspired food, but most of them produce disappointing dishes. Chianti in Koramangala (Bangalore) is one notable exception. I have eaten there at least twice, always most satisfactorily. Their food is very close to authentic Italian cuisine. However, the branch of Chianti in MG Road is disappointing.

It was two visits to Baroda (Vadodara) in Gujarat that prompted me to write this piece. The Fiorella in a hotel in the Alkapuri district serves truly excellent Italian food. It was set up by an Indian chef, who had trained in Italy and worked in restaurants there for more than fourteen years. Ravichandra, who became a master chef in Italy, qualified to supervise the running of kitchens in Italian restaurants, was employed by the hotel in Baroda. His brief was to set up a restaurant serving Italian food that made no compromises to pander to local tastes.

Fiorella is the successful result. We first ate there in early 2019, when Ravichandra was in the kitchen. Then, we returned in January 2020, by which time he had left. We were sad to miss him, but overjoyed to discover that, even without him, the food is still a great gastronomic delight. It is a case of ‘when in Baroda, eat as the Romans do’.

Rice and meat

Hyderabad is justifiably renowned for tasty biryani although the very best version of this rice based dish that I have ever eaten was at Paragon in Calicut. There, they serve Moplah biryanis, which are both Arabic and Indian in taste.

The biryani we ate at the Café Bahar in Hyderabad was delicious. It was delicately flavoured and cooked with a light touch. To enter Bahar at lunchtime it is necessary to join a long queue that extends from the top of tje stairs at the doorway to the first floor dining room down on to the busy street outside. It is worth the wait.

The restaurant itself is very noisy and as busy as London’s Oxford Circus at rush hour. We shared a table with a charming couple, who let us try their ‘double masala’ chicken biryani which is richly laden with extra spices. I preferred the less spicy ‘special lamb biryani’. It is made special by adding hard boiled egg and meatballs made with minced chicken.

One should not visit Hyderabad without eating at least one biryani, but avoid the much advertised Paradise restaurant chain, which is ok but nothing like as good as Bahar or Shadab (near the Charminar)

Check the toilet!

One of my cousins in France gave me a useful tip.

He said that clean toilet facilities are often associated with satisfying restaurants. What he meant was that if the restaurant’s management took care of small details such as the toilets, it was likely that they would take care over the more savoury aspects of the business such as the food and customer care.

Since I was given that tip, I have noticed that there is a remarkably high correlation between my degree of satisfaction with the restaurant and the state of their ‘loos’.

Dinner dates

A few days ago, some friends invited us to visit them one evening. We sat with them for several hours, drinking and eating light snacks. As time passed, my stomach began rumbling and I wondered when we were going to eat dinner. This reminded me of an evening many years ago when I lived in Kent (UK).

Some Americans invited me to dinner. To reach them, I had to drive through the countryside for two hours. When I arrived at about 7 pm, I was offered a sandwich. I refused this, muttering that I would wait for dinner.

Another guest arrived. We sat talking and the time passed pleasurably. However, there was no mention of dinner or any food at all during the rest of the evening. At 10 pm, I began my two hour return journey without having eaten. As I drove home, it dawned on me that the sandwich I had been offered was actually the only evening meal that my hosts were planning to serve.

When I reached home at midnight, starving, I prepared a hasty snack.

On reflection, on the recent occasion, we had visited our friends assuming that we would have a pre-dinner drink before going out to dinner. In reality, they had only invited us for a drink; they had not mentioned dinner.

Moral: don’t assume anything!

Photo of shaami kebabs

Cured by the sun

eggs with meat in cooking pan

 

For several years in the 1970s, I used to visit my friends Robert and Margaret while they were spending summer camping near to Platamon on the Aegean coast of Greece. 

Every morning at Platamon began with a ritual. Before we were allowed to eat breakfast, we had to take a dip in the sea. This was no hardship; it was quite an enjoyable way to wake up. Washing in the sea was the only form of bathing possible at our camp in Platamon; there was no bathroom in the caravan. Robert and Margaret, who used to spend at least 6 weeks there, did not shower or bath in anything but sea water at Platamon. Robert was not worried by this, but after a while Margaret began to miss the daily soaks in a hot bath, which she enjoyed at home.

Breakfast at Platamon resembled that at my friends’ home. It consisted of a cup of tea, bread with home-made marmalade, scrambled egg, and a minute slice of sliced bacon. In 1975, and for a few years after, my friends travelled without a refrigerator. Butter was stored in a moistened terracotta container. The evaporating water kept the butter inside it cool. My friends carried a whole side of smoked bacon from England. This was not refrigerated in any way, but somehow remained more or less fresh enough to be edible. It was kept swathed in white muslin. When needed, it was unwrapped, and Robert used to cut little bits off it using one of his folding French Opinel knives.

I remember once that he spotted that part of the surface of the bacon was going green. I asked him what he was going to do about it. Without replying, he began scraping the mould of the unwrapped chunk of bacon, and then placed the ‘naked’ meat onto the Land Rover’s roof rack, saying to me:

 “The ultraviolet rays from the sun will disinfect the bacon.”

 

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Just desserts

Art of gelato_240

Not long ago, we visited a restaurant. To save it from being emabarassed, I will not mention its name or location. On its dessert menu, it had the following item: “Mango”. This was described as coconut ice cream with mango sorbet, topped with a single raspberry, a lychee, and a fruit sauce. 

One of our party wanted to try the “Mango” as described on the menu. A friend and myself wanted, if possible, a scoop or two of mango sorbet without the other trimmings. We asked one waitress if it would be possible to have the sorbet on its own. She went away to consult, but never returned.

After a while we asked a waiter, who appeared not to be fluent in English, whether we could have the mango sorbet solo. We asked him several times. He kept on replying:

“Strawberry?”

He appeared not to be able to distinguish the word ‘strawberry’ from ‘sorbet’.

Not willing to give up, we called the manager to repeat our wish. He told us that he would speak to the chef. He returned quickly and assured us that our wish would be granted.

The desserts arrived. The person who ordered the “Mango” as described on the menu received a lump of mango sorbet fused to a lump of coconut ice cream. This was topped with a single raspberry and a piece of frozen kiwi fruit, but not a lychee in sight. This was covered with a sweet red fruit sauce.

Those who had sought mango sorbet on its own, my friend and I, received not plain mango sorbet, but a deconstructed version of what was on the menu. The mango sorbet was fused to the coconut ice cream, and the other ingredients, including the frozen kiwi piece, were neatly arranged around the inseparable icecream and sorbet. The sauce was placed in a small dish.

Two things occurred to me later. First, the restaurant only had the mango sorbet inseparably fused to the coconut ice cream. Secondly, the restaurant had no idea how much to charge us had we been served the ice cream/sorbet without the trimmings.

To compensate for the delay and confusion, the manager provided us with an extra portion of the “Mango” dessert ‘on the house’. That would have been kind had the unasked for extra portion not appeared on our bill!

 

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.