Sunday, June 1, 2008

Making East Indian Bottle Masalla for My Mumbai Cookbook

The East Idian chapter of My Mumbai Cookbook will actually come up much later in my writing schedule but the legendary Bottle masala is only made this time of the year (January to April). It also has a 'secret recipe' so when I found a friend whose mom was ready to share the making of it, I grabbed the chance. I surmounted all odds to get there the stipulated weekend, planning things down to the 'p', prepacking on Friday, borrowing moms car (ours was in the shop). And I am so glad I did because the monsoons arrived in all their glory the very next week!

We'd planned to leave by 10 but I only woke at 8:45 when Bessy, the friend I was supposed to visit called to ask if we had left! A mad rush ensued as I pushed husband and son to get dressed and got baby and myself ready as well.

The Ghildiyal family, with assorted baggage, baby gadgets and actually left home in record time. (Well 11.00 was not bad since we had planned for 10.00 all things considered.) I am coming to a conclusion after Natasha was born that babies come with a Murphy's law chip embedded in them. That is why they will choose to poop the exact minute you step out of the house? Trow up the exact minute you finish buttoning them into their new dress OR and this is a classic.. Poop the moment you've changed them into a fresh diaper.

We arrived at our friends (the Machados) Vasai home in time for lunch and all of a sudden the mad rush seemed to slow down as beer cans were popped open and the men got comfortable in front of the cricket match on TV, while keeping an eye on the kids (my 2 and Bessy's 2) while us women got busy in the kitchen.

Lunch -which I was supposed to help cook... well I did manage to stir the curry before I put it on the table - consisted of pomfret done two ways; in a curry of coconut juice flavoured with the ubisquitious bottle masalla and local cane vinegar, and also two rather large specimens stuffed with coconut chutney and pan fried in banana leaves (a dish I found very reminiscent of Parsi Patra ni machchi, couldn't help wondering if there is a common root to that dish) all eaten with rice. (I have pictures of this bit but bear with me, because they are on my phone and my phone and my computer are not on talking terms currently! )

The seasoning in the food was less than what we eat at home, but that was a good thing because it allowed us to taste the delicate flavours of the fish and the curry it was cooked in. Bessy fried the rest of the chutney she'd stuffed the fish with, in a tempering of Mustard and Curry leaves. Lunch was delicious. Generously seasoned with hunger, the tangy slightly spicy fish curry came together beautifully with the chutney that tasted of fresh coconut. We ate a lot, quickly and with our hands, the next bite being ready to enter our mouths before we'd finished with the last and were still picking morsels of plates and spoons long after our stomachs were full.

After that sumptuous lunch, a nap was on the cards, we were in Vasai after all, where afternoon naps after a big meal of fish curry and rice are de riguer.

At 5 going on 6 (are you surprised?) that evening, Riki, Bessy's husband dropped us off to Bessys moms house while my husband valiantly babysat the kids. Thank god for him, because without his support, the next few hours of idyllic culinary exploration could not have been possible.

It was in the next few hours that Bessy's mom, Mrs Margaret Nunes was going to teach me how to make Bottle Massala, Sorpottel and Vindhaloo.

But before I get into the details let me tell you about East Indian Bottle Masalla. This magical spice mix is a bit like the legendary Ras el hanout, it seems to have every spice in the world in it, only as opposed to being made by merchants it is made by women at home and each home has a separate recipe. It is then used round the year to distinctively flavour East Indian cuisine. It goes into everything!

The making of this Bottle masalla is an annual event amongst the East Indian community. The annual supply is made and put down just prior to the monsoon when hot sunny days are guaranteed and used round the year.

Bottle Masala travels far and wide, with members of the community carrying it with them so they can replicate flavours of home in far off lands.

Like all Indian spice mixes, the spices for this masala are also dried in the hot sun, then each is individually roasted over a slow fire and either in a mortar and pestle or processed like the one I made in Vasai. Once we had roasted everything, it was all mixed up and taken to the local flour mill where it was ground in a special mill reserved for grinding masallas.

The resulting powder was left to cool down completely and then tightly-packed in air-tight, dry bottles (now plastic but beer bottles were once the container of choice which is how the masalla came to be called bottle masalla). The bottle is then properly sealed and will last a long time if kept away from sunlight and moisture.


Kim said...

All the very best sweetheart.

I think you are really brave doing this with 2 kiddos - one newborn.

You have all my best wishes and love. Let me know if I can help in anyway.

Bombay-Bruxelles said...


This has brought back so many memories from my childhood! Continue, and don't keep us waiting too long for your book :-)

Aruna Dhir said...

Dear Rushina,

Beautiful pictures - very luscious.

Also a fantastic idea to blog away, chronicling your thoughts, as you give shape to your book.

Good luck.

Aruna Dhir

dd said...

Nice trick for pomfret with coconut chutney and pan fried in banana leaves