Friday, July 25, 2008

To market, to market...

Moras Bhajjji seller

The Moras Bhajji

Kantola seller

The Kantolas

Most cookbooks have a buying guide, but for My Mumbai cookbook, even that section has to be a little different. I am going to be writing on some of the markets I have grown up shopping in.

And Vikram's excellent column on Bhajji galli ~

"Mumbai has many good vegetable markets, but Bhaji Gali near Grant Road station is one of the best. Probably because many vegetarian Maharashtrians and Gujaratis live nearby, the veggies always seem extra good and fresh. Another sign that it’s a good market is how sellers specialise."

And it's treasures within including Moras bhajji ~

A few sellers away I spotted a bag of leaves half hidden under other veggies. They looked odd, long and fleshy ovals that I almost thought were discarded bean pods, but they had the thick stems of a succulent. The vegetable seller called them moras-bhaji and he told me it grew near the sea, coming to them from the beaches at Vasai. "

... finally
had me calling him to fix a day to go marketing together. It is something we have been meaning to do but not getting around too. Ignoring pangs of guilt I left the DH with my able housekeeper, Shobha to look after the kids and drove into town. I was really looking forward to this trip since I had been pretty much confines to my colony the last couple of weeks thanks to kids work and the monsoons. The rain gods were also indulgent and held themselves back for me.

We met at the Grant rd. station side. The plan was to walk through to the other side and then drive on to our next destination. Almost immediately we got down to shopping since one of the vendors I especially wanted to visit was right at the corner on which we met. The water chestnut seller.

Water chestnuts come into season at this time of the year, and I had been wanting to get my hands on some for a while now but they are not available near where I live in Powai.

I discovered Water Chestnuts in their fresh form at Mayo girls where we would sometimes get them for tea. Prior to that I had only eaten the cooked salted ones.

Fresh water chestnuts are extremely different from their cooked counterparts and I must say I like them better; tender, crunchy, sweet, juicy and faintly herby, they are great to eat raw and absolutely delicious in curries. A fact I discovered entirely by chance a few years ago when. Anticipating a day of many acquisitions I conservatively bought just half a kg and ended up wishing I'd exercised the judgment to buy more because the were over before I could savor them.

Tucking them into my shopping bag, I moved on with Vikram. We saw a whole lot of other vegetables, identifying them and telling each other how we used them, until we came to the Moras vegetable guy. In fact we almost missed the basket full of Moras he was selling, because it was buried under a bunch of green bananas as you can see in the picture. A little later we happened upon a vendor selling Kantolas. These are prickly little things that my husband confirmed are the Meethe Karele of Uttarakhandi cuisine. All too soon we'd finished with this short stretch of a vegetable wonderland and emerged at the other end.

My Dadi, swore by two markets, Bhulleshwar and Bhajji galli, but Bhuleshwar was further away. Bhajji galli (which literally translates to vegetable lane) was very close and extremely accessible.

Bhajji Gali is a small lane that stretches on a perpendicular from Grant road station. Which makes it a popular stop for commuters to shop for vegetables on their way home. We visited in the lax hours, so vendors were patient with us but try come peak hours and a cacophony of hundreds of voices will greet you selling everything from tomatoes to greens. The fact that it is right in the middle of the vegetarian gujarati populated area makes it a treasure trove for indigenous seasonal vegetables.

It was a great trip so unlike the sanitary supermarket shopping I have access to in Powai. It reminded me what a great experience marketing is and I have every intention of doing more of it!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

What is My Mumbai cookbook about?

Even before I signed the contract for My Mumbai Cookbook, I was making big plans. It would be a runaway best seller and become so famous that I would get a book deal out of it and then a TV show et. etc.

My classic case of counting chickens screeched to a resounding halt when I got down to actually writing it. I spen ages agonising over the dedication page, I didn't want to miss anyone! (It it were an Oscar speech I'd have been hrown of the stage). then I decided to write the introduction. After the third day of staring at one paragraph, I decided to come back to it later and moved to the firt chapter. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote. Suddenly nothing sounded right.

So when I had written things out for the sixth time, I took a break and shifted focus to recipe testing. I will say his though, Thank god for the delete key or I'd have made a serious dent in the environment by chucking wads of paper into the bin! And as I tossed up a quick garlic pasta that is to go into the book, something my husband always says when I make it came to mind, “Quickly prepared dishes sometimes turn out better than the most elaborately prepared recipes."

Maybe I was just trying too hard!

I decided to go back to scratch and reading the notes I sent the pblisher with my book structure helped clear my brain. The May 2009 deadline does not look so scary now....

There is a similarity between writing and cooking. Both are activities that come easily to some, who seem to have thrive at them, but are harder for others who have to keep at it. And even the best writers and finest cooks have probably had that moment when all the elements are present in a piece of writing or a dish and yet it lacks that one element that will take it from just plain good to superlative.

But int both cases, there comes a point when one should just let things happen by themselves.... Let the chemistry happen as they say.....

A few excerpts from my notes to my Publisher

As a food writer the aspect of food and foodways and their ability to travel have aways fascinated me and nowhere is a better example of this than the home kitchens of Mumbai.

Food has a way of crossing the divides of community other barriers and over the years this has resulted in a variety of cuisines, their aormas, flavours and tastes all combining into one huge melting pot that is Mumbai.

My Mumbai Cookbook is a memoir with recipes, Shobha Narayan's Monsoon diary meets one of Claudia Rodens books. A culinary diary, let us say of home cooking in Mumbai. It will offer a sampling of various cuisines through recipes as opposed to just the one regional variety.

The primary objective of My Mumbai Cookbook is to bring to the fore a facet of food in Mumbai that seldom gets it's due. The versatility of the home kitchens of Mumbai. Home cooking in Mumbai has permeated the barriers of walls both the physical as well as those invisible ones of religion and community to be assimilated into one large vibrant tapestry. Although Mumbai has a very dynamic dining scene, home cooking in Mumbai tends to only make it to the recipe pages of columns like 'Ghar ka khana'.

A secondary but no less important objective is to document and preserve, a sampling of home cooking from various communities. As life in Mumbai gets tougher by the moment, there is a direct impact on the way we eat at home. Home cooking is getting more homogenous. Traditional recipes are being circuvented for quick cooking, heat and eat foods. My Mumbai cookbook, aims to perserve some of the easier recipes, offering interested a chance to experiment wih dishes from other kichens, no matter how limited their kichen may be.

Cooking is a given with any family and although there are families where men occasionally cook, the onus of the majority of food preparation is still on the woman of the house regardless of whether she has a career or other responsibilities to juggle or not.

The onus of exchange of culinary lore can be largely attributed to women and in a subtle way, My Mumbai Cookbook hopes to highlight this relationship. I am in awe of the amazing strength of women. They are the cornerstone of evolution of home cooking everywhere. By dint of their gender, women and cooking are inextricably linked. In a quest for variety, they also exchange culinary knowledge and recipes and food ways are passed on. Food and emotion come together in women, in a charecteristic unique to their gender. For women feeding a family goes beyond throwing something together, they will refuse to settle for anything short of the best, spend time planning and preparing meals.

And the Mumbai woman is the perfect example of this charecterisic. Whether she is sorting out the freshest tomatoes at Bhuleshwar, fighting for the freshest fish at Koliwada, or digging out the whitest mushrooms from the bottom of the pile at a supermarket in South Mumbai, she has her family’s best interests at heart and nothing short of the finest she can afford will do - even if it means shopping at Grant road vegetable market and cutting and cleaning the vegetables on the train journey home!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cooked and booked!

Now that I have signed on the dotted lines, I can put my characteristic Virgo caution to rest and do a virtual jig!

I am excited to share the news that my book, "My Mumbai cookbook" has been taken on for publication by Tranquebar press.

Tranquebar Press is a literary imprint that, along with Westland Books and Landmark Bookstores are currently owned by the Tatas. Tranquebar Press was launched last year with literary critic Nilanjana S. Roy as chief editor. They are also the publishers behind Saeed Mirza's Ammi: A Letter to a Democratic Mother and Jeet Thayil's These Errors are Correct.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, Aunty Savia came to stay with me, loaded with spice pastes, pickles, goan sausages, vinegar and Mangad - mango jam made of local mangoes that are high in pectin.

Aunty Savia, is a college friend of my mother's. Thanks to her, my mother became an amazing baker and our our childhood memories are enriched with a variety of baked goodies and Easter Marzipan. Aunty Savia had a pickle factory, and care packages from her always included delicious aromatic masallas, pickles, home made bebinca. She also introduced us to goan food albeit vegetarian since she cooked it at our house but later, when i moved into my own home, visits from her meant feasts of prawn curry, coconut curry and all sorts of delectable treats.

Aunty Savia is as Goan as they get, a homebody and one of the loveliest people I know, in the typically Goan way, food is an important part of her identity. The thhre days we spent together were full of learning on my part and nostalgia on hers -about learning to cook, feeding her kids when they were babies and feeding them now as adults, and nostalgia of the times she stayed with my mother in the Munshaw home. We cooked vindalho, xacuti, and a few other classic dishes for My Mumbai Cookbook but the highlight of her stay for me was this dish of stuffed squid she made.

I have only ever seen squid in rings so this stuffed version was a novelty for me. We found squid when we went to look for seafood to cook for our session and bought a few pieces. She chopped up the tentacles with a few prawns and sauteed them with onions, coconut and a little Vindalho paste. She then stuffed this mixture into the squids and cooked the whole in some more of the onion spice paste. It cooked to a spicy almost pickled dish that was great with rice.

And equally invauable was the other knowledge she imparted, advice on baby food, ideas for dishes my kid would like, dealing with bab tummy upsets and a whole lot of things besides.