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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Coastal cuisine, more west than east

On a visit to Mumbai a few years ago to play at an interesting workshop for advertising and sales executives where the links between their work and our playing ' teamwork, creativity, appropriateness of inputs, productive competitiveness and so on ' were sought to be highlighted, we found ourselves one evening at a friend's place after a hard day's work looking forward to some good whisky and a hearty meal.

The latter was to be ordered in from a good set-up they have in Mumbai called Meals on Wheels, which is like a directory that tells you from which restaurants they will do a home delivery.

There is a vast choice of places from where to order as well as styles of cuisine but we decided that when in Maharashtra, do as the Maharashtrians do and settled for the coastal cuisine of the west coast, with our hosts to help us along with getting a good selection.

The food was not from Krishna's ' Mumbai's most famous coastal food eatery ' but from another place we were told was equally recommendable.

For me, it was a kind of initiation ' my first experience of the spicy and robust Malwani, gassi, and Kolhapuri curries and I loved it.

A fairly new place in Calcutta called Spice of Life has brought this very cuisine to the city; not the first place to have done so, but the most recent.

They have an exhaustive menu that concentrates on west coast cuisine with a few items from the east and the head chef ' Hanumant Jhanjhe ' spent a long time in Krishna's itself.

Being primarily food that involves sea fish and other seafood such as lobster, prawn, crab, squid and now even octopus and oyster (thank heavens I have no allergies), a lot of strong marinades and spices are used so that the smell of these items is neutralised. Without much ado, I shall describe some of the items we tried, which are on offer here. Seafood Coriander Soup is a happening way to begin. Fish, crabmeat, squid, shrimps and other seafood are chopped and fried in butter; seafood stock is added along with seasoning including a little turmeric. Tamarind and vinegar are also used. The soup is given body by using cream and a little cornflour paste and is garnished with a healthy dose of chopped coriander.

The first of two starters was Chicken in Fire Sauce. Boneless pieces of chicken breast are put in a marinade containing ginger-garlic paste, egg, flour (maida), cornflour, red chilli paste, turmeric and salt for a required period of time, skewered on to small bamboo sticks like the Indonesian Satay Chicken and deep fried. Then the deep fried chicken is further cooked in a gravy that combines ginger-garlic paste, tomato ketchup, chilli sauce, honey and seasoning before being served.

The other starter was the Maharashtrian Prawn Koliwada, also a deep-fried item. Here the prawns are marinated in a mixture of ginger-garlic paste, lemon juice, cornflour, unroasted gram flour (besan), egg, chilli powder, ajwain and salt for 10 minutes before being deep fried to a crisp.

Getting to the main courses, I was intrigued to see the famous Goan Sorpotel listed under mutton items. It is essentially a pork dish in which an authentic sorpotel will contain many parts of the animal such as tongue, liver, kidney, ears and even its coagulated blood, and some recipes will also include ox tongue instead of pig's, and beef's heart.

However, the sorpotel at Spice of Life with mutton was recognisable as such because of the ingredients and I had it out of curiosity, just once. It is not the real thing, though it is tasty enough.

The Kerala Dry Mutton, though, was excellent. Mustard seed and curry leaves are fried in ghee and then chopped ginger and garlic, tomatoes, onions and yoghurt are added. This thick gravy is seasoned with turmeric, tamarind, salt, sugar and black pepper and the mutton that has already been boiled is added last and cooked together for a few minutes. It is garnished with chopped coriander leaves.

Lobster Coondapuri, a Mangalorian dish, is something to look out for. A mixture of spices is dry roasted and made into a paste. There is cinnamon, cardamom, Kashmiri red chillies, clove, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seed and black peppercorn. Onion, garlic, chopped ginger, yoghurt, tamarind and tomato are cooked together and then the paste of spices is added and blended well. Then the lobster meat that has already been deep fried after being coated with an egg-cornflour mixture, is cooked in this gravy. It is a dryish preparation.

My only disappointment was Crab Coorgi Roast. I was asked whether the crab should be done whole or just the flesh and I chose the latter ' probably my mistake. The crabmeat seemed too little in evidence and it was oily and rich. All the main courses were accompanied by Neer Dosa, which were a little softer and moister than I have otherwise had.

But Spice of Life ' just off Minto Park ' is a good name for this small, well-appointed place, which does north Indian and Chinese food as well.

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