The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Signature soccer spread

For a small community of Bengalis (mostly academics) in faraway Uganda in the 1950s and 60s, there were some special treats. Whenever celebrities from 'back home' came to that neck of the woods, we got to meet them up close. I was all of 10 years of age when my great uncle threw a party in his palatial house (complete with two African grey parrots that talked and a pet monkey who picked dandruff out of our scalps) for Asha Parekh and Joy Mukherjee, who were in East Africa for the premiere of their film Hum Hindustani.

At about the same time Mohun Bagan visited Uganda for a series of friendlies against the national team. Rather than put up at a hotel, they decided that if a few Bengali families were ready to play host, they would divide themselves up into twos and threes and enjoy the comforts of homes away from home, including, of course, maachher jhol, shukto and pathar mangsho.

Chuni Goswami, his brother Manek, Jarnail Singh, C.K. Das and others were in that side; in our household we had the honour of having Amiya Banerjee and Ashim Dhar. The former was quite a character. Although a Mohun Bagan player, he liked sitting on the porch and belting out songs in an East Bengali dialect. The matches were played at the Nakivubo Stadium, the same venue where we had the treat of watching the great Sir Stanley Mathews'

I could not have been sharing these reminiscences in more appropriate company or in a more appropriate place. It was in Gossip, a restopub at the Unnayan Commercial Complex on the EM Bypass named in an attempt to translate the word 'adda', and with me was a young man by the name of Chiraag Paul, whose fascinating life story in just 17 years has taken him from East Bengal Club to Guarani F.C. in Brazil and then to Birmingham City in England where he will return in a couple of weeks to continue his training and if all goes well will play in the First Division league in time to come.

Calcutta is his home, and Gossip is owned by his father. Like a true Bengali he has a healthy interest in food and with not much to do while in Calcutta between training stints, he put his head together with Chef Daniel and created a special menu called Half Time Snacks, to supplement their existing menu of finger-food, which is a strong point at Gossip. All over the world people are creating such menus at this time, and attaching a name with football connotations to an already existing, familiar dish is an easy thing to do, but to invent and create a signature item is where it's at, and this is what they are trying to do. Even their regular menu has signature items like Asian-Italian Chicken Kebab, Beer Batter Fried Fish and a delicious adaptation of a Malay dish called Ikenbali Sambal, made with tiny dried fish (we call them kechki maachh), crisp fried with peanuts.

Brazilian Bomb was my favourite. A mixture is made of minced chicken, chopped onions, ginger, garlic and green chillies, salt, pepper, red chilli powder, green chilli sauce, chopped coriander, lemon juice and a little cornflour for binding. This is shaped into a sphere, a hole is made in this and a chunk of frozen butter is put into this hole, and sealed. The entire ball is dipped in a light batter of cornflour, refined flour and seasonings and deep fried. When being served, the ball is pierced with a hot fork or skewer, and the butter gushes out, just like a minor volcanic eruption. Timing plays an important part in serving the Brazilian Bomb, and it's fun when they get it right ' somewhat along the lines of Chicken-a-la-Kiev.

Korean Karisma is a fish item. A fillet of fish is sliced through thinly and spread apart. Sliced cheese, grated cheese, chopped olives, ginger and garlic, salt, pepper and oregano are placed on the fillet, which is then 'closed' around this stuffing by bringing the halves together. This is then dipped in a batter that also has grated cheese in it, and pan fried. There is German Defence, in which thinly sliced escalopes of chicken breast are marinated in a mixture of mashed mixed pickle, cornflour, refined flour, Kashmiri chilli powder, red chilli powder, salt, pepper and ajwain and deep fried. And there is Dutch Total Football in which lamb is marinated in worcester sauce, ginger-garlic paste and salt and pepper and then pot-roasted till soft and allowed to cool. Thin slices are cut and cooked in brown sauce and red wine, and before serving, a mixture of beaten egg is poured on to it through a small aperture creating a criss-cross pattern to resemble a net, and this sets firm from the heat of the cooked dish.

Teamgeist Lollipop is a vegetarian item ' there are two on the Half Time Snacks menu ' a ball-shaped, deep fried item and there is Dream Team, made with babycorn. Some special cocktails have also been created for this menu such as Kahn's Tipover (vodka and red wine), Owen's Finish (vodka, limca, blue curacao) and Saviola's Pace (gin, tequila, Bacardi, pineapple juice and strawberry syrup).

Gossip has created many signature cocktails for their regular menu as well, and young and imaginative bartender Julian is in the process of trying to get international recognition for a brainchild of his called Red Julibully, a combination of vodka, Bacardi, gin, tequila, cointreau, whisky, red wine and beer topped up with Red Bull, the energiser drink. He promises that if you have one of these, a creepy crawly feeling will start at your calf muscles and work its way up to the brain.

The adda ended, as all addas must, amid predictions of who will win the Cup, but Chiraag left me with some food for thought. Having played with players his own age in three continents, he believes that at the grass-roots level, the talent and potential are the same. It is just that they know what to do with it, while we usually blow it away.

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