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Flavours of the Raj

I wonder what happened to Tempo. He was an Anglo-Indian friend of mine way back in the seventies, and we used to often visit his house for the most delicious beef curry and pork. There were a few other Anglo-Indians in our group of friends those days, and life seemed like an endless picnic.

Hindi cinema tends to caricature the Anglo- Indian as a member of a violin-playing, fun-loving community. But I must admit that my Anglo-Indian friends were mostly full of music and fun. And food was almost always a part of the fun. If my memory serves me right, the beef curry in Tempo’s house was fired up with red chilies and an array of Indian spices.

I was reminded of all this when chef Norman de Silva of The Park in Calcutta started talking about a potato chop filled with beef and a dish called pork bhooni last week. The chef, along with his aunt, Pamela Rebeiro, is organising an Anglo-Indian food festival at The Park hotel in Calcutta. Ever since Park’s executive chef Sharad Dewan told me about the festival, I’ve been going back into time, remembering my salad days.

It’s not easy to define Anglo-Indian food. I remembered reading in one informed book that it was “a bit of this, and a bit of that” — essentially European food with Indian flavours, or vice versa. Patricia Brown’s book — Anglo- Indian food and customs is an interesting compilation of dishes and recipes which gives you a detailed description of the food.

What interests me in particular are the names that explain the confluence of culinary flavours. Jennifer Brennan, in her book Curries and Bugles, writes about the eshephard pie, which is an Indianised shepherd’s pie, the Madras club quorma and a railway lamb curry.

The pish-pash, a dish that a friend recently cooked and was raving about, consists of small pieces of lamb cooked together with rice and spices till the rice becomes a bit mushy. The dak bungalow chicken curry conjures up a wonderful vision of a blond, blue-eyed ghost in a dimly lit government guest house eating chicken. Then there is chicken country captain, junglee pulao, jalebi pudding — and a host of such dishes.

The Park festival includes both the well-known and the little-known dishes such Anglo-Indian chunky beef crumb chops with mother-in-law’s fiery tongue chutney, beef kofta curry with coconut rice and vegetable cutlets with chunky tomato salsa.

Anglo-Indian food is not just a mix of English and Indian culinary habits. It includes European trends such as those from Portugal. And the Indian element comes from all regions — remember the mulligatawny is a mix of molagu and thanneer, Tamil terms for pepper and water — and even religions. Aunt Pam-ela, who has built up a formidable collection of recipes over the years, is particularly fond of her pork vindaloo and Hussaini chicken curry with tomato rice.

Chef Norman believes that the food goes beyond the boundaries of India, and includes culinary strains from places such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Burma. “The British had the mashed potatoes, which came in contact with Indian spices,” he says. So down the line it went, he says, turning into chops and cutlets along the way. In fact, today some of these Anglo-Indian concoctions are the mainstays of street food. In Calcutta, you cannot think of a nice snacky afternoon unless it includes a chop or a cutlet.

Chef Dewan has put me in a nostalgic mode. I am now trying to recall the name of another Anglo-Indian friend who once absent-mindedly picked up a bale of cloth from a shop in Delhi without paying for it. For quite a while after that, he gave all of us a metre or two of the cloth on our birthdays (and quite a nice corduroy it was too). Wherever he is, I am sure he’s cooking something nice. The fellow, after all, had the fingers of an artist.

Potato chops (serves 6-7)

Ingredients •1kg mashed potatoes • 1kg minced beef • 6-7 chopped green chilies •2 finely chopped medium-sized onions •1 bunch chopped coriander leaves • 50g finely chopped ginger • 75g finely chopped garlic • 3-4 tbs Worcestershire sauce • salt and pepper to taste • 200g bread crumbs • 100ml refined oil • 500ml refined oil (for deep fat frying)

Method

Peel and boil potatoes in salted water. Once cooked, mash thoroughly. Add salt and pepper and let it cool. In a thick bottom pan, heat 100ml oil and add chopped onions. Sauté till golden brown. Add chopped ginger, garlic and chilies and fry for another minute. Add minced beef and Worcestershire sauce and fry. Once the beef is browned thoroughly add chopped coriander and stir till the coriander is mixed into the mince. Remove and let it cool.

Divide mashed potatoes into portions. Take each portion and mould in the palm of your hand to make a well. Fill this with the mince and make an egg-shaped cutlet. Mix it with crumbs. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a thick bottom wok and deep fat fry the cutlets till golden brown.

Pork bhooni (serves 5-6)

Ingredients • 1kg pork (leg or boneless) cut into ½ inch cubes ½kg potatoes cut into ½ inch cubes • 150g chopped fresh soy saag or dill • 2 finely sliced large onions •50g ginger paste • 75g garlic paste • 4-5 ground dried red chilies • 1tsp turmeric • 150-200ml refined or olive oil • salt to taste •1tbs dark soy sauce (for colour, if needed)

Method

In a thick bottom cooking vessel heat the oil. Add sliced onions and cook till golden brown. Remove and set aside. In the same vessel fry potatoes till golden brown. Remove and set aside. To the same oil, add pork, ginger and garlic paste and ground dried red chilies. Stir till the meat is browned. Add enough water or stock to cover the pork. Now cover with a lid and cook till meat is tender. When the water has evaporated, add the browned onions and potatoes and stir. If you feel that the meat needs to be darker then at this point add the soy sauce. Add chopped soy saag or dill to finish. (This dish can also be prepared with beef or lamb as an alternative to pork.)

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