|Anjan’s fave recipes: The Lotus Wrap Fried Rice, Cumin Lamb and Crackling Spinach.
Pictures by Rashbehari Das
How did the idea of the book come about?
Weve been toying with the idea for a long time. We thought there are so many fans of Mainland China… they must get some understanding of what Mainland China is all about. Incidentally, Chiki Sarkar of Random House India also wanted to do something with Chinese cuisine and our ideas met, so we worked together.
This book is a milestone in an emotional journey. We started the standalone restaurant revolution with Mainland China and today we are a national brand with 43 outlets, feeding more than 3 to 3.5 lakh customers. It is my tribute and gift to them. It was a dream of mine to give them a treat that they can take back home.
How is your book different from any other cookbook?
The idea itself… it is a Chinese cookbook in the Indian context. So we have given recipes that only use ingredients available in India. For none of the recipes do you have to fly to Shanghai. For instance, we havent given any recipes with seaweed because you wont get it here. Plus, we have also given a list of suppliers where you can get Chinese ingredients.
What are the different sections of the book?
We have a section that talks about the different Chinese regional cuisine — Peking, Cantonese, Sichuan and Shanghai. Then we have separate sections on ingredients and utensils required in Chinese cooking. Then there are cooking methodologies. A section on dips, sauces and marinades. Then we have recipes for starters and soups, and we move on to the main course and then desserts. We end with a long list of suppliers of Chinese ingredients in different cities.
Which section was the most difficult to put together?
The most difficult part was selecting the recipes. At Mainland China we have about 160 items that we include by rotation. We have given 110 recipes in the book.
Which is your favourite section in the book?
The one that talks about the different regional cuisine. And of course the recipes, particularly the seafood recipes are very close to my heart.
What are some of your favourite recipes from the book?
Crackling Spinach, Cumin Lamb — an exotic Shanghai dish served on a sizzler platter, and Lotus Wrap Fried Rice.
Arent signature recipes supposed to be secrets of a restaurant… you were comfortable sharing them?
Its a world of knowledge sharing, so we had no problems with that. Let our customers try the dishes at home, that would be fantastic.
In fact, following the official launch of the book, we will be hosting cookery sessions where our chef will demonstrate recipes from the book. We will invite women from our customer base to attend the sessions. These will be on from September to November.
Cookbooks are primarily targeted at housewives. Whos your target reader? Do you think cookbooks have readers among the urban youth?
Honestly, it is primarily housewives. But then, theres also interest among young girls and bachelors. Yes, the urban youth is interested in cookbooks these days… because they may not be interested in cooking as a daily chore but as experimental Sunday cooking.
Every cookbook or cookery show seems to advertise the easy-to-cook factor, do you think good food can be easily cooked?
Yes of course, good food is nothing but striking the right balance. And about simple and subtle cooking. What is Sorse Bata Machh? It is a marriage between the sorse and the machh… very simple. In Chinese cooking too, a Chilli Chicken is just about the chicken and the chilli… a sharp character that has to hit the palate… and not too many ingredients.
Who is your favourite food writer? And any cookbook that has inspired you?
At the international level there are many of them. Ken Homs book on Chinese cooking is one of my biggest inspirations. Sam Leong is a Singapore-based chef whos always experimenting with Chinese cuisine. Then theres the English chef Jamie (Oliver). In India, Sanjeev Kapoor is surely my favourite. He had in fact called to congratulate me on the book. Another book that I love is from Mango Tree, a London-based chain of Thai restaurants present all over the world.
What next for Anjan the author?
The next one Im already working on is on Oh! Calcutta. It is the brand closest to my heart. That book will have all my favourite Bengali recipes like Gondhoraj Bhetki and Kakra Chingri Bhapa. It should be out in the next five-six months. Well also have more books on Mainland China.
Weve also been asked several times to come up with sauces, so that people can use them to easily cook the dishes at home. Thats an idea in itself and we might just do that.