Where is the masala?
It is a fundamental question that has bothered me for years. This is how the Masala Omelette has travelled the globe with its accomplice, Masala Tea: Whisk in chopped tomatoes, green chilli and turmeric with seasoning and you have an omelette without frills. It is this simplicity that has made the Masala Omelette so omnipresent; yet, an egg-shaped hole still begged to be filled and that was: Where is the masala here?
It is an obvious question, but who dares to question the obvious? Only small kids and great nuts. Does nothing have a value? Can we carry fire in our pockets? Or, Time? Why can’t peace be the means to peace? How to exchange a shipload of goods without towing it through the city? Zany questions? Or, zero, infinity, economics, non-violence, rockets, longevity and more?
Now I face chronic attacks of this condition called challenging the status quo. It has landed me in trouble several times before, but never so untimely as it did now. Settled to be dined and wined at a London five star, I was struck by the conundrum. I was little prepared to find Masala Omelette high up there on the menu but I was even less prepared for what arrived. “Where is the masala?” I asked the puzzled wait staff. It seems to be everywhere, except in the omelette named after it.
Bruno the medieval thinker and monk got thrown into the dungeon for questioning high priests. I was promptly shown into the kitchen for challenging the status quo, again. The Scottish chef could not enlighten me much so I drove back to Chourangi, our own resto bar in the next street. And there, rummaged in the back of the kitchen shelves to find something. I did not know what I was looking for but something that would settle the debate: To be or not to be… Masala Omelette.
Chourangi at Old Quebec Street, LondonTT archives
What is the masala?
“Masala” is the universally accepted blend of spices that has made curries and dum aloos, gravies and tandooris so sought after all over the planet. Dried barks, ground seeds, powdered bulbs, from Malacca and Tuticorin, have set a thousand ships on sea, and been romanticised for ages in Europe. Much, much later, a flurry of Indian restaurants sailed in and the ‘curry’ swept the continent off its feet. Today, Chourangi is as much British-born as it is an Indian restaurant, thanks to this centuries-long journey.
So, I thought, why not pair off the icon of Indian food, ‘curry’ masala, with the omelette and give the king his missing crown? And what can do the honours better than Kitchen King from Everest? Its mild blend of aromas that gently awaken, is the life of many an Indian gravy.
But, it still needed an acid (sour) note, which is the signature of Indian masala and makes you just want to have some more. I scoured the stocks but could not find the satisfying ‘punch’, so I threw in a pinch of aamchur, that is the dry mango powder. Now the spicy warmth was balanced by a tangy pop.
Now, the omelette was ‘woke’!
The final result tasted, well, like Masala Omelette. Only, now it exuded a new vibe, a warm surprise; as they call it these days, it was ‘woke’. A tiny change, but a big leap.
Don’t be fooled by small changes. It is so easy to complicate things, so hard to keep things simple and original. You are always treading the thin line between adding more body to the flavour and not killing the soul.
So, ask. And ask again. Michaelangelo chipped away until the youthfulness of David leapt out of the block of stone. I question, till every assumption has been tested and I am face to face with what matters. Whether it is a brand of our Speciality Restaurants or a well loved egg recipe, you cannot take the next big leap, till you know the core from the merely more. If it looks great, let’s see what can make it greater. Even if it’s an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny change, the new perspective will take you a century ahead.
Now, where is my next Masala Omelette, our next David?
Anjan Chatterjee is the chief of Speciality Restaurants, which owns Mainland China, Oh! Calcutta, Cafe Mezzuna, Sigree Global Grill, Hoppipola, Asia Kitchen and more. And yes, he is a foodie! He can be reached at email@example.com