Down But Not Out

I’m astonished at the traffic this website continues to earn, even after nearly two years of neglect. If you’re interested in my current activities, feel free to monitor www.danpackel.com, where I blog extremely infrequently, but still more often than over here.

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All for the Love of Eating

“There is no love greater than the love of eating.” This undeniable truth wraps around the icon of a rooster on the napkins and menus at Brittania Cafe in South Bombay, source of Parsi and Irani food since 1922.

Brittania isn’t an unknown gem. I first heard about the place from an article on Bombay food in the Wall Street Journal. And on my second visit, earlier this afternoon, the octogenarian proprietor Boman Kohinoor offered clippings from Time and Saveur.
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Mangoes!

They’ve arrived! Visiting Bombay’s Crawford Market yesterday (the local equivalent to the Reading Terminal Market, minus the roast pork sandwiches), I struck out on my main objective. But the visit was far from a total loss.

While I knew mango season was approaching, I didn’t know it had already begun. But the Alphonso, the “King” of Indian mangoes, had turned Crawford into its court. They were everywhere: piled high on tables, and nestled in boxes lined with straw. Not cheap, though. Three of these beauties cost me Rs. 150, more than a dollar each.

They’re worth every rupee. Rich, creamy, succulent. The list of appropriate adjectives would be hefty enough to rupture a thesaurus, so I’ll stop at that.

The Alphonso season moves quickly, winding up in May. So if they don’t show up in my local vegetable market, I’ll have to hop the train again — soon — and grab more than just three.

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Cheesesteaks in Mumbai

I’m now in Varanasi, a center of Hindu pilgrimage in North India, where beef is absolutely, completely, incontrovertibly forbidden. But for the (two? three?) readers of this blog who don’t follow me on Twitter or Facebook, before leaving Mumbai (I’ll be back in a week) I did get to taste the city’s cheesesteaks.

To see the City Paper story, click here.

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Getting Serious

Just stumbled upon this piece, one in a series of excellent essays the NYRB‘s always engaging Tony Judt is putting out, even while suffering from the ravages of ALS

Indian food made me more English. Like most Englishmen of my generation I now think of takeout or delivered Indian food as a native dish imported centuries before. I am English enough to think of Indian food in particular as an aspect of England that I miss here in the US where Chinese is the ethnic dish of local preference. But my Englishness also leads me to miss East European Jewish cuisine in its very slightly adapted British form (a little more boiling, a little less spice than Jewish cooking here in the US). I can work up a nostalgia for fish and chips, but in truth it is nothing more than a self-generated gastronomic Heritage Exercise. We hardly ever ate the stuff when I was a child. Were I ever truly to set out in Search of Past Taste I would begin with braised beef and baked turnip, followed by chicken tikka masala and pickled wollies swabbed in challah, Kingfisher beer and sweet lemon tea. As for the madeleine that would trigger the memory? Naan dunked in matzoh ball soup, served by a Yiddish-speaking waiter from Madras. We are what we ate. And I am very English.

Apart from worthy analogue of Indian food in England to Chinese food in the US, this is simply a masterful piece of writing, and a useful reminder that it wouldn’t hurt to double down my efforts to think critically (and write) about the interface between food, culture, and memory. Or simply to note that there’s an aching divide between the alt-weekly pieces I turn out, and writing like Judt’s. (As I note while procrastinating on a story about the first cheesesteak in India.)

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Discovering Konkan Seafood

Konkan Map, circa 1740

Having spent most of my time in India to this point far from the ocean, I’m continually (and unduly) surprised at the quality of seafood available here. There’s the local fish market — just five minutes from our flat. And a number of restaurants, more of which I keep discovering, turning out excellent fish preparations.

The best of this food, I’m discovering, has its roots in Konkan, a stretch of Indian coastline extending south from Bombay, through Goa, and into Karnataka. Fish and rice are staples of the region’s diet, and the many Konkans living in Bombay — just one of many regional identities represented in those polyglot city — are well represented on the culinary map.

All of this is just a long-winded way to talk about today’s lunch. Thali is Hindi for plate, and in a restaurant setting, a thali is a fixed meal, offering a sample of items all on one plate. Gajalee was the first fish-focused restaurant I’ve been to in Bombay that offered a thali. With a chance to try several fish preparations, this was a perfect choice for my solo visit. Read the rest of this entry »

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Indigo Cafe: Bring Your Compass and a Good Attitude

Rahul Akerkar, born in Bombay to a German-Jewish mother and an Indian father, is the city’s Stephen Starr. After bouncing around in a handful of restaurants in New York City, he’s returned to establish his own culinary mini-empire here, anchored by his original restaurant, Indigo.

Indigo’s menu is as impressive as one will find here in India. Items like “saffron fettuccine in spiced olive oil with chorizo, spinach and shallot marmalade” would look at home at any fine dining establishment in a major American city, especially one looking to demonstrate a global reach.
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