Discovering Hidden Asia

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It was my first outing as a food blogger. I am glad it happened, for the experience gave me a chance to get back to writing.

With its “discover” theme, Opera Software organised the #DiscoverWithOpera food bloggers’ meet at Ahoy! Asia, a new Oriental restaurant in Delhi. Started by friends Arun Chanda and Satyajit Mukherjee, Ahoy! took me on a journey of cuisines I hadn’t tasted before.

Okonomiyaki, a popular Japanese pancake dish

Okonomiyaki, a popular Japanese pancake dish

At Ahoy!Asia in GK-2, New Delhi

At Ahoy!Asia in GK-2, New Delhi

A lot of travel has gone into the menu finalised by the restaurant, a menu way different from the ones you see at other restaurants serving Asian food in India. You will need a magnifying glass to find chilli chicken. Mukherjee minced no words in saying that they don’t serve “Chinjabi”.

From Okonomiyaki, the starter, to Banana Spring Rolls, the dessert, the food gave us a tour of almost entire Asia. But what intrigued me most was the Uyghur cuisine from Xinjiang region of China. An amalgamation of Islamic and traditional Chinese cuisines, it gives you a very different Chinese experience.

As food bloggers embarked on a journey of Oriental food discovery, Sunil Kamath, Vice-President for South Asia, Opera Software, compared it to the experience of browsing the Net with Opera to ‘discover’ content. “Opera gives an opportunity to users to get hot new content with no browsing necessary with the new ‘Discover’ feature available on Opera for Android and Opera for Windows & Mac.’ The feature allows you to get fed with new articles from whichever region you want to get inspiration from, right in your browser — all in one place. Users can pick and choose their category: news, food, technology or anything thing…” he said.

The Ahoy! menu boasts of a range of food from the Uyghur kitchen — from Tangjiao (a lamb dumplings soup in a meat broth) to Chuanr (spicy lamb skewers grilled over charcoal); DaPanJi (Chicken stew served with Uyghur rice pilaf) to Zhua Fan (pilaf of mutton, carrot, chickpeas and rice, served with curry & Uyghur style yoghurt) and stir fired spicy lamb with wok tossed noodles.

Tangjiao, Uyghur style lamb dumplings soup in a delicate meat broth enhanced with coriander and spring onions

Tangjiao, Uyghur style lamb dumplings soup in a delicate meat broth enhanced with coriander and spring onions

Dishes from Sichuan and Canton regions of China too rub shoulders with Uyghur cuisine at Ahoy! kitchen.

The other countries we “covered” on the gastronomical trip were Vietnam (Chicken Banhmi Sandwich), Malaysia (Lamb Murtabak) Japan (Chicken Yakitori) and Thailand (Tofu & Bell Pepper Satay). The menu also travels to Mongolia, Myanmar and Tibet.

Lamb Murtabak from Malaysia

Lamb Murtabak from Malaysia

Chicken Banhmi Sandwich from Vietnam

Chicken Banhmi Sandwich from Vietnam

Some of the other varieties we tried were Toho Kawap (chicken wing kebabs grilled over charcoal), Kung Fu Caesar Salad (greens with grilled chicken and garlic croutons tossed in lemongrass mayo) and Banana Spring Rolls with a vanilla ice-cream scoop & caramel sauce for dessert.

Chicken Yakitori from Japan,

Chicken Yakitori from Japan,

After tasting such delicious Asian fares, the first thing I had on my mind was if it was possible to replicate at least one of the dishes at home. The most doable one seemed to be the popular Japanese breakfast dish, Okonomiyaki — the pancake of different flavours served on a bed of cabbage. The recipe is simple, and since Chef Chanda said we could use our own ingredients to replicate it at home, it was all the more welcome. I instantly decided to replace the special mayonnaise he had used by the normal one I use at home, and Aonori (seaweed flakes) with bacon/chicken strips and the sauce with a distinct flavour with my good old tomato sauce. 

Share my recipe with you.

Food for thought: Okonomiyaki

Ingredients:

Flour: 1 cup

Stock (chicken/veg): 2/3rd cup

Eggs: 2

Cabbage: 4 cups

Spring onions: 1 cup

Boneless chicken (boiled): 1 cup

Ginger: 1 tablespoon

OPTIONAL

Bacon: 2 strips

Prawns (small): 4-5 pieces

Sausage: 1-2 links

For TOPPING

TOPPINGS

Mayonnaise

Tomato sauce

okono

The Okonomiyaki I made at home

Preparation: Cut the cabbage into thin slices and keep aside. In a bowl, whisk together flour and stock until smooth. Add eggs, onions, ginger, shrimp and sausage and lightly mix, seasoning with salt and pepper to your taste. Now, oil a hot griddle and make a bed of the thinly sliced cabbage. Add the Okonomiyaki mixture on to that and using a spatula flatten the mixture on the bed of cabbage. The pancake should be around 1.5 cm thick. Lower the flame, and cook until firm. Flip it over and cook for another minute or two. Flip it back if the cabbage side is not well browned yet. Remove from heat and serve hot with mayonnaise and tomato sauce topping.

Last words: Mine is not the original Japanese recipe, but for the uninitiated, this should work fine as a breakfast choice when you are not in a mood for your regular bread and eggs or dosa-sambhar or dahi-parantha. Please feel free to improvise and use the ingredients of your choice. For a vegetarian version of it, chicken or bacon can be easily replaced with mushroom or other interesting stuff.

Douzo meshiagare! (Apologies, if I am not using it at the right place and have not spelt it right)    

Shorshe Ilish (Hilsa in mustard sauce)

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I never thought I liked fish. But after I left home for PG studies 14 years ago, I realised I had taken this staple food for granted. I sorely missed the ‘maachher jhaal’ (fish fried in mustard oil tempered with kala jeera, slit green chillies and red chilli powder) and ‘doi maach’ cooked by my mother. And to my utter surprise, I would even find myself longing for that pungent and tangy ‘shorshe ilish’ — the ultimate Hilsa delicacy from Bengal. Shorshe Ilish This is a fish for which a Bengali can even kill or die. While most Bengalis find its smell divine, it was the smell that would put me off. The smell that would not go from your fingers no matter how much you washed. It would stay with the utensils for days together, and just in case you kept the leftover in the fridge and forgot to cover it, the oranges inside would also start giving you the taste of Hilsa. But the same stinking Hilsa is now a favourite with me too as I started to appreciate its taste after being deprived of it for long. Here is the recipe.

Ingredients:

Hilsa fish: 500g

Black/red mustard seed: 1/2 cup

Green chillies: 7-8

Mustard oil: To fry

Turmeric powder: 1 teaspoon

Juice of one small lemon (optional) 02-002 Preparation: Soak the mustard seeds for at least half an hour, preferably in hot/warm water. Grind it with 3-4 green chillies and set aside. Heat oil in a pan and put 3-4 slit green chillies. Add the fish and turmeric powder and fry till cooked. Now add the mustard paste with a little water and stir for a couple of minutes. Turn off the flame and add lemon juice (optional) before serving hot with plain rice. 03-003 05-005 Shorshe Ilish Last words: You need to be a little careful while using mustard paste, which tends to turn bitter. Use freshly ground paste, and don’t cook it for long. You get readymade mustard paste (see photo) these days, which comes in powder form. You can use it according to the directions given on the pack. They taste quite authentic. IMG-20130210-00233

Scrambled fish

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Hello foodies, how have you been? I must say sorry for disappearing again. I missed writing and sharing the recipes I tried all the while. Yes, not writing does not mean I was not cooking either. Today, I am going to share a fish recipe my aunt cooked when she visited me last year. It’s easy, tasty and something you can cook both for a family dinner or to impress your guests.

Scrambled fish

Scrambled fish

De-boning is the only thing you need to take care when you are cooking this dish. A single bone in the plate will be a disaster. So, I don’t prefer river fish for this one and, instead, go for pomfret, seer or the like.

Here goes the recipe.

Ingredients

Fish of your choice: 500g

Onions: 2, big

Tomatoes: 2, medium

Green chillies: 3-4

Chopped coriander leaves: 2 tablespoons

Mustard seed: 1 teaspoon

Turmeric powder: 1/2 teaspoon

Red chilli powder: 1/2 teaspoon

Cumin powder: 1/2 teaspoon

Dry coriander powder: 1/2 teaspoon

Amchur (dry mango) powder: 1 teaspoon

Garam masala powder: 1/2 teaspoon

Ginger-garlic paste: 1 tablespoon

Oil: 2 tablespoons

Salt: To taste

Steam the fish

Steam the fish

Saute onions

Saute onions

Cook all ingredients together for 2 minutes

Cook all ingredients together for 2 minutes

Preparation: Steam/boil the fish, de-bone and mash it (does not have to be very finely mashed) and keep aside. Finely chop the onions, tomatoes and chillies. Heat oil in a pan. Put the mustard seed and wait for it to splutter. Cook the onions till transparent. Add tomatoes, chillies and the ginger-garlic paste and cook till the tomatoes are soft. Now add the dry masalas and saute for 2 minutes, or till the oil separates, before adding the fish and salt. Cook for 2 more minutes, stirring nicely so that the fish and the onion-tomato paste is evenly mixed. Once done, sprinkle fresh coriander leaves and serve hot with chapatis/parathas or any bread of your choice.

Scrambled fish is ready

Scrambled fish is ready

Last words: You can add a little sugar to the oil, before putting the mustard seed, to give it a rich red colour, or later to balance out the taste.

Stir Fried Chicken

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I belong to the generation of children that saw Chinese food taking the Indian market by storm. Despite living in a small town where new things took ages to reach the local shops, chowmein had entered the households in Jhumri Telaiya by early eighties, probably due to its proximity to the eastern metropolis of Kolkata and its China Town connection.

While initially it used to be the packed raw noodles that my mother would cook at home, her style, soon local restaurants also started selling “Chinese food”. They became so popular and so soon that old-timers had started calling it “another Chinese aggression”.

I too liked the mouthwatering ‘veg chowmein’ and ‘chilli paneer’ they sold at Prince Chaat, an ever crowded fast food outlet in Jhumri Telaiya that has not seen its popularity going down in more than two decades. So much so that the chilli-garlic chowmein and chilli chicken served at a proper Chinese restaurant in Kolkata had failed to impress me.

It was several years later that I realised that the bland-ish things I had tasted at the Kolkata joint was the original taste of China. And that the spicy and too much saucy things served at most other places in the country in the name of Chinese were anything but that.

We, the Indians, admit that we have managed to create an array of Indianised Chinese delicacies and developed a taste for them too. A few years back, a friend had told me how disappointed she was after tasting the real Chinese, and how miserable her life had been on the food front during her three-month stay in that country on an official project. “I wonder how they make such good Chinese in India,” she had told me.

I have never been to China to test the original, but have definitely frequented the high-end restaurants here that claim to sell authentic Chinese — Mainland China, Asia Seven, Shangri-La et al.

Well, authentic or distorted, Indians love Chinese food. And my husband and I are not exceptions.

The other day, I craved for something Chinese since morning. Though it was my weekly off, going out was not feasible and I learnt that the neighbourhood outlet selling Chinese food was not delivering that day. I was in no mood to relent and hence decided to fix something myself. The final platter consisted of fried rice, stir fried chicken and a salad.

Well, I really don’t know if you could pass these off as Chinese at all, but I enjoyed the meal. And you will too, I hope.

Food for Thought: Stir-fried chicken

Boneless chicken: 250g

Onions: 2

Green Chillies: 4-5

Garlic: 6 cloves

Capsicum: 1

Carrot: 1

Cabbage: 50g

Ginger: 1 inch

Sesame seed: 1 teaspoon

Oil to fry

Salt: To taste

Brown sugar: 1 tea spoon

Soy sauce: 1 tablespoon

Vinegar: ½ cup

Fish oil: 1/2 teaspoon

Preparation: Boil the chicken and shred it. You can use two forks for the purpose. Keep aside. Now, cut all vegetables into thin slices and keep aside. Mix well the sugar, soy sauce and fish oil in the vinegar and set aside. Heat oil and fry finely chopped chillies and garlic. Fry all the vegetables on a high flame for a while and add the chicken shreds. When done, add salt and the vinegar mixture. Cook till the chicken and vegetables are dry. Sprinkle some roasted sesame seed and serve with fried rice or noodles of your choice.

Stir Fried Chicken

Last words: Cooking Chinese food is easy and less time consuming but needs your undivided attention. They have to be cooked on high flame, which requires your presence all the time. And it’s a myth that Chinese food is all about MSG — the salt version of glutamic acid, a non-essential amino acid that our body can definitely do without. It’s a flavor enhancer, but you can take my word for the fact that Chinese or Japanese food does not need to depend on MSG for people to like its taste. You can always tell the restaurant not to use MSG in the food you have ordered.

Doi Maach

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LAST MONTH, when I bought my favourite river fish Rohu and wanted to have doi maach (fish cooked with curd), I did not have to call up my mother for the recipe. She was visiting me and I just told her to instruct the cook. Like always, I did not try to learn it myself. For, I knew my mother would be just a phone call away, if not physically there, whenever I needed her for guidance on this front.

Little did I know that in less than a month later I would be cooking doi maach and she won’t be there to tell me the recipe the hundredth time. I had to prepare the dish last week as part of niyom bhongo (a ritual for the family to resume eating normal routine food after the death of a member). Ma suffered a brain hemorrhage and left us in the last week of September after remaining in coma for 15 days – the reason why I was away for such a long time.

Photos: Sanghamitra Mazumdar

Now that I am back and have finally sat down to write, no recipe other than doi maach is coming to my mind.

Here it goes.

Food for Thought: Doi Maach

Ingredients:

Fish: 1 kg

Curd: 250 grams

Onions: 4 (medium)

Green chillies: 3-4

Ginger: 1 inch

Turmeric powder: ½ tea spoon

Red chilli powder: ½ teaspoon

Whole garam masala: 2 tablespoons

Salt: To taste

Sugar: 1 teaspoon

Mustard oil: As per requirement

Preparation:

Marinate the fish with curd, salt, turmeric powder, red chilli powder and a little mustard oil and set aside for at least 30 minutes. Grind onions, ginger and green chillies into a smooth paste. Separately, 1½ tablespoons of whole garam masala with a little water. Heat oil in a pan and fry the marinated fish till golden brown and set aside. In the same pan, add more oil (or use the leftover) and caramelise the sugar before frying some cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Add the ground onion and fry it with salt, turmeric and red chilli powder till the paste leaves the sides. Now add the fish, pour some water and let it cook for five-odd minutes, or till the fish softens a bit. Sprinkle the ground garam masala and your ‘doi maach’ is ready to be served with hot steamed rice.

Last words: Bengali food tastes best if cooked in mustard oil. But you can use any other oil that suits your taste. Another way to cook the dish is to fry the fish first just with some salt, turmeric and red chilli powder and use the curd with the onion paste. If the curd is too sour, a little sugar can be added to the gravy to balance it out.

The alternative way