Sunday, March 12, 2006

I love you in the mo-orning ...

Sunday morning is different.

Travail. Agony. Decisions. Prompted by an all-consuming imperative. Truly all-consuming.

Hunger. I’m always hungrier than usual on Sunday mornings. Damn.

So what should it be? Kochuri-torkaari and jilipi from Maharani? Hot, slightly crisp, a hint of heeng (asafoetida) in the daal stuffing of the kochuri, the accompanying torkaari just this side of fiery and speckled with cumin seeds. The jilipi convoluted, crunchy, faintly sour under the sweetness of the syrup. Sadly enough, Maharani - on the western side of Lansdowne Road between Lake Road and Rashbehari Avenue - hadn’t come up back when we rowed on Saturday mornings. We made do with Jolkhabar, at the corner of Lake Avenue and Southern Avenue, but frankly, their shingara was much better than the kochuri torkaari. And their jilipi was of uneven standard.

(OK, assume there’s a reader or two who’s not from Calcutta. Or even Bengal. Kochuri is a fried bread – stuffed with spicy ground lentils, rolled flat, then deep fried so it swells to an inflated mouth-watering shape. Torkaari is the generic term for vegetable dishes. In this case, it’s potatoes diced small, in a spicy thin curry. Jilipi ... now jilipi or jalebi is a tough one to describe. It’s sweet, it’s twisty, it’s crisp, it’s doused in syrup and you do not want to know how it’s made. Shingara is called samosa elsewhere in India, a triangular pouch of dough stuffed with savoury vegetables and deep-fried. Available at just about any sweet-shop in Bengal. My grandmother used to make the best in the world - the crispest, flakiest pastry-crust envelope, filled with succulent florets of cauliflower and spiced potatoes and crunchy with posto, poppy-seeds. All soul food, if not exactly health food.)

Or should it be the same fare from Tasty Corner? Good, but not quite so good. The torkaari is rarely up to scratch, the jilipi is more like amriti and often doused with rose syrup. I hate that. But Tasty Corner (corner of Swinhoe Street and Mandeville Gardens) scores heavily with the radhabollobi and aloo’r dom. Even better than the Dwarik’s at Gariahat, and that’s saying something.

Of course I didn’t realise the depth of my craving for kochuri-torkaari on Sundays until I pined for it in exile. After weeks of bagels and Philly cream cheese, of “sunny side up” and pumpernickel bread for breakfast, I stayed over at a friend’s place on the weekend. Up on the Jersey shore, not too far from Jackson Heights and Edison, those bastions of mixed pickle and papad. On the Sunday morning I poured forth my home-sickness over the morning cuppa and he, God bless his kind heart, drove me twenty miles to pick up … yes, you guessed it, kochuri-torkaari, even jilipi by the bucketful. Perhaps it wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but after six weeks in that benighted country it was manna in the wilderness. Here’s to you, A*, you earned my life-long gratitude that day.

The ultimate kochuri experience remains elusive. Kalo’r dokaan in Shantiniketan, or his newly resurgent competitor, Nara’an, are just not equipped to deal with the hordes who descend upon them during Boshonto Utshob and Poush Mela. Their kochuri comes off poorly in the general melee. Of course, there it’s all about the atmosphere. At least in theory. There is a special charm to flip-flopping down those roads of red dust, a shawl thrown round the shoulders to ward off the chill of the morning, then sitting for hours on a scarred wooden bench with a leisurely breakfast and endless rounds of watery sweet tea in earthen khnuri. But it can’t make up for bad kochuri.

Kalo’r dokaan (shop) has one thing in common with the kochuri breakfast of my dreams. Chholaa’r daal. (Forget the translation, it’s a kind of lentil, OK?)

Benares. An old old house near the river, up a steep staircase, through a stone doorway that opened on to a grassy little walled courtyard with three trees. One was a neem and it rustled all day in the breeze off the river. At least in my memory. And every other morning there would be huge brown-paper packets smelling of the saal leaves inside, leaves that would be parted to bring forth fragrant golden kochuri. The chholaa’r daal would be carried separately, in a large earthen pot sealed with more saal leaves and tied at the mouth with grass twine. It tasted divine. I remember it would sometimes have minute chunks of coconut, or does my memory play tricks on me?

We’d be shooed into the house to eat, though we’d much rather have sat out in the courtyard on the masonry bench, looking out over the houses to the river and the boats and the crowds on the ghaats, while the neem whispered to its shifting shadow. There was good reason, however, for our staying in the house. Monkeys. They “fought the dogs and killed the cats”, they jabbered on the corners of the roof, they rustled in the trees at night and scared the cook into fits, they hogged the sunny corners of the courtyard on winter mornings even when my great-grandmother shook her stick at them and cursed them at the top of her lungs. And they snatched the food from the unwary hands of us young ‘uns.

One of them left me with a lasting sorrow when he swooped down from a window-ledge and neatly filched a saal leaf heaped with kochuri and chholaa’r daal. A counsellor will no doubt divine that I still seek to compensate for the lost kochuri …

****

Or should it be a “Madrasi” breakfast at Ramkrishna Lunch Home? Three cement-paved steps lead up to a narrow verandah near the corner of Lake Road and Southern Avenue. Inside, lugubrious neon lights a spotless shrine to the purest “tiffin”. Kaapi served in those double-bottomed stainless steel mugs, each on its own metal saucer for the ritual of pouring and re-pouring to cool it before the first deep susurrating sip (but the “maaan-jerr” will not call for it till after you’ve finished your “tiffin”).

A banana leaf appears on the narrow formica table, spread with magical ease by a mannikin in a dazzling white shirt and slightly less gleaming mundu. I suspect the length of the mundu is inversely proportionate to the length of service; the older staff are perilously close to being mini-skirted. Two steaming idlis follow (I remember I laughed and laughed when Span – does anybody still read Span? – described them as “steamed lentil patties”. Those were the days before “desi” became international usage). With two little steel bowls on the side, one with coconut chutney and one with sambhar, both ladled from that strange contrivance which has three bowls slung round a single rectangular handle. Then … ahh, then comes the piece de resistance, the ultimate dosai, the best I’ve ever had north of the Vindhyas. (Down south, of course, there’s always Woodlands. In Madras and in Bangalore ...) Crisp round the edges, almost fluffy in the centre, redolent with the aroma of ghee, faintly sour from the fermentation of the batter. (A little bragging: I used to make decent dosai myself, even used the professional touch – lopped off the end of a brinjal and used it to spread the batter on the tawa - but of course I never attained the papery perfection of the professionals.) I always have a sada dosa, never ever a masala one. Sully a good dosa with potatoes and even – Lor’ lumme! – beetroot? Perish the thought!

Raj (or to give it its full appellation, Hotel Homely Raj) on Manoharpukur Road also serves a mean dosa, but it can’t compare with RK Lunch Home either on price or for authentic atmosphere. I know people enthuse over Anand. Let them. RK Lunch Home for me every time.

The other Southern delicacy I lust for is appam, and there’s only one place in my experience (I’ve never been to Kerala, mind) that consistently serves perfect appams with ishtu. The Konkan Café at the Taj President in Bombay. Nowhere else is EVERY appam perfect. Nowhere in Calcutta, alas, not a single place. The Taj Gateway in Bangalore isn’t bad, but it doesn’t have the same consistency of performance. Chef Solomon at the President (may his tribe increase!) actually confided to me the secret ingredient which ensures that every single appam rise just right. While I am honour-bound not to disclose the secret, I can say this much - it’s not something you’d find in the average kitchen. Or household. Oh for a platter full of the warm south, the true, the magical appam serene!


****

There’s also the calorie bomb. The so-called English breakfast. Eggs and toast are all very well (more of that later), but for a breakfast that leaves you with barely enough strength to totter from the table, give me sausages, give me chewy ham, give me rashers of bacon that loll voluptuously on the side of the plate, give me the contrast of spiced beef and cherry tomatoes.

The Park in Delhi used to have a sinful breakfast buffet that tested even my gormandising abilities. Do they still have it? I must check it out when I next visit. In Calcutta, the best bet is Kalman’s. A narrow doorway on Free School Street, tucked away among the second-hand-music shops between Mullick Book Store and Kathleen’s. I learnt about it from a 1998 column by Nondon Bagchi in the Telegraph. They now have the column framed on the wall. They also have unique stuff, like the “Hungarian smoked sausage” which is arguably neither Hungarian nor smoked but tastes great especially when dipped in egg yolk (oh the cholesterol!). Also spiced beef and even pressed tongue. The tongue is not exactly great, but what the hell, I try it once in a while in homage to all those Enid Blyton picnics where it was a staple. Such a menu leads to a torment of choice, since a breakfast like that removes all possibility of lunch and Sunday lunch is Very Special. But this post is about breakfasts. We shall not lament the loss of lunch.

****

Breakfasts of legend and song … three years ago I spent a week in Moscow. The hotel where I put up had colourful ladies importuning the guests in the lobby. It also had the most magnificent breakfast I can imagine. I reasoned that with the mercury at 22 below zero, I needed lots of nourishment. Forsook all shame and decency. And plunged right in.

Starting with an array of breads: chocolate bread, cream rolls, fruity breads, muffins, perhaps a few pieces of fruit, all washed down with glasses of cold milk. Then on to a most incredible cheese selection - feta, Gouda, brie, Emmentaler, herb Cheddar, you name it - while the waitress brought me a plate of eggs. (From the second day onwards she regarded me with a strange mixture of awe and pity. As much as to say, this man’s powers are beyond the ordinary but I hope to God the paramedics turn up quick when he has his attack) I ate the eggs with chornyi. This is the most wonderful chewy whole-grain bread, so dark it’s almost black, soft inside a crisp crust and just faintly sour. I’ve looked for it elsewhere but never found it, it’s unique to Russia. Moscow is worth another visit just for chornyi!

Finally, breathing heavily and already loaded to the Plimsoll line, I’d navigate carefully to the end of the buffet for a couple of tinned peaches and apricots. To be eaten very slowly. While I sipped my way through two glasses of champagne. (Champagne breakfasts. TWO glasses of champagne. Every day for a week...) Dear reader, do not think ill of my gluttony. My suits did not stretch an inch. The warmest day was still six degrees below freezing and I had to walk a few miles every day. But oh, the sheer debauched sybaritic pleasure of those breakfasts.

One important point in closing. Before the adipose reached dangerous levels, my standard breakfast was toast and eggs. Toast just brown enough and dripping with butter, eggs (always in the plural) winking from the plate or losing themselves in the fluff of an omelette. My heart and taste-buds, however, always stayed with the omelettes. I have described them elsewhere on my other blog, I shall not venture down that path again. The point I want to make is this. Mr. Russi Mody, whom I hold in high regard, has claimed in print that he makes the world’s best omelettes. This is, unfortunately, a lie. It cannot be true. I make the best omelettes in the world. This is not idle bragging, merely an objective statement of fact.

And next Sunday I shall make another one.

Sceptics are NOT invited.

Finis.

**** ****

37 comments:

Dreamcatcher said...

Ok, its time for cha and biskoot but you are making me drool into my keyboard.
First of all what is chocolate bread? Secondly have you ever had the much famed Chinese breakfast in Calcutta? The very thought that one has to get up so early in the morning puts me off.
Thirdly, what's your address? I need to test the power of your declaration that you make the best omelettes.
Fourthly I have been reading this and thinking about all this food this for about fifteen minutes and my mother is making me shingara as compensation.:D

Ph said...

So good start to the day eh? I live for such breakfasts. I call it brunch, so I can reduce the guilt factor. The post is of course delicious. And dreamcatcher can I say, you have a good mother there. :)

australopithecus said...

gimme your address...and i shall catch the next train to Calcutta.for the best omlettes..it is worth the journey.

Rhyncus said...

You've set me off on a bout of drooling, tinged with nostalgia. Reminds me this tiny little place in Behala, don't know if it had a name, we used to know it as 'Mallu Joint' and they used to serve some sinfully delicious uttappams, though we normally starved through the day and went there for an early dinner, said uttapams included. Sigh.

bongopondit said...

GAWD - I have to start hating you now for triggering off my salivary glands! I had to do with eggs and sausage today morning - which was filling for the stomach but not for the soul. And now this.....

Tasty Corner/Maharani et al used to be regular features during my childhood-youth days, especially the former since I had relatives in Mandeville Gardens and I was one among the white and navy blue hordes trudging to the 'naam-kora ishkool' nearby (not Patha Bhavan ;-)). You are right - they (Tasty not the school) never got their jilipi right but their amritis in the evening used to be kick-ass.
In the dark ages before Barista etc were fashionable, Tasty Corner was where we would 'hang out' and have birthday treats and all (it was Bedouin or Campari rolls for that extra-special occassion/someone and Shiraz for the monetarily endowed).

The best kochuri (for breakfast or evening snack)I have had in Kolkata used to be at Nataraj's at SN Banerjee and CR Avenue crossing near Moulali.

Mmmm... I guess I will stop here - I can see this comment quickly turning into an avalanche of gastronomic nostalgia for the taste explosions that used to be Kolkata's 'rasta-r khabar'.

the thing inside me said...

Ooh!
Naice post JAP!
And, I can try all of that amej-ing stuff when I come to Kol to study in NUJS.
(yeah, just wanted to slip that in. Not too subtle huh?)

hutumthumo said...

berey namiyechhen dada. maamlet-ta jeno aaj aaro khetey bhal laagche aapnar kolom-er dhhakka-e. ekdom pavlovian.

progga said...

This post had me drooling, while tripping down memory lane. Not wise, as you can slip on the drool. How about dancing coffee and special chutney at Raj? How about cha at moharani after a walk at the lake?

Speaking of English breakfasts, there used to be this wonderful place, the Victoria Hotel, in Bangalore, where you could sit out in the sun all morning-afternoon on Sundays, and make a day of it over an English breakfast followed by beer and more beer and perhaps some sandwiches and still more beer, and peruse the papers or a book, or hold meandering conversations. It was perfection.
Now, of course, it's a shopping mall.

Dreamcatcher, my family (I come from a dynasty of foodies) once made it down to Chinatown for breakfast, and they say, err..., well, eww. Not to put too fine a point on it.

Where where where is this shop in this wilderness that sells kochuri and torkari?

Ph said...

Progga, aah what a lurvely place it was. Victoria Hotel. And such lurvely memories. But alas, cannot give details here. Some place else. :)

Chronicus Skepticus said...

Ah, Mr. Prufrock!

Have you not heard?
sKeptics make the *best* believers.

Yummy post.


Oh and chholaa’r daal usually does have little chunks of coconut.

There's hope for you yet. :D

N said...

Oh!! You btought back vivid memories of Calcutta and summer vacations at Didu's place...:).

Priya said...

A post quite after my tummy;)Ahaa, kochuri torkari, jilipi. Though my personal favourite breakfast is still the simple, home-made luchi-alu chochchori (made with panch foron and kancha lonka. A Victorian breakfast in Bangalore used to be divine. But alas! Bangloreans preferred a shopping mall instead! Weirdos.
The best Appam and ishtu breakfast is served at Koshy's now. Must try it when u come...and for an English breakfast, I'd go to Peco's anyday.(Read about it...in one of my initial blogs).

A fool on the hill said...

Ah, the much promised foodie post! Thanks J.A.P.

Let us go then you and I...
When the morning is spread out against the sky;
(And open a restaurant called "Eggetarian")

You will make omlettes, and I scrambled eggs...

thalassa_mikra said...

JAPda, great post! My mom is the religious sort, so she drags me off to assorted pilgrimage sites around Bengal. I detest the labra-khichuri bhog they serve at these temples, and the kochurir dokaan next to the temple is such a life-saver. They all make amazing kochuri-chholar daal without exception.

In Shantiniketan, my aunt usually arranges for a chop muri brunch. Apparently Mohordi's nephew (or grandson, can't remember) runs a great choper dokaan. You can ask anyone for Pom-er choper dokaan (yes, his nickname is Pom :) ).

Anonymous said...

Kaku,

Croissant – Mayo – Jimmy Dean – microwave 45 seconds.

Kaku

PS – Not only for breakfast, anytime.

GREATBONG said...

I was much happier before I started reading this post...dhyat...

I miss my food....Tasty corner....standing there coming back from SPHS having a kochuri with someone especial...who cares for someone special when you have kochuri...

Sagnik Nandy said...

oh the great japda, a blogger's meet has been proposed over Saturday afternoon lunch - ani, tele and i have raised the "present madam" hand - please join us and bring along all your fans and spread the word for us.

Shan said...

Dudes, you haven't had breakfast unless you had the sausage breakfast topped off with hot chocolate and a ciggie at Keventers at Darjeeling on a cold December morning while gazing at the Kanchenjunga range from the terrace...trust me.

Every time I do that, I feel like Satyajit Roy's Feluda. That's the bonus.

The other place to have an English breakfast along with wonderful bread and pastries in Darjeeling is Glenary's.

Uff...aar parchi na...

Ron said...

What an absolutely wonderful post. Now I NEED to eat kochuri and jilipi. Bangalore e bhalo jilipi ba kochuri dutor konotai paaowa jaye na :(. I think I shall go and have a Woody's dosa now. Hardly any compensation though.

Patient Portnoy said...

JAP, unfair, I say, unfair...

Mharani, Tasty Corner, ami to haat-pa chure kaadtey boshechhi :-(

On top of that, someone mentions the Chinese breakfast. And (wail, wail) I always wanted to before I left Cal, but never made it

Then someone mentions a drooly Victoria Hotel in Bangalore, and I make a note of it for this weekend, but lines later it turns out it's no more

Me want compensation, me want omelette

Rimi said...

Do. NOT. Refertokochurisas. Bread .

Also, last checked, the quality of mercy is not strained. As incredibly evocative and beautiful this post is (I refer exclusively to non-gastronomic bits), in the future, pray desist.

*retires to corner and mopes*

gawker said...

Just one question : Are you the kind who likes his omlets cooked to such a high degree of petrifiedness that it hurts the gums, or like me who eats them almost raw with yolk spilling over into the plate rife with salmonella?

Vaga Bond said...

Ah! PACIFIC RIMi. Not having the whole hog for breakfast!! It may be, just may be a true symptom of lunacy - esp. in this instance. I know exactly how you feel. ;-)

JAP praji, hunhone nai bola kya? Nebher talk phull bhith your mouthful.

shan man, I only a wimp from a city-school. But, you I'll request to step out please.
For a blind date, that is. :-)

*retires tired *(from having fruitless taken out tome after tome)
*and muttering*:
"SAVOURY VEGETABLES!!!
what filthy usage!!!!
what's the point teaching these kids anything!!!!!
They'll learn only when they have to write their company's ISO 90000 manual alone at home; beacuse the plant workers are on strike and the ISO auditor has therefore found the opportunity to elope with all the 3 Exec. Assistants at the same time and the IPO is to be announced next week. What do I care".

Vaga Bond said...

Please read in 'ly' in "fruitlessly".

Manasi said...

Konkan CAfe does have the best appam!! sigh... staying away from home = starving!

nandini b said...

I wonder why you never mentioned Prema Vilas or Komala Vilas. Our childhood would be incomplete without them.
And talking about Kachori and Chhloar Daal, what about Sri Hari in Bhowanipore or Putiram on Surya Sen street?
But then it's good to know that these days Prufrock does not wait for the evening to spread out against the sky...he is pretty active on Sundays :)

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Dreamcatcher, the Chinese breakfast at Tiretta Bazaar is over-rated. Furthermore, after two weeks of Chinese breakfasts, I do NOT want another. My regards to your mother … (in hopes that she is generous with shingaras). And oh, chocolate bread should be obvious. The flavour.

Ph, much of a muchness. I did write that a big breakfast rules out lunch.

Australopithecus, welcome. But first transport your fundament here.

Rhyncus, South Cal has the eponymous “South Indian Restaurant” in Beckbagan. Their appams are often soggy.

Bongo Pondit, the best rolls in the world are either at Nizam’s or at Kusum (on Park Street); thou shalt not hold up false gods before me. There’s a whole essay in there.
Must find Nataraj, thanks for the tip. But S.N. Banerjee Road and C.R. Avenue do not intersect. Did you mean SNB and Lower Circular?

Thing Inside, when you come to NUJS you must first pay your respects to Dada Banerjee. More later.

Hutum, aamaar kora maamlet bodhoy aaro bhalo laagto.

Progga, shall try to get you the co-ordinates of the shop. Pity about Victoria (nod to Ph)

J.A.P.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Roads, such wisdom in one so young!

Anindita, you could do an Amit Chaudhuri about those vacations.

Priya, tried Koshy’s many many years ago. They were good. Point me to the Peco’s post, please.

Fool, not just eggs, surely? And I hope you never ever serve scrambled eggs ON toast.

Swati, I agree about the temple theory e.g. Dakshineswar and Tarakeshwar. THE Mohor-di? Thanks for the info, shall check next time I’m there. Chop muri is standard Writers Buildings lunch, I may be doomed to that again some time in the future.

Kaku, welcome aboard. Jimmy Dean consignment in June? But please, NO pepperoni this time!

Arnab, that accounts for your strike – or strike-out - rate!

Sagnik, shall mail you about meeting up. But there’s no way I’m lugging even a small table fan along – why can’t we meet somewhere that’s air-conditioned?

Shan, bang on about Keventer’s and Glenary’s. The latter is even better now after renovation. Must do that within the next few weeks.

Ron, sympathies. Pardon my saying so, but if you WILL leave the heart of civilization, you must expect to rough it out.

Portnoy, there is as yet no way to mail or post omelettes.

Rimi, why the pique? Kindly elucidate.

Gawker, I did say fluffy. NEVER over-done. And yes, just a little runny in the centre, under the stuffing.

VagaBond, whatever you’re on, it’s potent. Is ‘savoury vegetables’ an oxymoron?

Manasi, sympathies. You need to find a surrogate parent. Who cooks well.

Nandini, Prema Vilas and Komala Vilas are extinct. One (I forget which) is re-incarnated as “Banana Leaf”. Putiram kochuris, when last sampled, were greasy and not well-rounded. (Change and decay in all around I see …) Must try Sri Hari. And I’m not active on Sundays, I tend to resemble some amorphous inanimate object in an armchair.

J.A.P.

Garfield said...

Komala Vilas is reincarnated as Banana Leaf. It's okay, not great. Madras Tiffin (near the Indian Airlines office on CR Avenue)is better any day. But thanfully Sri Hari's kochuris and the Rs 8 lyangchas are still the same:worth dying for!

Vaga Bond said...

I dunno. You are the authority. I'm not the kind of girl .... (y'know the song ...)

BTW. An eagle for your blog.

BongoPondit said...

JAP,

I must be losing my mind.....I did mean Lower Circular and SNB (its near Calcutta Boys School) - there are two Nataraj's - one exactly at the corner of the road and looks pretty dilapidated and another down the road on SNB which is the 'mishthanna bhandar'. Go to the former. Its quality (as well as the size of the kochuri), however, has gone down ever since the main cook died about a decade ago.

Inspired by this post, I have posted an e-mail forward I had received from my cousin few months ago . It seems like pretty exhaustive list.

eve's lungs said...

Try Srihari for Kochuris - you need to go early though because the stuff finishes fast . In Santiniketan , try Amaravati at the head of the road before you go down to Kalo's or Nar'an's . Ghosh da used to make a mean kochuri but has probably gone out of business now .
Anyway , all that reading about food has made me very hungry - have you looked at the possibility of writing for Lonely Planet ?
Appams are lovely - theyre better in Kochi than anywhere else - also try out the Saravana chain when you're down South - they make a red chutney which is to die for . The last time I was in Bangalore we had a veggie Andhra meal with 3 types of chutneys and a rasam that I'd have willingly died for . Ah food food glorious food !!!

erebus said...

haha! your template stuffed

And BTW: Research shows quite conclusiively that eggs don't jack up your cholestorol...abt 5 eggs a week is just fine for most people. so stuff away!

Dipto said...

Oh man! You just made me regret coming to America for college. Good stuff! You can one more to your list of readers.

Aunty Marianne said...

I'm so HUNGRY!

Anonymous said...

That was really delicious. Might be you can add on a few more delicacies. Influenced by your article, i and a few of my colleagues got down at Maharani and tasted all the available stuff, and in the process stuffed ourself to the brim. Great! do write more articles.

Mind over Matter said...

gnThe post triggered what my Didima used to call 'chokher khide'!!!
Just a tip on the appam bit - there's one place now in Kolkata which serves kick-ass appams - that's Porto Rio near Park Circus. The place also serves the most mindblowing 'Coorgi Roast Crab' and they are nice enough to take the meat out of the shell if you are not the 'kobji dubiye khawa types. Try it next time, if you haven't already.