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The future of Gobi Manchurian March 4, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.

It turns out that Manchuria was unaware that its name had been appended to the phool gobi. When the news leaked out, all hell broke loose, reveals C Y Gopinath

“WE HAVE NO CHOICE,” said the Manchurian National Security Advisor. “This must be considered an act of war. By annexing Manchuria to a cauliflower, India has breached every protocol known to international politics.”

There was silence in the conference room. Though the new millennium was well under way, the temperature outside had not changed; it remained –26°C. The heating system was yet to be installed, so it was shivering cold inside as well. The only one unaffected seemed to be the shaggy horse on which the Manchurian Premier had arrived; it now stood in a corner of the room, attacking fodder while snorting and farting by turns. Other than the Premier, there were also his three military chiefs, his Press Advisor and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who had built up the case against India.

At the far end of the table, leering openly, sat the Indian delegate, MLA Ram Lakhan. He drew himself up to his feet, emitted some paan into his portable paandaan, and spoke up now in his country’s defense.

“This is nothing but a small misunderstanding, Your Honor,” he said. “We do not have Chinese cuisine anywhere in India.”

“A complete fabrication!” said the Minister for Foreign Affairs. “Let the Indian delegate explain how I have seen the so-called Gobi Manchurian served only at labeled Chinese restaurants all over India?” As Exhibits A, B and C, the Minister now placed some quite cold and congealed specimens of Gobi Manchurian gathered from restaurants in Tangra (Calcutta), Colaba (Mumbai) and Ludhiana (Punjab).

“The Honorable Minister is in error,” said the Indian delegate mildly. “Those are not Chinese restaurants. Those are actually Punjabi Mughlai restaurants which specialise in South Indian cuisine. Within them, you can get such historical delicacies as Mattar Paneer, Methi Chaman Bahar, Chicken Makhani and Maharani Dal, in any combination with Masala Dosa, Cheese Uthappam, Medu Vada and Kanjeevaram Idli. There is nothing Chinese about any of them.”

The Minister for Foreign Affairs withdrew Exhibit D, the signboard of a shop that had recently come up in Girgaum, Mumbai, for a multi-cuisine restaurant called simply Buckingham Palace. All kinds of Mughlai, South Indian, Punjabi and Chinese food available.

“Another grave error,” said the Indian delegate, sniggering. “We say Chinese so that our customers may know that the waiters are Chinky-looking. We recruit them from Darjeeling, the Kumaon hills and so on. Gives the place an international feel.”

“Lies!” shouted the Minister.

“And nothing Chinese about anything else in our restaurants either,” continued the MLA equably. “We may call it Prawn Sichuan , but it is garnished with black mustard seeds and curry leaves, so that our Mangalorean clients don’t find the taste too alien. We also add a little garam masala to our Roast Lamb Hunan Style so that our clients from the film industry feel at home. In fact, in Chennai, a little sambar powder and coconut is added to all chow meins so that the local sensibilities are not offended.”

There was a silence. “Then why bring Manchuria into it?” asked the Premier gently.

“The dish in question has never been called Gobi Manchurian, but Gobi Man Churaya,” explained the MLA. “In Uttar Pradesh, from where most of India’s leaders emerge, this is a phrase meaning steal one’s heart away. Gobi Man Churaya refers, simply, to a cauliflower dish that can steal your heart away. In fact,” the MLA said, suppressing a snigger, “we were not even aware that a country called Manchuria existed till we got your letter.”

The Manchurians rose to their feet at this gross insult and rejection of their sovereign wilderness. “In that case, Mr. Ram Pal, we have no choice,” said the Premier. “It is war. You have defiled our cuisine, now we must desecrate yours.”

Historians note that in the decades that followed Manchuria avenged themselves by launching Sambar Cantonese (featuring hoisin sauce instead of tamarind and five-spice powder instead of chaunk ); the Beijing Baingan Bahar (in which the aubergines are buried for six years before being cooked and eaten), the Soy Bean Masala Lassi; and finally the Ming Biriyani, cooked in the purged stomach of a Chinese running dog of capitalism for five hours.

The Indian MLA, history has it, went back and victoriously reported to his masters that Indian cuisine had once again expanded its frontiers and invaded Manchuria as well.

The sous chef passes a fishy test March 4, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.

‘WE’RE HAVING A SEAFOOD FESTIVAL!’ said the voice from Bombay’s SeaRock Sheraton, in the good old days before the bomb blast that closed it down. “We thought you might be interested in covering it in your amazing blog, Gopium!”

This meant that I was being invited to check out some free food at a 5-star hotel, you understand. On such matters as pre-paid gifts from corporations, or sponsored junkets to foreign countries, I have always followed a strict policy of reluctant acceptance in a Marxist frame of mind, which means that I say yes, infiltrate the system and destroy it from within.

Accordingly, I shook my head slowly from side to side into the phone, and said, “I am afraid that would be out of the question. Gopium does not concern itself with food festival reviews. It is a food column for the particular but not particularly rich reader, and it is compulsory to reveal at least one complete recipe The dish must be impossible to find in any book. It must contain ingredients that are impossible to predict. Occasionally, the exotic and the experimental are permitted, but on no account must the item be daunting and intricate. Thus, while I am perfectly willing to come and sample your seafood at a time and date convenient to me, the chances are that I will find nothing worth writing about.”

I was right. There was nothing worth writing about. There was an unremarkable mackerel which I could not even eat. There was a very good warm seafood salad, but it fell short of Gopium norms of exoticity. There was an excellent bream, stuffed with sundry things, I got the head, my companion got the tail, both were outstanding, but the item was too complicated for the average but avid cooking enthusiast.

This was when I addressed the Sous Chef, a young, faintly Gallic-looking fellow, and explained about Foodophilia. The Sous Chef, who had been forced by Saddam Hussein to leave his job with an Oberoi hotel in Iraq and return to India, was personally in charge of SeaRock’s Seafood Festival, and was evolving quite a few unfettered combinations by mixing old ingredients with new ideas.

“Why don’t you create a special dish exclusively for my column, and then put it into your menu as the Chef Recommends special? Why don’t you include in it ingredients that no one would expect to find in a fish dish — such as, say for example, say for example, ajwain? Something like that, do you get my drift?”

Three days later, I returned to the scene of the crime after receiving word that the Sous Chef had done something that should be attended to without delay. It turned out he had done four different tricks with fish, just to be on the safe side. The one I reproduce here will make your senses quicken to an unexpected glimmer of ajwain. The fish is a modest one, bekti, designed by God to alleviate every spice and flavour that falls upon it, and by God, the Sous Chef has managed to do bekti a flavour it will never forget. Before I present Paupiette of Bekti in Coconut, Lemon and Saffron Sauce, I hereby rename it

Bekti avec a touché of ajwain et other things

Serves 4

8 Thin fillets of Bekti or rawas
16 medium-sized spinach leaves

The Marinade
Juice of 2 lemons
Salt to taste
3-5 gms white pepper
Cling film or silver foil for wrapping the paupiette

The Stuffing
480 gms prawn mince
80 gms finely chopped onion
15 gms garlic
3 to 5 gms ajwain
80 gms grated cheese
2 tomatoes
2 tsps finely chopped green coriander
30 ml butter
Salt to taste

The Sauce
200 gms coconut cream from tender coconut
1 gm saffron
4 blades lemon grass
45 gms butter
30 gms flour
300 ml fresh cream
2 litres fish stock for poaching paupiettes
2 tsps finely chopped green coriander for garnish


1. Take a large fillet of bekti, trim sides and belly area. Slice thin, by cutting across the fillet at a slant with a very sharp knife. Marinate the slices in lime juice, salt and pepper, and keep in a fridge.

2. To prepare the stuffing, clean, de-vein and wash the fresh prawns, and then mince them. Chop two large onions fine, and peel and chop the garlic pods. Wash and chop the dill and the coriander leaves. Blanche the spinach leaves and refresh them in chilled water. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and discard the pulp, and cut the flesh into small pieces. Grate the cheese finely and mash with your bare hands, and then roll them into thick ‘straws’ by rolling them between your palms.

3. Heat the butter in a pan and bung in the ajwain. Add the chopped garlic after a few seconds, and finally the chopped onions, which should be sauteéd till they turn transparent (or for three minutes, whichever comes first).

4. Now add the minced prawns and mince and sauté lightly, making sure the juices do not run out. Add salt to taste, remove from flame and keep aside. When it has cooled, add the chopped coriander and tomato pieces, and mix. Divide the stuffing into eight equal parts.

5. Take a slice of bekti and put two leaves of blanched spinach on it so as to cover it. Spoon some of the prawn mince onto this, and place a ‘straw’ of cheese in its centre. Roll it up — fish, spinach, prawn, cheese and all — wrap it in cling film or silver foil, and twist the ends together like a toffee. After cooling it in a fridge for a while, poach the paupiette in the fish stock.

6. To prepare the sauce, pureé some grated coconut, strain to recover the cream, and keep aside. Melt butter, add flour and cook for three minutes or so, till the aromas of cooked flour are released. Add the cream, and the lemon grass blades, and simmer for two minutes. Add the saffron strands. Once the mixture acquires the saffron colour, add the coconut cream, bring to a boil, and then simmer gently for two minutes. Strain.

7. To assemble, pour the sauce on to a heated plate, cut at a slant and arrange the paupiettes in the sauce. Between the fish pieces, sprinkle the finely chopped coriander coriander. Carrots and cucumbers may be arranged on the plate, says the Sous Chef, as vegetables-in-waiting.

I am not going to reveal to you the recipe for Fillet of Sole Rothschilde, also a creation of this amazing Sous Chef. My reasons for this are natural reticence, a strong perverse streak, and an amazing shortage of bandwidth.