Thursday, November 01, 2007

Is this reduced milk? Is it eggs? No, it is grated potatoes

Chefs in Lucknow craft eggs wrapped in minced meat (Image from NPR)

I have always wondered what makes for an outstanding dish. Given the frenzied times we live in, I strongly believe that its simplicity (how easily and quickly one can cook it) is as important, if not more, as its taste. Having someone else cook for you is not an option - you never get your preferred combination of flavours and smells. And since I do my cooking - mostly each day - I have to keep it simple and yummy. Those fancy recipes that need ingredients your kirana store does not sell are, therefore, out of the question. My kitchen is not equipped with an oven or a mixer-cum-grinder and I have never even felt the need for them. And I can safely claim to make stuff that several people like.

But Lucknow’s nawabs had it differently. Their opulent kitchens operated on a war footing with an army of cooks. The nawabs even had their food decorated with gold and silver foils. In this NPR's story on the decaying art of nawabi cuisine, Pushpesh Pant, a foodie, claims in those days a good dish was one that was "exotic and unexpected". "Say you eat a dessert, and you say 'Is this reduced milk? Is it eggs?' And the host would say, with a twinkle in his eye, 'No, it is grated potatoes." The story goes on, calling these dishes as “riddle dishes” where desserts masqueraded as entrees like kebabs, curries and even whole fish.

Very convincing and appetising. But am I willing to change my definition of an outstanding dish? No. Not at all. Kakori kabab at Maurya Sheraton's Dum Pukht doesn’t even beat the satisfaction of a self-cooked meal of dal and chawal at home.


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