Bohri Mohalla- Mumbai’s Annual Meat Pilgrimage.

I begin with  mixed bag of feelings as I write this post. On one hand, I am extremely delighted to be back to doing what i do best; share my love for food. Over the last 6 months personal commitments have kept me away from the blog, but I will now try and be a bit more regular in posting.

This blog post is about a wonderful journey into food so delicious, it made you want more. Not for the gluttony, but for the sheer poetry in its composure.Food that transcended every socio- cultural and socio- economic make up that the print and electronic media have worked so hard to create.

If you have been following Mumbai based bloggers chances are you would have read or seen posts either about Bohri Mohalla or Mohammed Ali Road where almost all of Mumbai meat loving crowd converge during the holy month of Ramzan. I had been meaning to go there for the last two or three years now; however, I some how could never make it. This year I made up my mind to go as soon as Ramzan began. Almost a now-or never mandate. Next step, forming a group. A few watsapp exchanges later the taskforce was ready. Nothing, not even the dreaded Mumbai rains could stop us. You could choose between Mohd. Ali Road and Bohri Mohalla. The atmosphere at the former is more carnival like and festive. And I must admit, there are more food options there. Bohri Mohalla is a bit quiter, like that cute little younger brother who tries to mimic his older brother and creates a niche of his own in doing so. For our trip, we chose the later.

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Carnival like atmosphere at Mohd. Ali Road

So what did we eat there?

Our first stop was Haji Tikka.

I had done some asking before going and I was told to keep this place as a top priority. In any case tikka’s are a weak point for me. Truth be told you need not reach the place, the rustic aroma of meat being roasted on a bed of flames will guide you to it.

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As easy as it seems, its not easy to grill meats; but this guy in the picture somehow managed to do it with the skill and precision of a kamikaze pilot. Giving it the just the right char and just doing enough to cook the meat.,Not more, not less. Precision was his mantra.

Our First order was the Achaari Chicken Tikka.  Boneless Chicken pieces marinated in a pickle like spice. We tasted one bite and smiled. We knew we were off to a wonderful start. Honestly, I would have liked a little more achaari flavoring but then at the back of my mind I realised that the flavoring didnt over power the actual taste of the meat. Isnt that how it should be?AC.jpg

Next up was the Chicken Tangdi Kebab.  They say its easy to get the simpler things wrong. What can you do wrong with a nice plump leg of chicken. A lot, if you dont cook and more importantly season it well. No such worries here. Plump, Juicy meat, grilled just right and that generous sprinkle of aamchur over the top. We smiled in generous approval. Again, very rustic and had a slight chew. No complaints thoughIMG_20160625_205645408.jpg

What followed was orgasm on a plate. The Mutton Seekh kebab. Once again perfect case of cooking made simple and beautiful. Spicy, moist and almost cast spell on you like. We didnt plan for seconds, we called for them.

 

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Seekh Kebab

We must have the baida roti quipped someone in planning phase. So, we proceeded to India hotel. Apparently, run by a very Abraham look alike Haji Saahab. I so wanted to have a tete-a-tete with him but apparently he had left early. The good thing about India Hotel is you can sit in a small setup across the road, if there is some place that is.

You would have guessed the first order by now. The chicken baida roti. Chicken mince encased in a nice, thin almost paper like egg omlette, dunked in flour and fried. If this did get your mouth to water, i doubt anything will.

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No meal is complete without rice, is it? We were recommended the Mutton Pulao, but we unanimously opted for chicken so as to go easy on our gluttonal sins. Dont be deceived by the simple and bland look the pulao takes on. Once you chew on the morsel of rice, the spiciness doesnt burst all in one go. Little by little, you taste the spices, each of them. And then that furious little kick of spice down your throat. Once again, seconds were called for without discussions.

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By now, we could almost hear the warm Malpuas being done across the road crying for our affection and attention. A debate ensued if we needed to have ice creams first or the warmer desserts first. Finally, we headed to much heralded Tawakkal Sweets for our fill of their famous malpuas. Take a look at the minimal menu though

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What followed was perhaps the only sour note in an other great evening of great eats. Kesar Phirni, not overtly sweet but somehow I didn’t like it. Though somehow, the rest of the gang liked the thing. Perhaps, its got to do with my cynicism when it comes to desserts.

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Thakfully, what followed satisfied the soul so much, you could attain moksha and not regret it. It was the double ande ka malpua (Double egg malpua). This  one was huge, greasy and chewy. Warm enough for you to wrap it round you and sleep on a dreary rainy night.

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Our next pit stop was Taj Ice creams. Run by the very amicable Mr. Ice Creamwala. Don’t be mislead, its his actual name and not a moniker. Apparently, Bohris have surnames that match their profession. So then, whats so special about the regular chocolate, strawberry, custard apple flavoured ice creams. Two things actually. Mr. Ice creamwala tells me that this is the same recipe the family has been following for 125 years and secondly, they ice creams were churned by hand. Day after day. Taste them yourselves, you will know the difference.Sadly, some of the flavours were not available, Mr. Ice creamwala humbly apologised saying a few staff were unwell and hadnt reported to work.

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Clockwise: Musk Melon, Strawberry, Custard apple.

 

Among the six of us, the damages were about INR.2000/- so you could do the math.

There was much more on the eating wishlist and the spirit was definately willing, however, the flesh was weak. As  we wound up our food orgy, something caught my eye and attention. A notice by the civic authorities declaring the redevelopment of Bohri Mohalla. That explained the cranes and the bull dozers around there. My heart sank and from a moment of ecstatic highs, I went through depressing lows. I knew it could be another one or at max two years before civilisation takes over and history, tradition are buried under concrete only to make it to text books that the coming generations will not care about.

My earnest recommendation, go and take your kids along. If not for the food, for the atmosphere, the tradition and the memories. Let food live on like it has always done. By way of stories and word of mouth

 

 

#Tummyturns3- My thoughts.

The tummy tale turns three today.

I can’t believe I got this far and honestly. It seemed I started only yesterday. I can almost hear you ask “how does it feel?” Frankly, my mind is wandering from stratospheric heights to absymal depths. I should be happy after all three years is not a small period of time to keep persuing something. But I haven’t been blogging regularly and that is what curdles my stomach. A lot of have called up, some have written to check on how I have been and why there have been no regular posts. The fact is that there is an important event in the family and that will take up most of my time over the next month and half. I shall soon share the news here on the blog.

Coming back to the birthday I feel immensely satisfied. This has been one journey in my life where I have only gained and then gained some more. The best satisfaction is when i tick the publish button on the blog.I doubt there will be any other pleasure greater than that. That though is the virtual bit. I can only consider my self blessed to be surrounded by a wonderful circle of friends who not only share my passion for cooking but my passion for food as a subject. I thoroughly enjoy discussing recipes but tastes, textures and cuisines with them. A few have moved on from being friends in the virtual world to ones in the real world and that is just the icing in the cake.

Blogging they say is a solitary profession. But no blogger can be successful without his or her  readers. I have a wonderful set of them as well. I was pleasantly surprised when I was at a mall the other day and a lady walked up to me asking if I was Elson from the tummy tale. She went on to tell me how she tried a few of my recipes and over came her fear of cooking meat. Well if you have created something what better joy when your creation gets you recognised from an almost unexpected corner.

Behind the scenes is where all the action is. For me, my two taste queens take that onus. They criticize, the console and congratulate. Often clicking pictures and setting up takes time. They bear with me with the patience of the prophet Job. My sister took notes from her Kolkata eata to write a post on the blog. I don’t think I would have made it beyond the first few posts without their support.

But there have been some wonderful moments in these three years. The beat probably was meeting up with Chef Sanjeev Kappor at the IFBA awards 2014. But then meeting with Chef Kapoor is the dream of every foodie isnt it.My friends Shanti Padukone (riotofflavours), Renita Mascarenhas (@culinaryzeal) and Vignesh Iyer (@storysoviets) did a Chinese food walk at Marol. We did a few indianised Chinese restaurants including a fried rice that had Cumin in it. At another instance, Renita, Shanti and I did a cook off with each of us cooking a dish in the menu. Isnt that the beauty of food? These lovely instances are like pearls all bound together by that wonderful string called passion of food.

The joy I feel is too big to describe in words. And I promise you I will be back. To cooking. To clicking and to posting. Till then I would love to end with the words of a song by Kishore Kumar

Chalte chalte, mere ye geet yaad rakhna

Kabhi alvida naa kehna. Kabhi alvida naa kehna

My Kolkatta eats- Guest Post by my sister Elaine Sequeira

Any description of food is good. So when my sister Elaine went on a week long work cum pleasure trip to the City of joy, the  food memories she described brought me joy. I requested her to write her experience for all of you and she obliged. Grab a cup of coffee and read a nice long post that will make you board the next flight to Kolkatta.

My tryst with the City of Joy, Kolkata

Food….for me is a soul touching topic. Having lived in a family that swears by food, I could not escape being a die-hard foodie myself. I put food in three categories—soul-touching, food for life, and daily food. My love for food was one reason of accepting an invite from a friend to come and spend a week with her in Kolkata.

While accepting the invite, my first question to her was “khaana accha hoga na?” Given the fact that I am a die-hard non-vegetarian, she assured me that I would not have vegetarian food even for a single day while in Kolkata. Did she fulfill her promise? Yes she did….and how….

Bengalis swear by their fish, chicken, beef, pork and of course a wide-variety of delightful veggies. And thus began our romance with the food and splendor of Kolkata. We began the trip with a lunch at Arsalan at Arina Garden Court. The first thing we did even before sitting was ordering the Arsalan special assorted platter kebabs. The platter included a mix of chicken malai kebabs, fish kebabs, and some lovely juicy mutton bara kebabs. The chicken kebabs were juicy and succulent, but the lamb racks….umm…..juicy, soft and melt in the mouth…

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Chicken Kebabs

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Lamb rack

Then came the turn of the famous Bengali biryani…this time, we went for chicken biryani to fulfill our hunger pangs. The biryani came overflowing in a plate and we just went for it. Unlike the other biryani’s, this one was different. Spices right enough to arouse the senses, no overpowering gravy bathed rice. On the contrary, each grain had a hint of the gravy but also had its individual taste. One interesting fact here, the potato that accompanies the biryani is first par-boiled, and then fried. This helps get the maximum sweetness of the potato. The whole egg over the biryani was an add-on. Chicken + potato + rice + egg = 3 happy tummies and 3 big bright smiles.

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Arsalan special biryani

With our tummies at peace, we moved on to see the beautiful city, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Victoria Memorial, Fort William, Eden Gardens (we got to enter Eden gardens…special thanks to our friend who requested that we Mumbaiites are very eager to see the stadium), Chowrinhgee, Shaheed Minar, New Market…..the list was unending…

All this sight-seeing made us hungry again. Next, we were told, our dinner would be at Peter Cat (famous for its Chelo Kebabs). Now Peter Cat is known to be a restaurant where cocktails are cheaper than the food. Right next to Peter cat is Flury’s (don’t visit unless you are willing to spend for over-priced items). And next to Flury’s is Au Bon Pain (more about this later).

Coming back to Peter Cat, the restaurant provides an interesting mix of Indian and continental along with an environment that is quirky and unique. A trip to the city of joy would be incomplete without dining here. The amazing chelo kebabs, the wonderful cocktails and some lovely desserts. First day at Kolkata was satisfying and satiating. The kebabs did make us want to stay back and have more and more of them.

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The menu at Peter Cat….the shape says it all…

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Chello kebabs…the dollop of butter and the yummy kebabs make you want for more…The dish consists of  chicken kebabs prepared in rare spices and Persian herbs that are served on a bed of salty buttery, saffroned rice and egg. Peter Cat claims this special dish to be “The protected Regional product of West Bengal.” The egg and butter give the dish a different twist.

After the Sunday morning service, we headed to Au Bon Pain (this is a must visit place for good breakfast options at reasonable prices). I am thankful for having friends who are good eaters and are least concerned of calories and healthy eating.

A typical European type of breakfast, loads of options to choose from. The breakfast was so filling that we didn’t have to have lunch and had to have dinner directly; this after walking for nearly 20 km seeing some more of beautiful Kolkata.

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The kings breakfast at Au Bon Pain

For dinner, our host treated us to some lovely Thai food from “Asia in the Box.” Our host chose the dishes for us which were tried and tested. We had rice with crabmeat, Chicken Takrai (chicken breasts cooked in fish sauce, chicken broth, and lemon grass) and Thai green curry. We were overwhelmed with the delicate flavors infused in the chicken gravy and the lovely rice. Another good food day came to an end.

One interesting ingredient that Bengali food includes is Gondhoraj (aroma king) Lebu (lime) as it is called in Bengali. The fruit itself is oblong and somewhat difficult to be squeezed by hand. One has to cut it into relatively long areas with its thick green bark, and then gently press the fruit to extract the juice. The extract is some real, heavy aromatic dough bits. A tiny quantity of this extract is enough to perk up the dullest daal or the most tasteless vegetables a hot summer day. These limes have a sweet smell and are used for making slush, Kolkata’s steamed bhetki fillets in a coconut-gondhoraj gravy, gondhoraj soufflé and much more.

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Gondhoraj (Image courtesy: Google images)

The next day, we decided to go around Kumortuli to see how the images of Goddess Durga are made. Awe and wonder filled us for the craftsmanship of the artists there. Such simplicity yet, such wonderful designs. Again, the whole walk through the area made us hungry. This time we decided to visit Mitra café. One look at it would categorize it as any other road side eatery—small and very basic amenities; but the food, “finger licking good.” We ordered fish cutlet, chicken cutlet, chicken kabiraji, and mutton stew. One of the best parts of Kolkata is that it never disappoints you with food. The simplicity of the dish and the taste that filled each sense was simply awesome. No words describe the yummy food of Mitra café.

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Chicken cutlet – A soft chicken breast marinated with their secret spices and deep fried to perfection

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Chicken kabiraji – Fried chicken in lacy egg net – Kabiraji originally means coverage. History says that kabiraji cutlet is actually a colloquial version of ‘Coverage or CoverEgg’ cutlet introduced by the British.

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Fish cutlet

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The humble mutton stew which looked simple, but was packed with flavors. A simple dish of mutton cooked in coconut milk and boiled veggies

The yellow sauce that you see with the cutlets here is called kashundi, originally made out of mustard, green chilies, and garlic, this tangy sauce is now made from mangoes as well.

The next destination was Bohemian. The best of the whole trip. Slightly heavier on the pocket, but, the food, totally worth it. I’ll leave the photos to do the talking.

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Aam kashundi soaked chicken escallops

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Main Course – Pork vindaloo, anglo Indian spices, served with garlic and flattened rice pilaf and wilted greens

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Main Course – Murshidabadi barbecued chicken with onion chutney and wine poached eggs, served with mustard and green chilli pita and potato mustard salad

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Dessert – Pantua baked Alaska

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Dessert – Cigar and coffee mousse

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Dessert – Mustard and tender coconut mousse

The next stop was Café Ekante, this place has a good ambience, but the food is not good enough. You can visit it if you feel like getting away from a day of hectic work schedules.

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Betki fillet marinated in mustard sauce (kashundi) and wrapped in burnt leaf

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Dessert – Nolen gurer (date palm jaggery) ice cream

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Dessert – Bhapa sandesh

Our last and best stop after Bohemian was Mrs. Magpie Bistro for an awesome breakfast before leaving for Mumbai. The best part of this place, the view, an amazing view of the Gitanjali stadium. Again, the breakfast menu, the cup cakes, the ginger cookies and the amazing décor. Look at the pictures to decide for yourself….

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Breakfast – Clockwise – Chicken ‘n’ cheddar puff, Ham ‘n’ cheese quiche, Hot chocolate

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Sweet endings

The trip ended with us packing lots of sandesh and kacha gola for people at home. Must say, on the food front, Kolkata impressed me so much that I am already planning my next trip there to explore some more food for tummy tales.

A special mention to Anindita Ghosh, Anusreaa Paul, and Sandychris Inchiparamban.

Last but not the least, a heartfelt THANK YOU to our host and dost Pallavi Das (pictured below with her pet Jules) for making this trip unforgettable.

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Mesmerising Mangalore- and some lovely food experiences.

Caveat: A long but pictoral post ahead. Most pictures taken on my phone who has an average IQ, please pardon the quality.

It was about 13:10 hours on a balmy Monday afternoon at Mangalore Central Railway Station. The Matsyagandha was ready to begin her journey to Mumbai and announced that by a hooting whistle. As I took my seat by the window, my mind wandered back to the to the last few days that I had spent in my home town.

This trip (it was an important one for me on the personal front) was planned four months in advance and while planning this trip I had a plan. I wanted to try food beyond whats usually cooked at the relatives. And when you reach the end of this post, you will be realise how glad I was to do that. Another thing I did was ignore the pricey star rated restaurants and went in for the smaller no -frills places. Again, a gamble that paid rich dividends.

The Chinese are coming. Hotel Hao Ming, Collectors Gate, Balmatta.

Tell someone that you get some really good Chinese food in Mangalore and you are sure to get a few smirks. I visited this place in 2013 on my last trip with my cousin. We were fairly jaded with the coconutty gravies and yearned for something that could break the clutter. I dont really remember what we ate back then but the restaurant left an impression. And if that impressions stays on your mind for a good two years, I presume it must be jolly good. The restaurant by itself is fairly basic in terms of decor; like you would get in any regular CHinese joint in Mumbai. The menu is a mix between Indian Chinese and some authentic stuff. I saw pork spareribs on the menu. I dont think there is beef. But again for a smallish place, fairly energetic and competent wait staff.

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The appetizer was a crispy chicken. I presume this may be a best seller in the restaurant because in a crowded rush hour I observed this being ordered at almost every table. A few nibbles later, I figured why. When you have chicken thats seasoned perfectly, coated with finely shredded cabbage and fried like a dream, it will be a hit. This is the dish for a game night with many pints of beer

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Our mains were a Chef Special dish i ordered on the recommendations of our waiter. It a fairly large portions that is a combination of a chicken gravy and you can either choose Noodles or rice. I opted for  noodles. The gravy had a nice consistency and wasnt gloppy or corn floury like the ones in Mumbai. I particularly loved the generous amount of chicken.in the dish. Couldn’t figure out what the fried cabbage was doing there as a garnish. I guess the chef loves his greens.

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This is how it looked when we decimated it.

The  plate over flowed at the Tulu Nadu food festival, Hotel Simbly South, Balmatta.

Can you describe that feeling when you get a bonus cheque along with your salary. Something similar was what i felt when I seen an advertisement for a Tulu food festival close to where we were staying. A few glances exchanged and we knew our next pit stop. 27 items on the menu. I was too small a man to finish this and so we decided to share one thali among the three of us. Simply put, a kings feast.

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You thought it would cost a king’s ransom? Check the price on the top right of the image.

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To pick one of my favorites from this meal would be like asking a mother to pick between her two kids. Everything on the platter was well thought about making it not only a treat to the palette; but to your senses. If i still have to be partial, I would say i liked the white chutney and the chicken sukkha amongst all.

Mutton Sukkha and Neer Dosa at Hotel Simply South, Balmatta

Its not very often that I visit a restaurant for the second time. But if i do, that means the place has something special that was left to be tried. Whilst exploring the menu during the thali, I seen there was a mutton sukkha. Now for us Mangaloreans, a mutton or beef or a chicken sukkha is an alter ego. Its the dish your mum makes the best. Something told me i needed to try this. A second visit was to be made. I came back for the mutton sukkha that evening and with it I called for the etrnal workhorse of Mangalorean food the Neer dosa or paan pole. What a dish. A handful of ingredients each coming together as a beautifully as the philharmonic orchestra.. Bite sized lamb pieces just tossed in coconut oil, lots of pepper, some chili and tons of coconuts. And accompanied by pillowy soft dosa. food heaven if someone could ever experience. See the pictures and let them tell you.20150809_211719 20150809_211744

And, an Ideal Dessert place- Ideal Ice Cream Parlour, Hampankatta

Tucked away in one corner of Mangalore city is Hampankatta Market. Mangalores Crawford Market. Tucked in a corner of the market is Ideals Ice cream parlour. Whats so special about the ice cream. Everything I’d say. Far away from the gelatos and the gourmet ice creams the world is moving towards, here is a place that offers doesnt mess with traditional flavours; on the contrary, the flavour combines with other flavours and knicks to elevate it to levels where you can smile. Because something cold you’ve eaten just warmed the cockles of your heart. The only flavour i didnt like was Tiramisu. Perhaps because of my aversion of coffee in desserts. The rest of them, added an inch to my smile and my waist.

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Jackpot- Such a brilliant orange sorbet and a mushy gajar halva

Jackpot- Such a brilliant orange sorbet and a mushy gajar halva

Tiramisu- The black sheep

Tiramisu- The black sheep

Beehive- Strawberry, Cream and gajarhalva..

Beehive- Strawberry, Cream and gajar halva.. and tons of nuts

After most meals I could only curl up and grab my fair share of sleep. In a later post, I will try and share some home cooked food experience of Mangalore. Meanwhile, do keep those warm letters of concern coming in. It feels nice to hear from you even outside the blog. 🙂

My 10 commandments for food blogging!

I remember reading a story where a grandfather speaks to his kid grandson about two puppies living within each of us. These puppies are constantly involved in a duel to outdo each other. “And who wins?” asked the innocent grandson. “The one you feed” replied the wise old man.  Metaphoric as it may sound, I think this story holds true for all of us. Each of us holds within us a certain set of values. Some ingrained, some attained due to societal interactions. These values then go a long way to define who we become as individuals, manifesting themselves in our personality. The choices we make, the decisions we take are in some way or the other influenced by our values.

I have time and again mentioned that my blog is an extension of my personality. It is the second best way for me to express my love for food. The first being cooking.  In my personal life there are values that I live by some of which are non-negotiable.  So do these values extend to the blog? Yes, I’d say. Often, I am asked, what is the philosophy I follow for the blog? How do I decide what is good for the blog and what not? This becomes all the more important considering the fact that blogging is not monitored legally as yet. We (as bloggers) have to follow an unwritten code of conduct that makes the blogging ecosystem a liveable space for us and our blogging brethren. Now, coming back to my philosophy, I have worked out a set of rules that I follow and not mandated by any governing body.  And just like the ten commandments help us be a good human being, these help me be a better blogger

Let me know what you feel of these.

  1. Thy blog should be a reflection of thy love for food:  Its easy to hop on to the bandwagon because everyone these days wants to be or is already a food blogger. Start a blog only and only if you really have a love for food. P.S. Love for food doesn’t simply mean eating it.
  2. Thou shalt keep thy blog active: Blogging is a serious commitment and pretty much hard work. You will need to devote time and energy and time without the desired result. Are you willing to do it?
  3. Thou shalt always pay for your meals: Of course, you will be invited to dine at high end place and get access to exotic meals. But you must pay for your meals. Thats when you gain credibility as a food blogger.
  4. Thou shalt not steal: Ok. This one is borrowed from the lord. But it holds a lot of value. Try not taking work from any source or use something that is not your own. If ever you must, make sure you give credit to the guy whose work it is. Afterall, he’s worked hard on it, hasn’t he?
  5. Thou shalt not spam social media with images of everything you eat or drink throughout the day- Remember there is enough clutter there. So you post should be able add some value. Else, it will get lost in the vast internet space.
  6. Thou shalt not not blog in silo but share and interact: As a food blogger, you will interact with other food bloggers and the public in general; many of whom will help in sharing your posts on social media. You should return the favor too by sharing or commenting relevantly.
  7. Never, never ever take your audience for granted: Remember what Rajesh Khanna sang in that memorable song “Yeh public hai, yeh sab jaanti hai” (This is the audience and they know everything).
  8. Thou shalt be patient: Rome wasn’t built in a day and so wont your blog. It will require time so have the same patience like the prophet Job.
  9. Thou shalt be responsive at all times: There is a very high chance of someone leaving a comment on your post or writing you an email to congratulate you on a good blog. Make time and respond, ideally the response should be within 24 hours.
  10. Its your blog. So,take pride in your work: At any point in time, there will be someone who takes better pictures than you. Or someone who writes better than you. Never get demotivated learn from them and keep striving to improve.

How to make Sichuan Chilli Oil

One of my favorite songs is from the movie Silsila. It is picturised on Amitabh Bachchan (who also narrates the song) playing a love lost poet is reminiscing about this lady love. The song goes  “Main aur meri tanhai, aksar yeh baatein karte hain, tum hoti to kaisa hota? tum hoti, toh aisa hota”. Which when roughly translated goes, In my lonelinessI often talk to myself, how wonderful it would be if you were here!.  A bit lengthy but at its peak, the song beautifully captures the emotions of a hopelessly lonely person. I think it is this loneliness that makes man step out of his realm to find love and fulfillment which make him complete.

Relationships are a difficult thing to manage. You have to give it your all. A little more or a little lesser is a sure formula for disaster. This philosophy can be applied to all relationships, be it a marriage, siblings or between friends. The trick is to find the right balance, between giving it your all and being able to stand your own. Yes, like i mentioned relationships take a lot to keep, but there is also no point in being in it if it is either emotionally or physically draining you.

So then, does this principle apply to food?  I’d say a yes, very confidently. Have you noticed how items on your plate seem incomplete if another item isn’t there. Take dal and chawal for instance. Its not that you can’t have them individually, but when had together they just make each other feel so complete. Or many times a simple spoonful of pickle can elevate a relatively boring meal to a soul satisfying one. Todays recipe is one such condiment that shows up on the dining table at every chinese restaurant. The piquant chilli oil which has the capacity to light up a meal just like Chinese fireworks light up the sky on the Chinese new year.

I have always loved Chinese or for that matter SouthEast Asian Cuisine. This to the extent that if I’ve found a dish or a concept worthy of emulating at home, I surely give it a try with a varying degree of results. The one thing I couldnt do is replicate the chilli oil. Honestly, the challenge was trying to come to a conclusion on what the flavour was. Sure it was spicy but it had that one ingredient which gave it that back of the palate flavour kick. Remember the chinese fireworks? Help came in the form of a friend who was posted in Beijing on a project and being a foodie made quite a few CHinese friends. She mentioned its a difficult recipe to formulate since each house had their own. But the secret was in the quantity of Sichuan peppercorns she reckoned. There was the answer I was looking for. In my head I formulated a rough recipe and thankfully the test experiment was successful in the first attempt. I was elated and proceeded to make a larger batch. This time, I was fairly confident of being able to post the recipe. Trust me, its a no fuss recipe and you can use your approximations to match your tolerance of heat and spice. Use Kashmir chillies for a bright red colour or the spicier chillies for the heat effect. Here is the recipe

Sichuan Chilli Oil

Ingredients

  • 500 ml unflavored oil (use canola, rice bran)
  • 10 chillies (I used equal amount of Kashmir and the spicier variety)
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice whole
  • 30 grams Sichuan peppercorns
  • 5-8 garlic cloves, roughly crushed
  • Salt – a small tablespoon

Procedure

  • In a flat bottomed pan, dry roast the red chili and Sichuan peppercorns on a low flame. Once they give out a toasted aroma, move of the heat and allow to cool for 5-8 minutes. Once cooled, pound it roughly with a mortar and pestle but not entirely powdered, add the salt and keep aside.
  • Now, heat the oil (preferably in a mud pot) along with the garlic and the Chinese 5 spice on the lowest flame. This will allow the oil to absorb all the flavours of the garlic and the spices. You need to give this step time approx an hour. DO NOT heat the oil on a high flame as the garlic may burn and render a bitter flavour to the oil.
  • After about an hour the oil will begin to sizzle. Heat up the flame a bit and let the oil just about reach a boiling point. When it does switch of the flame and allow the oil to cool down a bit. Roughly about 10-15 mins.
  • Once the oil is relatively cooler add the red chillies and sichuan peppercorns to the oil. BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL, the oil is still quite hot. At this point, you will hear a sizzle and your house will be filled with an intoxicating aroma.
  • Let it remain in the vessel for a while and then transfer it to a sterilized bottle. Dont not strain the oil. The longer the spices remain in the oil, the tastier it gets.

Sichuan Chilli Oil

So now that you’ve made the oil, here is a quick recipe for you that i tried and was pretty pleased with. Unfortunately, I missed taking a picture, but i will upload it soon.

Heat the chilli oil in a pan and add few cloves of garlic. When garlic is fragrant. add a chopped spring onion and give it a stir. Next add 8-10 medium sized prawns and stir for a minute till the prawns are cooked. Add salt and half a teaspoon of vinegar while giving it a good toss. Serve

Alternatively, you could use it in your salad dressings, or to drizzle over fried rice, or soups or thai green gravies or simply as my friend Dhanya Samuel from The Spice Adventuress suggested simply fry fish in this oil.

All said and done, once you made it you would never want it to get over from the pantry. Just like you would want a good relationship to end.

Red Snapper de-coded

Here is a recipe post after ages.

After beginning the year with a holiday, and attending quite a few family functions, I finally got the time and the breathing space to cook something. But after binge eating, it was time to go light so I did cook meals were comforting in nature and treated the tummy lightly.

Sometime back, I had a piece of red snapper sent to me by @Pescafresh cause i had won a twitter contest. What a wonderful piece of Fish that was. Perfectly skinned, deboned and no scales at all. I neatly packed it and refrigerated it waiting for the right moment to cook it. But there was a catch, I had never cooked with snapper before. I was apprehensive and didnt want such a piece to get wasted. I shared my apprehensions with a few foodie friends who chipped in their suggestions. But somewhere deep down, I wasn’t confident. Or may be I just letting apprehensions get the better of me. After playing on a sticky wicket I decided i needed to play on the front foot and go by my tried and tested method of keeping things simple. This way I could let the snapper speak for itself rather than the accompaniments beating the hell out of it. I did break my head over the exact formula for the recipe and from the looks of it, I seemed to have done a pretty good job.

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Here is the recipe for a

Nut Crusted Pan grilled Snapper with Herbed Sweet Potato chips and Strawberry Chutney

For the fish you will need

  • 2-3 large fillets of red snapper or any firm white fish.
  • 200 grams of mixed nuts, roasted and crushed ( I used almonds, pistachios, cashews and walnuts)
  • 100 ml Oil
  • 100 ml lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the potato chips

  • 1 or 2 medium sized sweet potatoes, parboiled
  • 2 tablespoons oil for frying
  • 1 teaspoon, mixed herbs (I used thyme, oregano, rosemary and chilli flakes)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the strawberry, ginger and raisin chutney,

  • 2-3 Fresh Strawberrys
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger
  • 1 birds eye chilli
  • 8-10 raisins

For the salad

  • 1 large onion, roughly sliced
  • 1 large tomato, roughly sliced
  • 1 medium cucumber, sliced
  • few lettuce leaves
  • For the dressing Juice of 1/2 a lime, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, half teaspoon of honey, half teaspoon of mustard powder salt an pepper to taste.

To Assemble:

  • Its a good thing to make the chutney first, so in a blender add the strawberrys, ginger the chilli and give it a blitz. The texture of the chutney shouldn’t be entirely fine, but slightly chunky. Remove from the blender and keep aside.
  • For the potatoes: Once the potatoes are parboiled, cut into even sized roundels. Heat oil in a pan and gently fry on each side till a nice char appears. As the potatoes are frying, mix together the salt and the herbs. Once the potatoes are done, remove from flame and sprinkle with the salt and herb mixture. Once done arrange the potatoes as you like on the plate which you will use to serve.
  • Chop the ingredients for the salad and keep aside. DO NOT dress the salad now else will become soggy.
  • For the fish: Take two shallow plates. In one out the powdered nuts and in the other mix the oil, lime juice,salt and pepper. Parallely, heat some oil in a pan. Gently take a fillet of the snapper dip this into the oil emulsion and then on to the nuts mixture and coat it well. Place it on the pan and fry on medium heat till both sides are reddish brown. This should take approximately 5-7 minutes on each side. Once done, transfer to the serving plate; either over the potatoes or besides them.
  • For the salad dressing, mix other all the ingredients and give it a good whisk. Drizzle this over the salad and serve one portion of the salad on the plate.
  • Finally, serve a large helping of the chutney beside the fish.
  • Serve with love. 🙂

Couple of good eats in Pondicherry!

Caveat: A long, but pictoral post.

Having a public perception can at times be an awkward thing. The perception you carry most often has the ability to swing public opinion for you or could be against you. The small town of Pondicherry seemed only too aware of this fact especially since it carries an extremely good perception about the food it serves.  I just returned from a short vacation there and to call it a poetry in food would be an understatement.

Since this vacation was only meant to be family time, I decided to stay away from social media and I am not the studious type who does his research on every lane and street. “Please tell us about the places to eat once your back”, exclaimed a few foodie friends. I decided to make notes at best since i was not looking for stories to write on the blog I didnt even bother researching on the best places to eat. This post then is simply not about the good food I ate. Each meal there was a special one. Neither is this a restaurant review. But this post is largely about two restaurants, who’ve outdone their peers in Mumbai and I suspect in most parts of India with the food they served, the ambience and the service they offered. So much so, that they made you want to come back to them for your next meal ; and being in the services business I know that this is a very good indicator that you are darn good at what you are doing. And so, in my first post of the year let me share those places.

Hotel Anandha Inn

One of the very few times I used the phone in Pondicherry was to check on a good breakfast place. Twitter didn’t respond and so I checked with Simran Sareen (@bombayfoodie) she strongly recommended I go there for the brilliant South Indian Breakfast. I was excited. When i reached the place, I was dumbfounded to see a kings spread of a buffet. Dominantly European options, but equally good south indian options like Idli, dosa (made right in front of you) and the work. Don’t be fooled by just a single plate. I dont remember the amount of times I actually refilled my plate. I have had breakfast around the world, and this one ranks surely on par with those.

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After a fairly satiating breakfast, I was convinced that I had to do a full meal here. Very rare for someone with a fairly jaded palate. The menu spoke of a fairly decent mix of Asian, European and Indian. Dinner that day was to to be had there and we unanimously decided to go for Indian. We went in for a simple Mutton Pepper fry which to me was a shining example of how simplicity in cooking can elevate the dish to being not just a dish but a labour of love. Mutton cubes which had some fat and cooked in coconut oil, local spices, a hint of chilli and a large dash of pepper. I have had mutton pepper fry at the home of a Tamil friend, this one came close. To get a local favorite perfectly right means you have done the basics of researching and sourcing right. Full marks on that. We had this with an equally competent pulao.IMG_2635

Cafe Le Dupleix.

If ever someone gives me a choice to have a meal at any place in the world, I would pick Cafe Le Dupleix without battling an eyelid. It is this place that we went for our meals again and again. The place itself is magnetic, ethereal. Spotless white paint, Imposing beams, Massive wooden doors and you would be forgiven to feel you’ve entered the home of a 18th century earl. Spend time reading the history behind the menu and you will know that the place was once the residence of the then Governor General of Pondicherry General Dupleix.  Further the write up goes on to elaborate the life and adventures the General. And the food, oh the food. Trust me, everything on the menu will catch your fancy and it lives up to the claim. I must mention the wait staff is competent enough to answer your questions on anything in the menu.

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External View- Cafe Le Dupleix

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The Menu with a picture of the General

They say well begun is half done. We began our meal with an amuse bouche that was a muffin shaped focaccia that came with a robust olive oil, a brilliant red wine salt and fleur de sel. Just  a bite into that focaccia and i knew that this was the rock solid foundation of a good meal. Look at the crumb. Doesn’t it speak to you?

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Call me old school but I am not a fan of fusion food but I was pretty impressed with the creation of the dish the call ‘Three Flavoured Chicken’. “Whats so special”? I quizzed the attendant. The flavoring in the marinades was European but the cooking Indian. I took the plunge and decided to give it a try and I am glad i did. It was just the concept of the dish that was unique, but the choice of flavours in the platter was amazing. There was a nice and tangy tomato based marinade (the red one), the piquant mustard (yellow), and a vibrant fresh cilantro and basil one. I loved the attention to detail when I seen the plate come with a nice butter naan and a salad. The naan helped in picking up the meat and mopping up a smooth little chutney.

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They say its difficult to keep things simple. When I visit a restaurant, I check to see if they have done the simpler dishes right. If that doesn’t pass muster, that restaurant isn’t worth stepping into again. One of the dishes that has received a decent response on the blog is a simple Spaghetti Aglio Olio. A dish I have made many times and one I am proud of. I must say I ordered the Aglio Olio at Le Dupleix on purpose to check how it was done and I was blown. SImple, yet every bite spoke to you. Just that little chilli, just that little butter and tons of olive oil. The best  rendition apart from my own :). If i really have to be a little grumpy and pick a fault, I’d say the toasted baguette was slightly burned around the edges. Thats about itIMG_2609

And things only kept getting better. We had the chicken marinated with brandy and European spices served with a cauliflower cream and side of a simple green salad. One of the more exquisite dishes on the menu but done well. I found the cauliflower cream slightly over salted but the rest of the dish was spot on when it came to cooking the chicken and the salad being fresh.

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I am always vary about ordering beef in India, more from a quality point of view. On the other hand I love my steaks and returning from Pondi without sampling a steak would mean a wasted trip. I thought I would take the risk and it paid rich dividends. It may not have been one of the best steaks I’ve had (in India) but certainly one of the more better ones. To be on the safe side, I asked for my steak to be well done (usually i like it medium rare). It came with a oozy, sensuous red wine jus, balsamic roasted vegetables and fries that would just embrace with a warm hug. Again, simple cooking that let the ingredients talk

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All in all, the food per se wasnt very different from what you would get at a premium Mumbai restaurant. It was the experience that made it different and took it a notch higher.  A tab of four figures didnt hurt because you knew every penny was worth it. It made you feel special.

So that then sums up the post of Pondi. Of course, there are plenty of options if your prefer Indian or chinese. But like when in Rome, you do as the Romans do. If you get the drift. 🙂

And Tummy Turns two!!!

November 7, 2012. The day I clicked the publish button on my blog for the first time. Today, it has been two years since I began that wonderful journey.

And, as I click the publish button today, I feel a bit overwhelmed. Every nerve and sinew in my system is excited, bursting with joy. Somewhat strange for someone who usually keeps his emotions at bay in personem. But, write I must, since tummy turns two today. I promise to keep it small as far as possible.

If you have been following the blog, you will know that I started blogging to get a monkey off my back. In case you came in late, you may want to read about it here. But they say, blogging is addictive, and I sure was hooked! Over two years, I have had many people asking me why I blog, when I can simply cook, eat and be pretty chuffed about it. Yes, of course I can. But, I blog because I believe that food is good only and only when shared – whether virtually or at the same table. That has been ingrained in me ever since I was a kid. So, in that sense, the blog has become my medium to share my passion for cooking, my recipes and all things food. It will remain that for posterity. And then, there is another question, ‘What do I gain from blogging?’. My answer, I gain a lot. Most important of which is satisfaction. Each time I post, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction of having cooked and shared something with the world out there. It may be an insignificant bit, but I did it. Secondly, it opened for me a world of fellow food bloggers, some of who I am in awe of, some who I would want to emulate and some who moved from being friends in the virtual, online world to the real world. I could go on, but I’m told the internet has limited space 🙂

Any journey, however small or big, is not complete without people to help you along the way. And here goes my Oscar speech 😀 Over the past two years, I have had the tremendous support and backing of a whole lot of people. Some quick mentions. My two taste queens without whose unflinching and no-holds-barred support I wouldn’t be able to cook, click and post. They, my dear readers, are the backbone of the blog – my harshest critics, yet, fanatical in their support. My friends in the blogging world who are available to answer any question/s that I may have at any time of the day (at times, night). You can read about some of them here. And, all of you my dear readers. If it were not for your lovely emails, comments and likes, I doubt I would have made it beyond two or three posts. Lately, I took a long break in between posts. I had some of you write and one even called to check if I was fine health wise. I am humbled, yet overjoyed, to see the blog being followed with such evangelical fervour. I must be doing something right somewhere!

Honestly, Thank You is too small a word to express what I feel; my heart simply overflows with gratitude to each and everyone of you. And, as I begin my third year in blogging, I look forward to you being a part of it and hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I do.

And yes, before I leave you to your own devices, the blog did receive a very special present earlier this week – a story I will tell my grandchildren. As we would know,  Sunday is an important day for us Christians. But, for me as a child, Sunday was important for another reason, too. I would eagerly wait for the mass to get over and then run, almost sprint, home to watch Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s Khana Khazana. It was a ritual I followed for many a Sunday and for several years. His books and videos have been a go to for as long as I can remember. And I was pretty ecstatic to have finally got the chance to meet him at #IFBAatJW last week. This one is a moment I will cherish forever. And it is all thanks to The Tummy Tale.

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Asian Meatball Soup

These days, I have ditched the treadmill for a run in the open and I must admit, I am enjoying it. The  other day, as I was running my usual laps; I felt a sharp nip in the air. It was nature telling me winter is arriving soon. I stopped in my tracks. Winter is my favorite season for many reasons. Firstly, festivals usually begin in winter, family functions are planned in the pleasant winters cold and of course all the good food appears the fat laden biryanis, the onndhiyu, the gajar halwa and the likes. Just as the virtual slide show was reaching its crescendo in my mind; a trickle of sweat ran down from my forehead on to the cheekbone. This reminded me of why I am running? To keep my waist and weight in check. My slideshow was torn to shreds 😦 . I completed my lap and came home thinking what could be done where I could eat without the guilt of having loaded myself with calories. The eureka moment came when I was having breakfast. A cup of adrak-chai (ginger tea). Comforting, and just the right warmth. If i could have a warm soup with a few veggies and meats for good measure I would be in a good place. So there, soups it was. Warm like the love of your mom and as comforting as a home you’ve grown up with.  That’s when I decided to do a few soups on the blog.

The first one of this series is a personal favorite of mine. The meatball soup with rice noodles, the soup almost resembles the Vietnamese Pho in the look and feel but is a bit different cause the Pho uses beef stock while I have used chicken. I also altered the seasoning a bit to suit my almost jaded palette. A good thing about soups is they literally make themselves. This one does too that too with literally no oil. Use whatever veggies and meat are available in the pantry and your done. I cheated a bit and used some pork mince along with the chicken mince. Another important thing while making soup is a good stock. Refer my notes at the end of the recipe to know my secret stock recipe.

So how did the soup fare on the most important taste quotient? Honestly, I am not one to praise my cooking but this one passed every muster if ever there was one. Each spoonful honest, rustic, warm and making me convincing me that you did not need large cauldrons of oil to and truckloads of spices to improve taste. A perfect example where the ingredients shine and speak for themselves.

I suggest don’t be too dainty while plating. Its meant to be rugged. And ohh, what about the biryanis and oondhiyus. Hmm. I guess they can wait a while 🙂

Asian Meat Ball Soup

Asian Meatball Soup 

Ingredients:

For the meatballs:

  • 100 grams pork mince
  • 150 grams chicken mince
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the soup:

  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly minced
  • 1/2 inch of ginger, roughly mined
  • 2 birds eye chilli, chopped
  • 1 lemongrass root, crushed
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 stick of cinnamon
  • 4-5 small sprigs of corriander chopped along with the root
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 small tablespoon soya sauce
  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar or jaggery
  • Juice of one lime
  • 2 liters chicken stock (This quantity will give you three large portions)
  • Salt to taste

To assemble the soup

  • 1 pack rice noodles
  • 1 small carrot, julienned
  • 60 grams moong beans, sprouted
  • 1/2 inch ginger, julienned
  • one onion, roughly sliced
  • 2 small chillies, cut slant.

Procedure:

  • Cook the noodles as per the instructions on the pack. It would be nice to leave the noodles a tad underdone as they will get cooked in the final stage of the process.
  • Once the noodles are done, divided them to equal portions in the bowls in which you will be serving the soup. Similarly, place the carrots and the moon beans in the bowls. With this about 50% of your plating is done.
  • Prepare the meatballs by combining the two types of mince together. Add salt and pepper and make even sized balls. Heat a pan and then add the meatballs. Cook till they are evenly brown and keep aside. After about 10 minutes, arrange the meatballs in the bowls.
  • For the sauce, heat oil in a large pan and add the cinnamon and star anise. Once the spices are fragrant add the garlic and chilli. Stir till garlic is just brown.
  • Now add in the corriander, lemongrass and the stock and let it simmer on a medium heat.
  • Once it has reached a boil add the the fish sauce, soy sauce and the sugar. Stir for a bit till sugar (or jaggery) has completely dissolved. Add in the juice of a lime and the salt and pepper.
  • Gently skim off the scum (if any) and then using a ladle, pour this stock onto the prepped up soup bowls.
  • Garnish with the ginger juliennes, sliced onion and chilli and serve hot

To make soup

Though this may not sound as authentic, here is my secret stock recipe that has always worked for me.

In a large vessel, heat 2 teaspoons oil. Then add in 2  garlic cloves, a small carrot, 1 sticks celery and 1bay leaf Add about a kilo of chicken (or any other meat) and add in a liter of water. Let the water simmer for on a low heat for about an hour. Keep checking and skimming of the scum at regular intervals. After about an hour, Your stock should be ready to strain and use.

  • This ratio is important, so pay attention to that. There should be equal amount of meat and water.
  • Let the stock simmer on low to medium heat. Higher heat would mean the vegetables getting mashed and resulting in a cloudy stock
  • I usually dont season my stock when i make it. I season it when i cook the final recipe.