Sunday, October 30, 2011

European Art of Taste - Via Milano

The second event of the European Art of Taste (EAT) was held at Via Milano, and this was a more fun event. It was a cook off for home cooks, and the cuisine was... obviously Italian! The idea was the showcase Italian food and cooking using some prime ingredients like olive oil and pasta.

Chef Gianfranco Angelillo of Italy was down to show Italian food at its simplest and evocative best. Via Milano was the venue where the good chef would demonstrate how to prepare four dishes and then the contestants would have to replicate one of the dishes based on the one they drew from lots. So what did I have to do in all this? Why, I was one of the judges, of course! Along with Nisha Millet, the former swimming champion. The contestants were a bunch of random people and teams were formed by mixing the people to form heterogeneous groups. The image on the right is of Chef Gianfranco prepping for one of the pasta dishes - penne in a mushroom ragù. Mind you, the Italian ragù is quite different from the French ragout. While the latter is generally a main dish stew, the former is sauce made by simmering meat with finely chopped vegetables.

The event was a fun event, and all the participants had a gala time, and as judge, I had a splendid time, first tasting the dishes made by Chef Angellilo, and then tasting those made by the contestants. The hardest part Nisha Millet and I had was selecting the winner, and after constantly reworking our scores, we settled on a team for first and second place.

Below is a set of photographs of what Chef Angellilo prepared. Simple, and tasty.

Sautéing the mushrooms

In go the cherry tomatoes

Voila! Penne with cherry tomatoes and mushrooms

Tossing fusili in the Carbonara sauce

Fusili carbonara with zucchini

Crespelle - Italian crepe stuffed with squash and carrots

Making a frittata

Frittata with squash

European Art of Taste - Caperberry

A few weeks back, my friend the Wicked Witch of the Feast invited me over to Caperberry, where there was a dinner being held to showcase Italian art and food, in association with the European Art of Taste (EAT) in conjunction with the Italian government and the EU. I was thrilled to bits, and even though this was more a Page 3-ish event, I couldn't have cared less and made sure nothing else was added to my calendar. Suman's post on this event can be read here.

The event was like this: art was going to be showcased, art that was inspired by food, and in turn Chef Abhijith Saha had prepared a 4-course meal that was inspired by the art (that was inspired by the food)... see where I'm going with this? :) Every dish was to be paired with a wine from the IGM, a consortium of wine producers, and also needed to have pasta, provolone cheese, or extra virgin olive oil. Each course had two options and each diner could select which one of the dishes they'd like to be served.

Amuse bouche - Tomato & mozzarella

In the first course, there was a green apple, arugula and walnuts with provolone cheese salad. The crunchy apples, mildly acidic, combined well with the oily nuttines of the walnut, and the cheese added a new angle to the taste. The dressing seemed to be done only with olive oil (extra virgin), and it was a pleasant surprise that there was no vinaigrette added. I guess the zing from the apples' acidity was sufficient. The photo I took of this came out blurred, and so apologies - but then again, it's a salad, so I'm sure you won't have to let your imagination run wild :)

The other dish in the first course was a seafood soup, a Ligurian seasfood stew (Liguria is a coastal province in the north-western part of Italy). The seafood stew was a rich, thick, tomato-based soup with (our soup had) fish, prawns, and squid. To my mind, the squid should've been in the form of the usual squid rings, but by using just a chunk of the squid in the soup, I thought it spoiled the 'tenderness' of the soup because the squid was just rubbery. Served with a piece of toasted bread that was lightly moistened by a pesto, the soup was a delightful dish, save for the squid.

The second course began with diners having the option of choosing from a fettucine aglio, olio e peperoncino with cherry tomatoes and green peas, topped with a some cherry foam. Since Caperberry brands itself as a restaurant that dwells into molecular gastronomy, it was a classy rendition of a foam, but personally, I didn't see the need for it with the pasta, although it still was a superb foam. This was otherwise a simple dish, but then again, with just olive oil constituting the major part of the 'sauce' component of this dish, it's very easy to go wrong with it.

If the cherry foam on the pasta was classy, then the alternative dish to it, rotolo di lasagna al prosciutto with pesto, along with chilled melon cappuccino was classier - the chilled melon cappuccino at least. The prosciutto was a shade too thin for my liking, but that aside, it blended in superbly with the rotolo, while the melon cappuccino was simply mind blowing - cool, light, and airy.

The third course consisted of a potato gnocchi and provolone stuffed morels in a mushroom sauce. The thought of trying out morels was very tempting, enough to make me almost order for this. This is a very simple dish - not simple in terms of the effort it takes to make it and make it right, but simple as in it's almost a commoners dish. There was a musty/earthy aroma that wafted from the dish, perhaps enhanced by the drizzling of olive oil (extra virgin I think). Mushrooms have always occupied a special place in my gastronomic heart, simply because I think they are more of a bridge between veg and non-veg food, even more than eggs are, and what's more, they're freakin' delicious. Too bad I opted for the other dish!

After reading about the dish that I opted for, there'd be no points for guessing which one I had hoped to have actually ordered. The other option for the third course was the lemon zest and garlic marinated leg of lamb in a red wine jus with baby potatoes. The meat was absolutely tender, and it was so lovely to have actually gotten lamb, and not the leg of an old goat or sheep! However, the taste was something even I couldn't get my tongue around. To me, and the other two guests at my table (a rockstar who's the founder member of the band Thermal and a Quarter and his wife :P), the dish was lacking some basic seasoning. That aside, for me the red wine jus and the lemon zest just didn't seem to gel with the lamb, but the Italians at the other tables felt it was done absolutely flawlessly. So I guess this is very evident of the fact that food is such a subjective, personal thing, that at times, in spite of a dish having been executed flawlessly, there could still be someone who may not appreciate it. Damn! I actually felt bad when I learnt that the dish was actually executed the right way because I pride myself in having a palate that is very adaptive to subtle flavours. Well, there are always exceptions.

For dessert, it was a common dessert for all - a red wine poached fig tart (r), passion fruit panna cotta (c), and a tiramisu (l). I absolutely loved the passion fruit panna cotta - a delightful execution of the panna cotta. The amount of gelatin used was dot perfect, leaving the texture of the panna cotta in a state where a slight tap with the spoon would make it quiver, like a 16th century French courtesan whose inner thigh would quiver at the touch of her lovers fingers. I have no idea how or where I got that line from, certainly not from Jane Austen, but you get the idea about the desired texture, don't you.

The fig tart and the tiramisu were pretty decent, but I was going back to polish of the glass that had the panna cotta. I was just so glad that I got the opportunity to be a part of this event, and from what I heard, this was by far the most formal and 'official' Page 3 event, something that I absolutely loved. It's also made me want to go and try Caperberry again, since a lot of water seems to have passed under the bridge since my last visit.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Food street - thindi beedi

Food street, or thindi beedi (literal translation in the local language Kannada - also the local name it's known by) - God knows for how long I've been wanting to visit this place, and for some reason or the other the visit kept getting put Finally, last month, a bunch of us foodies got together and made a visit to the Mecca of local Bangalorean food.

Nestled in an obscure, one-way lane near Sajjan Rao circle in V V Puram (click for Google Map), this place boasts of being the nerve center for street food in Bangalore - and it's spot on. Now when I say street food, or anyone uses the term street food, it's always got to do with local food, so don't be dreaming of wings and satays and laksas here - it's pure vegetarian, and it's local...and I didn't miss meat one bit while I was there! Well, OK, maybe the thought did cross my mind once, but that was only BEFORE we started our eating frenzy, and moreover, I was truly excited about what this place had to offer. Below is a snapshot of the Google map for directions from Lalbagh west gate.

At the Sajjan Rao circle end, we have the iconic V B bakery, a landmark of the Bangalore past. But just because I said Bangalore past, don't be fooled into believing that it doesn't draw in the hordes today. It dates back to the early part of the 20th century, a time when this part of Bangalore was the actual Bangalore, the real Bangalore (along with Malleswaram), while areas where bakeries like Albert bakery (Frazer Town), Thom's (Kamaraj road), and All Saint's and Fatima (Brigade & Hosur road respectively) were part of the British cantonment area. We ended up having their honey cakes, cream puffs, and another kind of puff pastry that is locally called Bombay salt (it's a twisted puff pastry, but it certainly isn't salty). Delightful doesn't even come close to describe how the honey cake tasted. Another specialty of theirs is the apple cake, which we surprisingly didn't buy, but then again, we had to meet up with others and there was tonnes of food to be had.

Honey cake

Cream puff

Once we finished VB bakery, we started our walk up the street, stopping at almost every hole-in-the-wall to check what was cooking. There was a jalebi & gulab jamun shop that's quite famous, but he was closed that evening (damn our luck!). We crossed a lot of shops selling chaats of various kinds, and there were plenty of people, families and friends alike, gorging on whatever caught their fancy.

A couple of old timers enjoying their chaats

We then located what we had been told we needed to have - the dosas. Yes, at night. What? Just because a Shanti Sagar or Sukh Sagar or any of your local darshinis/sagars doesn't serve you a dosa post lunch doesn't mean no one eats them in the late evening. In fact, dosas are the perfect pre-dinner snack (any time snack actually) you can have since they're usually quite light and digest fast. Of course, if you have them in multiples of two or some such number, then, well... :) All the same, dosas are very popular in Bangalore, and apart from Mysore and Udupi, you get the best dosas in India here. There, I said it. Sue me. And yes, we eat our dosas almost anytime - as a snack or as a meal itself.

While our dosas were being made, some of the guys snuck off and bought some of the local batter-fried chaats, or bajjis as we call them here. The capcicum and raw banana ones were the ones that were bought, and both, apart from being batter-fried, also had grated carrots, chopped onions, a sprinkling of coriander and a dash of lemon juice and chilli powder - perfect way to get your appetite whetted.

Capcicum (bell pepper) bajji (left), and raw banana bajji

The dosas available here are the local variety - so no fancy Davangere benne dosa, or neer dosa, or Mysore open dosa. The regular stuff like a plain, masala, set, rava, and ragi dosa, and some local beauties like the akki rotti and the avarekaalu dosa. The latter, having avarekaalu, or the Hyacinth bean, is a kind of flat bean that is grown locally here in Karnataka and I haven't come across too many people from any of the other states who've spoken or know much about it, so if there's someone who isn't from here and knows that this pulse is grown elsewhere, please do let me know in what form it's cooked, etc etc etc. The wiki link I've provided says that people in coastal Maharashtra also grow it, and the Tamilians too use it a bit. Anyway, back to the bean, and it's typically used in a curry, but you'll also find this fellows in khara baths served in your darshinis/sagars, or served along with akki rotti.

A masala dosa being made

The avarekaalu dosa batter (left), and squirting ghee onto the dosa

The finished product

Plain dosa with two chutneys

While the avarekaalu dosa was slightly heavy, it was lso mind boggling when it came to falvour - especially when you scooped some of the curry along with the dosa. It was superb to taste and if there was nothing else available to eat, two of these babies and you'd be hunting for a bed to catch a few zzzs. The plain dosa was nice and crisp, and while it may just have been a plain dosa, it was good nonetheless.

More snacks were to follow - what I thought were onion rings, someone told me they were in fact curd rings. These rings were crisp on the outside, but just melted inside your mouth. Pav bhaji, bread along with a 'gravy' of mashed potatoes, onions, peas, and tomatoes...lapped up in no time and I needn't have to explain why. The akki rotti was a little different from what most of us there were accustomed to. The ones made in Mangalore and South Canara are more white, and not as pliable that it can be folded as the one we had (see photo below). Taste wise, it was nice, but not memorable.

Curd rings (left), and pav bhaji

A very different type of akki rotti (rice roti)

And of course, how could any street food in Bangalore be complete without the ubiquitous gobi manchuri, fiery red in appearance yet sweet with a little bit of heat from the chillies in it. And mind you, we Bangaloreans take our gobi manchuri very seriously - to the point where we'll kill for it! The floating pani puri - yeah, I know, and one look at the photo below you'll know why the name - wasn't much to talk about. The tomato slice chaat was a nice snack - puffed rice on top of the slices along with the usual condiments like grated carrot, chopped onions, coriander, lemon and chilli.

The ubiquitous gobi manchuri (left), and floating pani puri

Tomato slice chaat

One of the dishes that we had that I don't seem to have a photograph of is the gundi appa (see Ganesha hubba post). Also, there's supposedly a vendor who sells some of the fluffiest idlis in town, and serves them only with chutney. Legend has it that the old timer who runs the place is kinda a grouch, and if you ask for sambhar, he literally barks back at you saying he serves it only with chutney, so hopefully I'll get to experience this another time - the idlis I mean, not his bark.

Apparently a trip to food street wouldn't be complete if you didn't visit Shivanna's gulkand at the end of the street. A slightly eccentric chap, this Shivanna guy has his own unique way of keeping track of your orders and even taking your orders - from what I gathered, unless you're with someone who's already been-there,done-that, you're going to be waiting for a long time. Anyway, the gulkand was quite delightful along with the ice cream, but all the raving aside, I guess it's more of an acquired taste kind of a dish.

Gulkand with cut fruits & ice cream @ Shivanna's store

And just as we were finishing, the heavens opened up and the deluge was quite a strong one, leaving me drenched to the bone as I went to get the car parked a couple of streets away. But who cares about a little rain - and a near impaling on one of the barricades/divider with those spikes on it after a two wheeler lost control and hit me - it most certainly was an evening to remember, and for all the right reasons.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ganesha Hubba Utsav

This years Ganesha Hubba Utsav was held, as it always is, at the APS grounds in Basavanagudi, close to BMS College of Engineering. And as always, there was a lot of fanfare and robust crowd participation. And once again, as usual, the food festival was a huge draw for both the foodie and the non-foodie, tourist and the local. Although vegetarian (it's a religious festival), crowds swarmed the location on all days.

The Davangere benne dose, one of my favourites, was a smashing hit this time around as well. As well, you ask? Have you forgotten last year's Ganesha Hubba Utsav, part 1 and 2? Hmpff. Anyway, my fake outrage aside, the dose was just as buttery soft as before, and if it weren't for the plethora of dishes on offer, I'd have been scarfing down 4 of these babies.

Davangere benne (butter) dose

From the Davangere Bayaluseema region to the Karavalli or coastal region (yup, my area). I started of with the Mangalore goli bajje, so called because of their resemblance to a goli, or marble - mighty big ones I might add! Made from gram flour (besan), these deep fried delicacies are had with coconut chutney. Deep fried, hot, a little spicy - how can you go wrong.

Mangalore goli bajje

Again, many apologies for posting this so late - I know the hubba (festival) was over a long time ago (month and a half now) and this is probably only going to unnecessarily make you crave for something that you can only get after a year, but then again, I hope this annual event is something you'll be making a note of and heading towards each year. Sure, it's deep into south Bangalore, and most of the Koramangala-Indiranagar-Marathahalli-Whitefield junta think it may not be 'cool' enough for them - suit yourselves folks, I'm just putting gyaan here, the rest is up to you.

In an effort to catch up with the growing backlog, the rest of this post shall be pictorial with minimal text in it.

Making the dosas

Being served the dosa - everyone wants in on the action when they see the camera :)

Mangalore buns and kurma (left), pathrodey (Colocasia roll)

Making masala dosa

Sweet kadubu (left), and semeda addye (rice noodles) in coconut milk

Jolada (jowar) roti with brinjal curry, green gram curry, and chutney powders

Making gundi appa (left), and the appas served with chutney

Making neer dosa

Kadubu with chutney

The only part apart of the fest I didn't particularly like (apart from the fact that there is no non-veg) is the fact that every year, the contract to make and serve the food is given to Adiga's. At the very least, I'd have thought there'd be some kind of bidding process, or giving the cuisine of each region to a different catering chain - that way not only would things be fresh, there'd also be more focus on the food for that particular cuisine. Although a lot of the food here was good, some of the classy regional dishes weren't made the way they're supposed to. And I felt regions like Chickamagalur and Coorg (among others) weren't properly represented with their local favourites. This problem could very easily be sorted out by dividing the regional cuisines among multiple caterers.


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