You Ate What?! Offbeat Cuisine & Where To Eat It In India
You Ate What?! Offbeat Cuisine & Where To Eat It In India
Inspired by Stefan Gates’ book, 101 Things To Eat Before You Die, Hena Das creates a list of indulgent foods available in India that deserve a try at least once in a lifetime.
Stefan Gates calls himself a food adventurer. With cane rat, yak’s penis and sea slug intestines in his repertoire of foods he’s tried, he’s probably at the extreme sport end of adventure food. For me, stinky, moldy blue cheese would be an adventure. Fresh goat blood? Thanks, but I’ll pass. So while I may be a little conservative about what I put on my plate, there are some things that just HAVE to be tried. This is not a very adventurous list, but it’s definitely not stuff you’d eat every day.
In The Meat Department
Ever seen a food show where a suckling pig is roasting over a spit? Or rows of glazed, gorgeous brown Pecking duck, with crispy skin just waiting to be bitten into? These are sights that fascinate! And if you’ve tried them or know a place where they make these well, do leave a comment. I’d love to try them myself.
#1 Peking Duck
Peking duck is to China what tandoori chicken is to India. The whole bird is marinated in Hoisin sauce and honey and roasted in a clay oven which leaves the outsides crisp and caramelised, while the insides are succulent and flavorsome. Restaurants that serve whole Peking duck make a great show of carving the bird at your table. Served with special pancakes, you put a bit of the meat in it, a little bit of sauce, some chopped scallions, roll it up, and enjoy. Sounds like a dream!
Try It At: Taj Vivanta and Mainland China in Bangalore; China Kitchen at The Hyatt Regency, Delhi; India Jones at The Trident and China House at The Hyatt, Mumbai.
#2 Suckling Pig
You see the whole, shiny, caramel-coloured, little pig atop a huge platter with an apple in its mouth, and you can’t help but feel a little sorry for the guy. The fact that it holds centre-stage at the table it’s being served at, is some consolation though. Suckling pigs, informs Stefan, are slaughtered young, from between two to eight weeks old, and are raised only on their mother’s milk. As long as pictures of Babe don’t flash through your head as they carve the slow-roasted meat, it should be good.
Try It At: Aggie’s Café, Calangute, Goa
Shells & Fins
I don’t like seafood. Yes, I’m aware that I’m possibly one of 10 people in the world with Bengali blood who don’t like fish, but I blame the Maharashtrian half of my genes for that. Though I can make dinner of heavily masala-ed tandoori prawns or fish kebabs that don’t taste of fish, I haven’t been able to gather courage for raw fish, or wobbly, slimy oysters. This is a must-eat list of seafood every non-vegetarian should try.
#1 Raw Oysters
Stefan describes the taste of an oyster as “eating sweet, solid seawater with the merest hint of shellfishy-ness” and the texture as “slippery and crunchy”. Fans of seafood, what do you think? He suggests eating them raw, with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of Tabasco, or with some red wine vinegar mixed with chopped shallots. He also suggests eating them at the Les Jardins de la Mer restaurant in the south of France. Early birthday present, anyone?
Try It At: Indigo and Wasabi, Mumbai; West View at the Maurya and Machan, at the Taj, Delhi.
Contrary to popular belief, sushi is not always made with raw fish. There are different kinds, and sashimi is the one with raw fish, seafood or other kinds of meat. Now raw meat of any kind just sets off alarm bells in my head. True to Indian tradition, I believe in cooking the heck out of anything non-vegetarian—there are scary things like salmonella out there. So getting my head round to the idea of sashimi has been really difficult. It’s fish. It’s raw. It’s scary. But it must be tried.
Try It At: Joss and Wasabi at The Taj, Mumbai; Asia 7, Gurgaon; 360 at The Oberoi, Delhi; Zen and Shiro, Bangalore
“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.” ~ Erma Bombeck
Forget that diet. Don’t measure the sugar and butter. Dessert is guilty. Dessert is extravagant. And dessert should never be analysed in terms of calories. You don’t eat cheesecake every day. So when you do, it should be a celebration. Watching your weight? Share with a friend or a sibling. See each other grin through spoonfuls of caramel custard, or gooey mud cake. Never say no to dessert. Especially if they’re as indulgent as these two.
Who doesn’t love dessert with alcohol? Irish crème cheesecake, Kahlua-laced chocolate cake and spiked tiramisu are some of my favourites. Zabaglione, a light custard with sweet Marsala wine, is going to be on that list soon. Don’t want to splurge on the liqueur just for one dessert? Tiramisu traditionally uses Marsala, although Madeira, dark rum and cognac are also commonly used. Here’s a recipe from Stefan’s book for Zabaglione. Do you have a recipe for dessert with liqueur? Share it with us.
How To Prepare Zabaglione At Home:
1/3 superfine sugar (or caster sugar)
6 egg yolks
¾ cup Marsala, Madeira or other sweet dessert wine
Splash of brandy
Amaretti cookies, to serve
- Fill a saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Place a heatproof bowl over the pan so that it doesn’t quite touch the boiling water.
- Put the sugar and eggs into the bowl and whisk till light and creamy. Add the Marsala a little at a time, whisking continuously, then add the brandy and continue whisking for up to 15 minutes, until you have a floaty, silky foam.
- Pour it into bowls and serve with amaretti cookies. It can also be made ahead of time and served chilled.
#2 Crème Brûlée
The first time I heard of crème brûlée was in My Best Friend’s Wedding, when Julia Roberts compares Cameron Diaz to the sweet, “irritatingly perfect” dessert. And it does seem perfect—a delicate, velvety smooth custard below a shell of caramalised sugar. Have you had it? I’d love to know if it lives up to the hype. Here’s a citrus twist on the original from Olive magazine, if you want to try it at home.
How To Prepare Orange Brûlée At Home:
1 orange, zested, taking care not to include any pith (white portion of the rind)
125 g caster sugar
400 ml freshly squeezed orange juice, strained
6 large egg yolks
200 g crème fraiche
- Grind together the orange zest and 75 g of the sugar till you have an orange paste. Put the orange juice in a stainless steel pan and add the sugar and zest paste. Simmer and reduce by half. Take it off the heat and let cool for 15 minutes.
- Whisk the yolks and crème fraiche together in a bowl, then whisk in the orange mixture. Return the pan to the heat and cook gently on very low heat till it thickens to a custard-like consistency. It is important not to overcook, but let it thicken enough so that it sets once cold.
- Strain it immediately into four ramekins (heat-proof ceramic bowls) and cool completely. Refrigerate for at least six hours, preferably overnight.
- Sprinkle the remaining sugar on top on the chilled custards and caramelise under a really hot pre-heated grill, or with a blow torch, until melted and golden. Chill again for an hour. Serve cold.
The Ones I’ll Pass
They may taste like angels singing opera on your tongue, but these few, mentioned in the book, are definitely not on my list.
100-year-old eggs, also known as century eggs: They look green and blue and smell of your chemistry lab the day they made you create sulphurous fumes and someone threw up.
Deep-fried scorpions and other critters: Only because my first impulse would be to throw a slipper at them in self-defense.
Frog’s legs: A delicacy in Kerala and Goa, exporting and eating frogs is now severely frowned on by environmentalists and the law alike. Apparently, frog populations have been so decimated by the trend that mosquito populations have surged. Besides, if they taste like chicken, why not eat chicken itself, eh?
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