The East Indian Kitchen, by Michael Swamy
In a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai one comes into touch with a variety of cuisines. Maharashtrian, Gujarati, Malayali, Tamilian, Sindhi, Punjabi, Goan and of course last but not the least East Indian food. My tryst with East Indian cooking began very early while I was growing up in Bombay where my Mother’s friend Mrs D’Mello would breeze in and out of the house with batches of goodies. She never, ever, visited without a treat for us; Kul-Kuls, Marzipan, and Plum Cakes were a regular Christmas feature. Often earthen pots full of Sorpotel or Meat Ball Curry found its delicious way from Mrs D’Mello’s kitchen to our dining table where the dish was consumed and plates wiped clean with pieces of fresh pav.
Later, I shared a desk at school with Chrisilda Fonseca whose tiffin was my daily delight and which she happily gave up in return for mine – potato chops, mutton chops, cutlets and sandwiches, all to die for. Chrisilda, in later years kept up a regular supply of Bottle Masala and homemade sausages which my boys loved.
What I liked about the book
- At the onset Michael describes the various influences on East Indian cooking. Later as you read the recipes you are aware of the Portuguese, Greek, British, Arab, Mughal and Chinese influences he speaks of.
- Michael then goes on to reveal a well-researched history of the East Indians in Mumbai, which made me traverse the length and breadth of Mumbai with him and revisit and rediscover with a greater depth of understanding.
- The all-inclusive chapter on Masalas & Spice Powders which are unique to East Indian cooking and which is the distinguishing factor between them and other Indian Cuisines, has been covered very amply. I made a batch of Bottle Masala 1 whose aroma and taste I am familiar with and found it authentic.
- The starter section has several authentic recipes that I know of, like those for Potato Chops, Meat Balls, Pan Rolls, Beef Croquettes and Balchow Cutlets.
- In East Indian cooking vegetarian dishes act mostly as side-dishes and are few in number. In my experience, the same recipe is repeated over and over again, using different vegetables. However Michael’s, Capsicum Foogath stands out with it’s use of saffron in the masala, among a few other recipes. There are only a few repetitions in the rest of this section.
- I particularly liked the dry Vindaloo version, Grilled Vindaloo of Lamb using lamb chops or leg of lamb.
- The sections on how to buy sea-food and meat are useful to the uninitiated.
- The sections that follow, Poultry, Beef and Breads among others are exhaustive in their coverage of the subject matter.
- A special mention should be made about the Spices and Herbs section, which would be of great help to non-Indians who do not understand Indian spices. Terms and meanings are also enlightening to people who don’t understand the East Indian language/dialect.
What I did not like about the book
- I was particularly disappointed with the mediocrity of the photographs and the food styling.
- On trying out the Prawn Vindaloo I was disappointed with the end result; didn’t seem right to me. I also thought the omission of onions in the recipe to be perhaps an oversight.
- Alternatives have not been mentioned for ingredients like Palm Vinegar, which is not easily available in the north of India; this could be irksome.
- Some of the recipes included did not seem East Indian in nature to me, but perhaps included to make the sections more interesting and complete; Appam, Hot Cross Buns and Mashed Potatoes with Wild Mushrooms to name three.
All in all, a book worth buying for its authentic, delectable East Indian recipes which are easy to follow and with most ingredients easy to come by.
Michael Swamy responds
- The east Indian Vindaloo doesn’t have onions in it. The Goan Vindaloo does. Vindaloo is different all over the world. It is not an Indian dish in fact it is south American.
- It is mentioned in the book that Appams are not east Indian but was included as it goes well with spicy food.
- Potatoes and wild mushrooms are eaten in the rural villages. In fact wild mushrooms come up overnight only during the monsoons.
- Hot cross buns are a part of the east Indian culture, Its a very Bandra culture amongst the Christians.