Archive for July, 2013

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Comedian Alan Davies has had a  diverse career, from playing characters as varied as the idiosyncratic Jonathan Creek to more serious roles in shows like Lewis. More recently, he has cemented himself firmly in the nations psyche as the loveable joker on hit panel show QI.

C: Hi Alan, I bet you have some great curry stories to share with our readers.
“I absolutely love curries! I don’t eat meat but I like a nice dhal and rice, either that or a prawn curry, I could eat those morning, noon and night! I also like the side vegetables like the sag aloo’s and chana masala, and I really love a peshwari naan. If I could eat those all day I would be in heaven! Of course, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to begin cooking any of this myself.”


Can it be fixed for you to come down to Chaat! HQ for some lessons?
“Yes absolutely, I really want to learn. Although I feel you need lots of patience with spicy food, with all that grinding with the pestle and mortar, it’s not that easy I don’t think, I don’t think I have the endurance…”

Final word: sum up comedy and curry.
“Both a great night out!”

Full interview can be found in Chaat! Magazine issue 9

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With nearly 30 years in the public eye, seafood loving Rick Stein has seen it all. Born in Churchill, Oxfordshire to as he puts it, bonkers parents who loved to travel, in a way Rick was always predisposed to wander the globe. At the age of 19, a little disillusioned with private education and still saddened by the suicide of his father one year earlier, Rick packed his bags and set sail for the Southern Hemisphere.

INTERVIEW BY ALEXANDER TAN

Is it great to be back in England and leaving all that hot weather behind you?

No, it’s not that nice today!

It’s amazing that you travelled India. How did that come about?

For a long time I have loved curries, ever since I was very little.  I started going to Goa in the early eighties and since then I have looked at Indian seafood, Indian curries and putting them on my menu down at Padstow.  I’ve developed a fascination with how curries have been put together and the different types in the different regions of India. I haven’t just been specialising in fish, I’ve been doing a lot of food and travel. I’ve done Spain, France, The Far East, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. So therefore India was the obvious next place given that Indian food is so popular in the UK.

Your deep passion lies with fish; can you tell Chaat! readers which British fish are the best suited with spicy food?

Well monkfish is good as it has a neutral flavour and a lovely texture and codfish works really well with saucer curry dishes. Oily fishes also work really well with curries too. For example, salmon is the closest fish we have to the southern Indian King fish, plus mackerel works equally well.

You start off your new book with street food, why do you think street food is getting so popular here in the UK?

Indian street food is very good. Calcutta and Bombay are just so competitive. Each cook is so skilled and intelligent that they are constantly trying to outdo each other.  There is no end to the variety of street food in India.

If there were Indian street food restaurants in Britain would they be popular?

Street food is a little like tapas. If you are in India you stop to try this and try that, especially in Calcutta. This equates to how people like to eat now, not really sitting for a big meal, but rather snack here and there. Grazing is very popular.

Which of your recipes shows street food at its best?

I would say the tay bhajee from Bombay, because it’s the sort of dish that everybody loves to eat. Almost like an Indian version of a burger.  That’s not to say that they are the same but both have that yummy quality that immediately gets you going. The other one would be the lilo chevda, a sweet tangy potato shred dish from Gujarat. It’s similar to Bombay mix and finished off with lime juice.

You have a large section of vegetarian dishes near the beginning of the book. Most cookbooks put vegetarian dishes near the end of the book.

That’s because they eat so much vegetarian food in India that if you didn’t give vegetarian food a big presence then you’d be missing the point. Since nearly fifty percent of the population are vegetarian in India being a vegetarian is almost the norm rather than the exception.

Did you find that vegetarian food is little more versatile to work with?

Definitely, there is some much variety with vegetables with their fresh markets. I constantly need to ask questions about the varieties. Here in the UK we just don’t have so many varieties, which is a shame.

In the book is an image with about 7 different varieties of rice, in a market stall in India. In the UK we usually use white or basmati rice. If you were to recommend a new rice for our readers to try which would you suggest?

There is a red rice that is preferred in the Kerala which is much plumper than basmati. It’s not as polished as the others but it’s fantastic. That is a rice worth trying.

You have put great thought into the introduction of your book. You even apologise to Indian readers for any disagreements or discrepancies with their methods that you may encounter. Was India different to your expectations?

Very much so, for a start I didn’t know that so many people were going to be vegetarian. Plus, I didn’t realise that so many dishes have such a religious significance and I have referred to this in the book. It’s not just about cooking but cooking the right dishes at the right time. Like the dishes for Diwali, it is not necessarily just seasonal. I could stay for ten years and still learn something new!

I think British culture is less focused on food, just the 9-5 life, eating what is quick and easy.

Yes, this is something I have touched on. We have something we have to relearn and the more we celebrate the food around us the better. In India the people love food and still spend time preparing it daily.

Do you think your Indian style bread and butter pudding is going to take over granny’s bread and butter putting here in the UK?

No I don’t think so they are totally different, though the Indian one has probably had some British Raj influence.

You have 6 episodes of your show coming up. If people are really busy and only have the chance of catching one which one should it be?

The first one, which is the showcase, is the one to watch. The bits I particularly like are the fish curry I sampled at Namila Pur in Tamil Nadu and the temple visit at Madurai. Also, the trip down the Keralan black water shouldn’t be missed. The first program is mostly about the street food in Calcutta. Of course in other episodes there are great bits too. The fish market in Bombay is terrific for example, very visual. Also, judging a cookery contest in Punjab was tremendously fun. We met an 80 year old woman who ran a truck drivers stop. She kept a rifle under her counter and I’m pretty sure she would have used it as well! That’s not something I’d recommend to British restaurant owners…

Closer to home your son is a chef now, do you have any arguments over technique or is he better than you?

I don’t work in a restaurant all the time now, I’m slowing down. He works all the time and is really fast, but we both seem to have the same accord. Maybe we should argue and debate like father and sons do. He calls me dad usually, but when he gets one over on me he calls me Rick.

What is the most special moment of your career?

My main love is the restaurant. Although a proud moment for me was winning the national prize for my first cookbook, very overwhelming.

Finally, which Indian spice do you feel that you can’t live without?

Cardamom. It’s now so popular, especially the black variety. Cardamom can be used not just in savoury but also in sweet dishes. Plus, it can also be used in Chai.

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This year has been a big year for
the Asian wine market. Imports of
traditional and New World wines into
Asia have increased tenfold to match
the high demand for the alcoholic beverage,
and within the past 3 decades countries
such as China, Thailand and India have been
gearing up to export their own produce. This
year we have seen Asia-Pacific wine expos,
international wine exhibitions and even an
Asia dedicated wine award event (Decanter
Asia Wine Awards was launched this year)
and there is currently an Asian wine “boom”
forecast for the UK.
The Asian wine market is growing at a rapid
rate, yet if you go down to the shops today,
you’re in for a big surprise, because out of
the thousands of wine retailers, there are still
only a small handful of (mainly independent)
stockists selling produce from China, Thailand
and India.
It seems that restaurants too are reluctant to
sell wine from countries with less established
reputations for wine for fear that products
will be left on the shelf. One restaurant owner
stated that he had struggled to source a wine
from India, and, that ever since, the stock had
been little more than an ornament behind his
bar.
Raj at the Indian Cottage, Newport, South
Wales feels that he simply doesn’t know
enough about wine and orders products
requested by his customers….

Full Feature Chaat! magazine

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In 1810, the UK saw the opening of The Hindoostane Coffee House founded by Sake Dean Mahomed; the first Indian restaurant to arrive in the UK. Just over 200 years later, the same building stands in Westminster, proudly wearing a commemorative badge, and curry holds the title for the nation’s favourite dish. In an industry said to be worth billions, restaurants should be thriving with the national adoration for spice. However, in 2011 over 600 food businesses failed, and Indian restaurants situated in popular areas of London are
beginning to close. So why is the Indian food industry showing signs of decline?

A contributing factor to the number of restaurant closures is the staffing issues facing businesses. Restaurant owners are finding it increasingly difficult to find skilled staff who understand the complexity of combining Indian spices and flavours. Due to this shortage, a number of restaurants are failing to reach their full potential. Traditionally, a business would be passed down through generations, along with years of culinary experience and secrets.

Full article in Chaat! Magazine issue 13

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LAZY BONES, THE recently launched restaurant in London Farringdon, serves up fancy fast food with a surrounding of quirky interior design. When a friend slumped down next to me with her ‘starter’, she was carrying a bag of sour cream and chive popcorn. What may have been confined to the walls of cinemas has emerged as a savoury restaurant snack, and popped corn brands such as Proper Corn seem to be everywhere. It
was then that it seemed food had become just as trend-focused as the fashion industry. Last year, the UK saw a rise in the consumption of colourful macaroons, popcakes, boutique beers and artisanal breads, but gradually died out to make room for savoury popcorn.

Wayne Edwards at The Food People believes that popcorn in particular has become a food phenomenon because “it hits a few trends”. He
explains that, “Sweet and salty combinations such as salted caramel are everywhere, and it links to the nostalgia for American-style dining.”

So where have these attitudes come from? These fickle food trends are not something entirely new. Rashima Bhatia of the Indian restaurant Rasoi believes that the era of food trends has been developing since 2009, and now, in 2013, has reached its peak. Rasoi has ensured that different aspects of these trends have been woven into the menu. “We try to source ingredients that are local, and we also have an open kitchen to emphasise the trend of consuming only honest food.”

Full feature Chaat! Magazine issue 13

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WE ALL HAVE our favourite restaurants. The little Italian down the road, the quirky café on the corner, maybe the ultra-modern curry house in the city centre.

When asked why, your reasons for favouring a
particular restaurant is probably the fantastic
food, but there is so much more to a dining
experience – the atmosphere, the ambience,
the service!

The last decade has seen major
regenerations in most cities, and with it, many
restaurants have re-branded and re-designed
to be more contemporary and in-keeping with
their new surroundings. But do these stylish
interiors take away from the culture and
traditions of the cuisine being served inside the
restaurants?

Angharad, a Chaat! reader from Scotland,
feels that restaurants in every sector to be
moving toward similar modern-minimalist
looks. “I haven’t been bowled over by any UK
restaurant atmosphere in a while. Everywhere
seems generic, with lots of chains – once
you’ve been in one restaurant, you’ve seen
them all!”

While the white walls and the modern
look is currently very fashionable, is this style
choice causing restaurants to become more
nonspecific and lack cultural identity?
Olive Services are a leading restaurant
maintenance company. Managing Director, Sol
Goodall, is an ex-chef who knows exactly what
restaurants need for the perfect ambience
and interior, to keep existing and attract new
customers.
“Many restaurants go for the quick money
by applying a very modern feel to their sites,
thus they end up competing with the masses
for generic business. They may see a neutral,
bland look as safe and easy to maintain,
although these neutral schemes can show
every knock. Richer, more opulent cultural looks
are often longe

Full feature in Chaat! Magazine issue 12 2013

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The Company that helped shape Britain’s consumption and traditions is now reborn…

WORDS BY MARIANNE VOYLE

Hidden away from the bustle of London’s Regent Street is a grand store gleaming with rows of enticing, luxurious food and drink products from India. After 135 years of company inactivity, this store was opened in 2010 to continue the legacy of one of the most powerful, commercial trading companies in the world. This is a monument that celebrates the British East India Company, but it is not all that remains of its creation in 1600…

The Beginning
The East India Company was founded by a Royal Charter from Elizabeth I to allow merchants to import and export produce in Britain and Asia. Hundreds began their hazardous voyages overseas to attain goods such as cotton and fine spices in exchange for British cloth. Spices were particularly rare as they added a unique taste and aroma to plain foods, but something equally high in value was also about to impact on Britain’s culture and consumption.

Dr Margaret Makepeace, Lead Curator at the East India Company records, told Chaat! that, “In July 1664 the Company’s Directors presented King Charles II with a silver case containing oil of cinnamon and ‘some good thea’ from Indonesia.”
“Tea drinking then began as an exotic fashion amongst the social elite in Britain,” she continues.  “The leisured classes developed a kind of ‘tea ceremony’ using porcelain tea pots, sugar bowls, milk jugs, slop dishes and plates imported from China by the East India Company. Demand for tea boomed once the Company had access to supplies from China and by the late eighteenth century tea accounted for more than 60% of the Company’s total trade.” As tea was usually consumed in the afternoons, it eventually became known as ‘afternoon tea.’

“Tea is Water Bewitched”
Today, this vibrant store is home to an array of 130 types of tea. Over a cup of Earl Grey, The Company’s friendly Tea Master, Lalith Lenadora, explains why he believes Britain consumes a massive 100,000 tonnes of tea per year. “There’s a commonly used saying in Britain that ‘a cup of tea makes everything better’ – as a nation we turn to tea in times of stress as it is a soothing and calming drink. We are all so busy these days, making a cup or pot of tea is about taking some time out to have a proper break.”

“I have lived with tea for 28 years of my life in Sri Lanka, and had opportunity to taste different types of delicate teas. At the height of my career I tasted over 200 cups a day. That itself is the secret of my passion for tea,” he says.

He explains that different types of teas are taken from the same plant, the Camellia Sinensis bush. To achieve the different flavours, tea is harvested in different countries and treated in a variety ways. The process of oxidization in tea is called ‘fermentation’. Like apples, the leaves gradually turn darker in colour when crushed and exposed, which is how black teas are created. To stop the process, they are then steamed or dried. Green teas are produced by preventing any fermentation, so it maintains its natural colour.

The East India Company arguably assisted in the UK’s love for spice and helped form the tea-drinking traditions that became a distinctive part of its national identity. The Company may only have its name sitting proudly above one store, but the impact of the East India Company is everywhere.

 

 

 

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