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From Bombay with love

“The thing about Mumbai is you go five yards and all of human existence is revealed. It’s an incredible cavalcade of life, and I love that.” Julian Sands.

Dishoom is so much more than a cookbook. It is a walking serenade to South Bombay and it’s Irani Cafes. The refreshing, authentic, and passionate storytelling style of the authors, Shamil and Kavi, make this book a pure treat to all your senses. The vibrant visuals and descriptive narratives are bound to make your palate salivate. This 400-page walking tour guide starts off with a vintage map of South Bombay. The map highlights all the 34 places that you will be visiting through its pages. The book is filled with old black and white photos, overlayed with recent snapshots to provide a colorful canvas for this love story.

If you are not from Bombay, the city can overwhelm you. Shamil and Kavi ease you into the chaos and bustle, to settle you down with a backdrop of their childhood in Matunga, where they spent many holidays with their grandparents, near Koolar and Co., one of the oldest Irani Cafes. 

Dishoom Shoreditch, London

They introduce you to Chef Naved and his exquisite recipes that showcase their restaurant Dishoom in London. They also give you an overview of the fascinating history of Bombay from how it got its name to many an anecdote about different locales.

The migration of the Parsi community to Bombay is not well documented in most Indian history books. Parsi history usually starts and ends around their move from Iran to India to escape religious persecution and their settlement in Bombay. Shamil and Kavi give us a much richer treatise to the Parsi community.

Irani cafes were instrumental to the cosmopolitan culture of old Bombay. They were the very foundation in the hearts of our two authors, for their new restaurant venture, DISHOOM in London. Like they say, “We serve dishes in Parsi, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian traditions which all jostle on our tables for space.” Poetic indeed!

The book’s walking tour starts…

An 8 am breakfast at Kyani and Co. What a treat! Every Indian can relate to the nostalgia of dipping a pau (bread) into your chai (tea). I stopped reading at this point and made myself a cup of masala chai, just to take in that memory. 

Chef Naved starts us off with some simple recipes like the Akuri (Parsi scrambled egg) and the Chilli Cheese toast which is the base for the Kejriwal (Fried Egg) – yes Kejriwal! 

Mr ‘Knock Out’ Zend’s Yazdani cafe and his simple Brun (Bun) Maska dipped in hot chai will make you drool for more. “Dip the brun into the sweet chai, allow the butter to melt slightly and put in your mouth for an immediate, simple, and true delight.”

We feast ourselves with chicken berry pulao and salli boti (meat curry) at the legendary Britannia, in the presence of its famous owner Mr. Boman Kohinoor

“In a place as hectic as Bombay, the allure of Chowpatty is clear. Here you can partake in the serious business of idle pleasures. A gentle stroll on Chowpatty at sunset, with plentiful snacks.” Sink your teeth into a piping hot pau (bread) bhaji or a spicy bhel (puffed rice), or the ever famous vada pau, the iconic Bombay street food. Wet your lips with the falooda (sweet dessert) and kulfis (ice cream) and end your cravings with Sharma Paanwala’s paan (betel leaves) to digest the day’s symphony of dishes in your system. 

Get back on track with Kala Ghoda’s Trishna for the finest butter pepper garlic crab.

Walk down to Mohammed Ali Road, past a spectacular array of food stalls and antique stores. A notable pit stop for a meat lover is the Surti Bara Handi. How can you miss Halim and Aamir’s Taj ice cream and Burhanpur hot, hot jalebis?

Not sure how much stomach you have left, but the tour hasn’t ended yet as it dives into the third dinner at the famous Bademiya in Colaba. The picturesque and flamboyant tossing of the dough by the chef and service on warm car bonnets, stays with you for a long while. 

After 3 heavy dinners it’s time to walk along Marine Drive promenade and gaze out to the sea. You will run into the famous Rustom and Co.’s ice cream parlor known for its seasonal flavors. 

The tour ends with an ode to the Taj hotel. Little did we know of it being the backdrop for the glorious and illustrious jazz scene of the 1930s through the Independence era of India. I love a good cocktail and the tipples section is clever and innovative with some interesting drinks like the Kohinoor Fizz, The Commander, and the Dhoble.

As whimsical and flowery as the descriptions in the book, the experience I had preparing the recipes brought me quickly back down to earth. Recipes that started off as a few easy steps evolved into a complex multitude of steps, that required different preparatory recipes, all infused into one large recipe. 

Some recipes are not for a novice cook. I recommend you read and prep all the sub-recipes before you decide to make a more complex dish. For example, the chole (chickpeas) has 2-3 sub-recipes that are found in different sections of the book. As a cookbook, it was a bit tedious to maneuver back and forth between the pages of this heavy book. 

Make sure to carefully read the serving sizes, as they vary from dish to dish, and are not consistent. I had to take a picture of the recipe and sub-recipes to make it easier to follow. I still have a lot more recipes to try out. What would have helped is a listing of all the dishes in the table of contents, or next to each section, to avoid the constant referring to the index page to find the recipes. Furthermore, the metric system measures in the recipes are not ideal for an American audience. 

Overall, this is a great gift for anyone who enjoys food, history, and stories. For all the avid readers out there, the recommended reading is an added bonus. The genuine voices of Shamil and Kavi along with Naved’s journey into making Dishoom a world-renowned restaurant is commendable. 

My journey with Dishoom

The chili cheese toast had a kick to it and with the masala chai was a delectable breakfast. 

The Mattar Paneer was tasty, but needed a little more cooking to soften the frozen peas, as they stood out without soaking into the onion- tomato masala with a gentle simmer of 5 minutes and cook time of extra 10 minutes.

The Murgh malai recipe was a classic hit. The juicy thigh meat with two marinades was well worth the effort. 

Pau bhaj – I made this for my Bombaite nephews and nieces who grew up eating vada pau and pau bhaji. Their consensus was that it was a little sweet and westernized. Maybe what it missed was the ginger/garlic green chili paste?

The warm pineapple and black pepper crumble was a huge favorite especially with some vanilla ice cream on top. 

The East Indian Gimlet – used a homemade lime cordial. 

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Praba Iyer is a Chef Instructor, Food Writer, and cooking judge. She specializes in team-building classes through cooking for Venture Capitalists and Tech Companies in the bay area. She teaches Thai, Mexican, Pan Asian, Indian, and Ayurvedic cooking classes. Praba is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. She was an Associate Chef at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. 

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