Friday, September 07, 2007

Railway mutton and vindaloo

From The Hindu Business Line

The distinct flavours of Anglo-Indian food, which is amongst the earliest instances of fusion food.

The Railway mutton curry is a direct throwback to the British Raj, when travelling by train was considered aristocratic.

Bridget Kumar

Nina Varghese

There is a growing interest in fusion food, both Indian and global. The average desi is increasingly travelling overseas and discovering other cultures and food.

People are eating out more often and willing to experiment with different cuisines ranging from pan Asian to Balti and Cajun to Anglo-Indian. Strangely enough, Anglo-Indian food, which has been around for a long time, has not got its due as a forerunn er of all fusion foods.

In recent years, with the influx of more foreigners who crave food which is less spicy, there has been a revival of sorts. Five-star hotels have some of these specialities on their menu and once in a while there is also a food festival to celebrate Anglo-Indian cuisine. Of course, many favourite dishes have always been available at clubs, those relics of the colonial age, across the country.

Unusual blend

Anglo-Indian food is an amalgamation of western and Indian cuisine and perhaps the first example of fusion food in the world, says Bridget Kumar, author of five cookbooks on Anglo-Indian cuisine. What sets it apart is the unusual blend of western and Indian tastes. The food is mostly prepared using milder spices like pepper, bay leaves, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and so on. Condiments like chillies, cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger and garlic are also used but in moderation. Yoghurt and milk are used in some dishes to offset the extra pungency, she says.

“This cuisine evolved over many years as a result of reinterpreting western cuisine by using ingredients and cooking techniques from all over the Indian sub-continent. Thus a completely new cuisine came into existence making it truly “Anglo” and “Indian” in nature, which was neither too bland nor too spicy, but with a distinctive flavour of its own and comfortably straddling both cultures,” explains Bridget.

The cuisine was also a direct reflection of the multi-cultural and hybrid heritage of this community, she says. Its carte du jour includes, with élan, a spicy Indian curry on one hand and a turkey roast on the other.

The Anglo-Indian community was known for its sense of humour and fun. Bridget says many of the dishes have rhyming, alliterative names like Doldol, Kalkal, Ding-ding and Posthole to mention a few. The food is a true reflection of both worlds where the curry is given as much importance as the cutlet.

Interesting history

Taste of Anglo-India: Mince ball curry with devil chutney

The history behind these dishes is also interesting. She says that the very popular vindaloo is derived from the Portuguese word Vinha De Alhos, from the two main ingredients, Vinho meaning wine or wine vinegar and Alhos or garlic. Originally a vinegar-and-garlic based watery stew made with pork or meat in Portugal, the addition of spices and chillies however soon turned it into one of the spiciest and most popular curry dish es the world over.

Grandma’s Country Captain Chicken was a very popular dish since colonial times as it was very easy to prepare. In those days, free range poultry was used and it would take at least two hours to cook over a firewood oven.

Similarly, the Railway Mutton Curry is a direct throwback to the days of the British Raj, when travelling by train was considered aristocratic. This very popular and slightly spicy dish was served in railway refreshment rooms and on long-distance trains with bread or dinner rolls. The curry was not too spicy, keeping in mind delicate British palates and was also popular with the Railway staff. The vinegar or tamarind juice used in its preparation would ensure that the curry would keep for a few days.

The Dak Bungalow Curry was another famous dish during colonial times. The recipe varied with each cook at the different dak bungalows depending on the local availability of ingredients during wartime.

The Mulligatawny Soup today bears little resemblance to the original meligu thani or pepper water in Tamil.

When the British introduced vegetables like cabbage, beetroot, carrot and beans, this too was adapted for Indian palates. In many places in India these vegetables are still called English vegetables. Anglo-Indian cuisine also includes a range of wines, sweets, pastries, jams and chutneys. It has also been marginally influenced by different regions. For instance, in Kerala, a little more coconut is added while in West Bengal mustard oil would be used. However, by and large the actual cuisine has remained the same over several generations. The methods of cooking and the ingredients have been handed down from generation to generation through practice and word of mouth.


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