Thursday, February 04, 2010


It is not raining again. But last night I dreamed that it was, somewhere else.
As with much of the chaos in my head, barely below the surface of consciousness, images and experiences bubble to the surface when real-time stimuli prod the mud at the bottom of the pond.
It's guided mental anarchy.

I had trouble getting to sleep because of the poorest excuse for rogan josh ever.


Rogan josh is made by seething mutton chunks on the bone in their own fat as it exudes in the pan, adding lal mirch, adrak, zeera, lavang, darchini. Some onion puree, not too much. The spices and exuded fats, plus the moisture naturally also present, combine to make a rich sauce which highlights the caramelized meat chunks, the cooking leaches goodness from the bone and permeates it into the dish.

What I was served was overly salty lamb curry with far too much browned onion and fennel seed. The naans were pretty darned bad too.

There were other things wrong with the meal, but I shall not dwell upon them, or mention the name of the overpriced restaurant that served this abortion. The menu-writer may be a pretentious conman and a culinary cripple, but though the waitstaff are remarkably ignorant, they are exceptionally well-mannered and hardworking, and I would not wish them to suffer a loss of livelihood because of something posted anonymously on the internet.

The meal sat in my stomach for several hours, providing the real-time stimuli mentioned above.
The pond with things floating to the surface is an apt metaphor.
Not only for the mud-mind, but also the angry digestive system.

Guided mental anarchy is a process of deliberately clearing the mind, then letting images and thoughts arise of their own accord - and choosing which ones to dwell upon.
Usually it leads to sound sleep, and very vivid dreams.


A covered station platform, deserted in late afternoon. The train to 'Somewhere-ahead' was delayed, and might not come today. Summer, grey skies, a warm downpour beyond the overhang. At four thirty the lights near the waiting room in the centre of the station came on, because of the darkness of the day. At the far end of the platform there were no lights.
The view down the tracks in the direction of 'Somewhere-behind' was of high grass and shrubs, thickets, and rain rain rain rain rain.
There should not have been a train-station there, as there was no municipality to serve. No houses. No roads. No settlement or buildings.
No ticket agent, no people.
Unpopulated, desolately green, and overgrown.
Just a train-station in the rain, between somewhere ahead and somewhere behind.

There are few similarities between a deserted train-station in nowhere and worse-than-mediocre rogan josh.


Why is it that respectable Indian cooks allow themselves to be bamboozled by some slick marketing-wallah into cooking generic mediocre curries for the gora-log? Yes, ninety percent of your customers are stupid Angrezis who don't know any better, and are mighty impressed by the fine china and polished flatware, as well as a fortune spent on ambiance - but shouldn't the food be what you pride yourself on? Can't you convince the damned manager to keep his big beaky nose out of the kitchen? What possessed you to serve that salty slop?

Even the papad tasted too salty.

How on earth did you manage that?

If the food tastes normal to you, I would respectfully suggest that you are compensating for an alcohol-related dietary deficiency. Please visit Betty Ford, and allow someone with active taste-buds and sufficient knowledge of Indian cuisine to take over while you are gone.

Until your cooking improves, I shall be at the train station.

I'll wait for an end to the rain and the arrival of the connection to Somewhere-ahead. Patiently in the dark at the end of the platform, smoking my pipe and overlooking the green green grass and the wet-black trees, puffing whisps into the shadows, listening to the water cascading down the drain-pipes.
Perhaps wondering who in that silent empty place turned on the lights near the waiting room in the middle of the station.


The back of the hill said...

To understand why 'Marwar' junction, consider this: 'Cooks in Kafiristan'.


The only way to figure out what time the train leaves is by asking as many people as possible and then averaging it out. Bring a book, and expect to wait several hours. Unless it left early and you didn't.

Anonymous said...

Rogan josh is made by seething mutton chunks on the bone in their own fat

Ew. Wooly field kitten.
You eat them?

Tzipporah said...

Just spent several minutes googling the ingredients you mentioned. Looks like:

lal mirch=red chilis

What kind of chilis, exactly, are "lal mirch"? Dried or fresh?

I do love food so.

The back of the hill said...

Wooly field kitten

They taste great with tofu.

The back of the hill said...

Lal mirch are usually dried, usually rendered into powder. It intensifies their flavour.

For Kashmiri chilies, toast Guajillo and pulverize for the closest substitute, although a fine aromatic Spanish or North-African paprika can also be used. This is appropriate for a nice red colour to the dish. Add a spicier chili to up the heat.

As with ALL subcontinental dishes, the heat level is entirely up to you. Indians themselves range from a preference for mild all the way to eating insanely hot, but most prefer a heat level approximating generic Mexican of the somewhat hotter variety.

Your body adapts to capsaicin, eventually tolerating higher and higher levels. But only if you eat heat on a daily basis. Which is why people who say "make it as hot as you can" are insane. They do not know how hot we can make it. And they were but infrequent visitors to hot food. Not used to it, no matter their fond pretense.
What you eat normally is the heat level that you should take as base-level. As no doubt you know.

Suleiman Sheikh once took offense when asked that the saag paneer be made extra hot. Normally a beautiful hue of verte-emeraude, the spinach came out of the kitchen a glowing fiery crimson. Sheerly inedible. We decided not to transmit requests for 'extra hot' to the kitchen after that. Instead, "kripiya little bit mirch-walli, Suleiman-bhai". His replacement Jheet Singh (Z"L) was a far more rational cook - an even tempered country gentleman from Tehri Garhwal, instead of an emotional and hyper-sensitive Bonglo Muslim.
His food was always spiced just right.

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