Thursday, April 02, 2020

A FABULOUS BOMBAY OF THE MIND

A number of years ago I often impersonated Indian gentlemen. This was mostly in connection with an Indian food enterprise at which I worked in the evening, primarily because no one wants to speak to an Anglo about food or catering on the phone. For rather obvious reasons.
Consequently I have been a Madrassi, a Bengali, a Parsee, and sometimes darned well unintelligible. While discussing biriani, haleem, mirch ka salan (for which I have an excellent recipe, it's practically my mothers milk), chai, achaar (about which I know very well only, sar), various sweets (laddoo?), and tea time snacks such as one would enjoy in Bombay.


A friend remembers the years during which I was a pretend-Parsee as well as a most excellent Madrassi chief clerk. She herself is Parsee, and still peeved about that. To do so I had to read up on cricket, which is the great Parsee game invented by homosexual Englishmen. Cricket is boring.

Plus I enjoyed the columns written by Busybee (Behram Contractor). Which of course meant subsequently reading about Irani cafes, The Fort, dhansak, and devouring books by Rohinton Mistri, a smarty-pants Canadian Parsee author whose output I highly recommend.


To this fake Parsee / Madrassi, nothing could possibly be more evocative of his own beautiful imaginary Mumbai than hot milk tea and biscuits. Possibly followed or accompanied by smoking a nice bowlful of Erinmore Flake OR Rattrays tobacco in a Dunhill, Comoy, or Sasieni pipe, because those accompanied Englishmen wherever they went.

So then, carefully researched, and subsequently often enjoyed, a recipe.


KHARI BISCUIT
[Please note: ALL ingredients should be very cold. Chill them beforehand.]

One cup plain flour (maida).
One cup atta (chapatti, durum, or wheat) flour.
Four TBS corn starch.
One cup ghee.
Teaspoon salt.
Half Tsp. baking powder.
Four TBS buttermilk.
Ice-cold water as needed.

Mix the dry ingredients, then knead briefly to a soft dough with the buttermilk and ghee, using cold water if necessary. Chill this for an hour. Dust with extra flour, then pound it flat and roll it out. Fold it over in three layers with a little flour in between. Roll it out and fold again. Cut into several three by five inch rectangles. Now fold these double twice, lengthwise, and pinch each strip in the centre.
Chill once more for at least an hour.
Then bake at four hundred Fahrenheit for ten minutes. Lower the temperature to 300 for another fifteen minutes to let it bake crisp evenly all the way through.

Note that whether or not you sprinkle kalonji, sesame, cracked pepper, or cumin seed over before baking, brushing with ghee is not a bad idea in any case. Use a cold roller to impress the seeds on the surface.

An acceptable shortcut is to simply buy pre-prepped puff pastry and treat it similarly.
And if you do that, a dusting of sugar and cinnamon in lieu of spice is excellent and quite recommended. But it won't be khari.



Along with a tin of khari biscuits, your cupboard should also have a few jars of Indian pickles (achaar), maybe a chutney or two OR a good marmalade (both go equally well on buttered toast), definitely plenty of sambal (hot chili condiments) because in addition to being a fake Parsee and a gouty retired English officer, you are also a Dutch East Indies planter. Plus a bottle of whisky (shades of William Cuthbert Faulkner).
Good tea can now be mercifully purchased nearly anywhere.
Both Erinmore and Rattrays are locally available.
Gout is not caste specific.


The other absolutely essential item is Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce (李派林喼汁 'lei paai lam kip chap'), but other than using it for some Hong Kong dishes, it's presence is purely totemic.



NOTE: thanks and appreciation are due 'K-saheb' and various gentlemen name Singh for some wonderful years and stimulating times, as well as disputatious introduction to many things Indian.



UPDATE ao 4:11 PM: A reader has alerted me to a grievous omission.
No piece written about Parsees can be considered complete without mentioning the revered “Chhota Peg”. A chhota peg is a generous splash of whisky (Scotch), often with water, ice, or soda. Or not.
Absolutely an essential.



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