Spring in the Bay area has brought some beautiful days along with several gray ones, filled with rain, cold and general gloom all around. I’ve had my low days but for the most part, I’ve been very thankful I’m not truly affected by seasons. This past winter and spring would have done quite a number on me.
This hasn’t been the general case though. Our move to a lovely Richmond apartment by Golden Gate Park last year not only brought with it a peaceful neighbourhood and lovely north-facing windows, but also a small, overgrown quadrangle of leftover land its Craigslist ad called a backyard. What a combination of this move and this year’s spring begot was an expansion to our previous humble efforts at gardening.
We’ve tried to get the powers-that-be to clear this up but our ardent requests in this regard have so far gone unheard. So we’ve resorted to container gardening. There’s lots of room for this since, despite being overgrown, this is a huge upgrade from our former tiny kitchen window sill. This sunny piece of decrepit tarmac is great for pots. I’ll tell you all about our urban garden soon.
These were the experimental chicken tacos in mentioned in my last post. They turned out pretty good for what was essentially messing around with several ingredients, but frankly the next time I’m going to turn up the heat on them a bit more. Probably Mexican oregano would add another nuance of flavour too. Nevertheless, they work on their on or a a base for more flavour.
I love eggs.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, this may not be news to you. I hope you aren’t tired of hearing it though because this certainly won’t be the last time I play this tune. Eggs are my favourite food. After potatoes, of course, but before everything else. I could eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, possibly fold in a delicate egg salad sandwich at tea too. Then I could begin all over the next morning and let this course of affairs continue all month. I’d venture to say the month after too, but that probably wouldn’t be possible as I may have overdosed on egg by then. Age has taught me that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Stupid growing up. So over-rated. It has to ruin everything.
Peter Pan-esque rant aside, eggs honestly are my preferred way to get my protein fix. I was hooked with my first omelette, moving through the entire gamut of boiled, fried, scrambled, basically any way to have eggs. I was the official weekend omelette-for-dinner maker of the house in my teens. This was the one thing my mom left me alone in the kitchen to work with. The tines of a fork whipped through the sunny yolk as it mixed in with the silver egg white while the fork tinged a rhythm against the steel bowl. Fold in a few basic ingredients and there was a lovely omelette ready in no time. Few suppers were as divine and simple as this.
As a transplant from another place, you reach a point in your life when you think you’ve gotten a handle on things, culinarily speaking. The cooking and consumption of foods from your original home strikes a somewhat fragile balance with foods you’ve grown to love in your adopted home. You’ve tried most of what is on offer here and have gathered together all the food you miss from there. Or you think you did.
Then out of the blue, the balance shifts. A word, an image, a smell…and something stirs in your memories.
It is not like I had forgotten all about this dish. I came across the straightforward recipe often in my precious file of mom’s recipes. Yet I passed it over because of its simplicity, engrossed in the pursuit of the more flamboyant and vibrant ones. While my mind was engaged in chicken curries and palak paneers, this one sort of got lost in plain sight. Now, I realize that it has been ten years since I last ate this dish. How did I go that long without craving it?
The last time I enjoyed it, I was sitting in my mother’s kitchen. It was a day before I was about to leave for the other side of the world. It was also the day my mom finally told me how much she was going to miss me. All this time, for over a year, she had been brave about the decision her erstwhile stay-at-home middle daughter had made to leave. Videoconferencing wasn’t yet the norm and she wouldn’t see me for a long time. For a whole month leading up to the day, she had been cooking all my favourite things. There were so many last meals I requested because I love practically everything my mom makes and knew I would miss it all. I’d already made my way over the culinary map, home food and restaurants, as I knew it then. My bags were packed to bursting with mom’s pickles and snacks, my uncle’s veggie patties and chicken cutlets (he’d dropped them off just earlier that morning as he stopped by to wish me luck). These would extend the old-home experience a bit more in the new place I was to call home. I was excited and scared and sorry to leave all at the same time.
Stop and stare on any street in Bombay and your eye is likely to register at least three places to eat in any direction, be it the ubiquitous sandwich seller or chaat house. (I don’t suggest you do this though. You’re likely to get shoved about and cursed at in seven different languages if you stop longer than 5 seconds. Just like in New York, waffling about in Bombay will raise temperatures faster than the heat of the summer.) Bombayites, present and former, love food. We love eating it, arguing about it and seeking it out. You will be spoilt for choice with all that the city has to offer. Naturally, any native will have categorical and vociferous opinions about where the best “insert suitable food item here” is available. It will not necessarily be the fanciest restaurant around, though there are a fair amount of luxurious examples with incredible food. No, sometimes the best of things can be found in street food or in your humble, no-nonsense lunch homes.
One such no-frills restaurant was Lucky Restaurant in the West Bandra neighbourhood. This is where I first tasted biryani and where I fell irrevocably in love with it. When I was growing up, this establishment served some of the best available restaurant biryani around. For the uninitiated, biryani is one of the most delicious things you could eat. There is stewed meat cooked slowly with yoghurt and spices, along with the irresistibly fragrant basmati rice. The resultant dish is a thing of delight, a delicacy of dreams. Over the years, the quality of Lucky became a bit unreliable. That you had to be ‘lucky to have a good meal at Lucky‘ became a standing joke. I hear it still has its good days along with its bad ones, but the good ones are pretty great.