Tagged: side dish

Amey’s Chinatown Hakka Noodles

Plan a visit to San Francisco and chances are good that Chinatown will pop up on your itinerary. It’s a favourite with tourists. Yet unlike most tourist frequented areas, this also has a very strong local pulse. There are times in the day that this pulse becomes an aggressive beat, sort of like watching hundreds of people scramble to Iron Maiden’s Run to the Hills. Stand in one place and you are liable to get bowled over by carts unloading or old grandma’s armed with shopping carts. For Chinatown, among other things, is also a veritable treasure trove of a market.

Living in the next neighbourhood as I do, I had never really spent much time in Chinatown since the very first time I lived in the city. I passed through it often yet never lingered much. The tourist attractions hold none for me and the markets, bakeries and restaurants confused me. I have a comfort zone with food which I tentatively push and expand a little at a time, and will certainly not do under any duress. And the stress of trying to figure out what was in a particularly enticing bun always reduced me to a bundle of nerves. And in that condition, I reach for the old and familiar not the new and untested. So Chinatown and I went on like those ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing.()
Continue reading

P.K’s Malaysian Chicken Curry

Look anywhere these days and you’ll see individuals, entities and whole countries cutting back. The current economic crisis has proving to be critical enough that no one escape unscathed. I work in the downtown area in San Francisco, and remember marvelling at the fact that even on work day nights, the mall next door used to be teeming with life, shoppers and lollygaggers galore. In recent times,  the mall has the hush of a museum, the various shops looking like so many exhibits as we all walk by in a self-imposed mode of look-but-don’t-touch. This is easily emphasized by the fact that there aren’t that many stores as there once were, patches of dark are added to the retail tapestry all over as stores kick the bucket, sometimes stealing suddenly and quietly away into the night. Architecture and construction has been summarily decimated by the economy. As part of the belt tightening at my workplace, discretionary spending has been severely reduced. Lunch & Learns have taken up the ‘bring-your-own’ slogan definitively. There are no team lunches. Our team has come up with a good idea to work with this, in keeping with the bring-your-own theme. We have become our own caterers.

Once a month, the team meets to discuss ideas and current issues pertaining to the profession and what we do. This is different from working team meetings because the talk is not just restricted to the project at hand. It is an essential part of team building which we all appreciate at a time when communication is key. Plus there is nothing like bonding over food. This element was essentially renewed when my team-mate  P.K suggested that she cook for this month’s meeting. P.K is a Malaysian native, who has lived in several places all over the world. She has a great sense of humour and is wonderful to work with. At the end of a long Wednesday, the smell of her chicken curry was intensely appetizing. She made a delicious silver noodle salad to accompany it, and served it alongside what Malaysians call roti-platha (and what Indians would call paratha, one of our forms of bread). I learned just how similar Malaysian food can be to Indian food and how delicious. Swooning over this curry as I did, P.K and I had an engaging conversation after the meeting about how she made it. She graciously presented me with a packet of my very own Malaysian meat spice mix the next day that I tried out as soon as I could, that very weekend. For a long time lover of curries, I am ecstatic to find a new one I love. I love how this country continues to engage in a diversity very different from the one I knew back home.

Continue reading

Mom’s Batata Bharit with Rice and Yoghurt

For me, starting grad school was synonymous with starting a life in the United States. Everything was new, from trains inside airports that transported you around it to wide open spaces with not a sign of life. The latter was a novel and jarring experience. Almost anywhere in India, you always see people. In Texas, you can go miles and miles without seeing so much as an armadillo. I remember sitting at my window, jet-lagged and missing home on my first day in, hoping to see anything that moved. Even the trees wouldn’t stir. My room-mates were out and I don’t think I have ever felt so alone on a blazing, bright sunny day.

I missed Bombay a lot, including and importantly, the food. Everything with which I was familiar looked similar in the US, but was completely different. The sole Indian restaurant in College Station was a joke; everything was watered down to an extreme. Chinese food was unrecognizable, with hardly a dish on the menu being the same as the ones I knew at home. The nearest grocery store/market was over two miles away. And giving in to the urge to convert everything I bought into rupees made me freak out. (100 rupees for a mere pound of potatoes, are you *#@!! kidding me??) Also portions had my head spinning. A burrito joint called Free Bird, while serving some pretty decent burritos, had a regular size burrito that was humongous (and that was the smallest size!). A couple of days of eating out on such fare and the local McDonald’s and we were done. After scaring up various pots and pans and loading up on groceries, thanks to helpful college seniors, we began the task of organizing food at home.

Back in Bombay, I had loved the idea of cooking and had tried my hand at a decent share of stuff but had never needed to cook on a daily basis. The kitchen was really my mother’s domain. I’d never been more than a sous-chef at best, irregularly at that, playing chef on the rare occasions she was unwell. The sudden task of dealing with daily meals, paying bills and grad school was unbelievably trying. Quick food became a goal to strive for, with a strong concentration for familiar and cheap (we were, after all, foreign students in a foreign country, and it was 50 rupees to the dollar at the time).

One of the first things Indian babies are fed is rice, first in the form of a soft paste, eventually graduating to rice with milk. The adult and significantly more flavourful version of this is dahi-bhat (curd & rice) which some, like my husband, possess the capacity to consume daily basis. It is supremely easy, quick and cheap to throw together. The yoghurt gets tempered with various ingredients, depending on where you from in India, but any of the combinations result in a lovely, mildly spiced rice dish. Pair this with a batata bharit (potato mash), the kind that my mom put together, and you could be forgiven for feeling like a small child having a grown-uppish meal. It was a little slice of heaven between classes and we were home in a brand new world!

Continue reading